In the Rockefeller and Mathey dining halls, JD Thomas Clusters do not sit long on the plate. The bars—a mixture of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and shredded coconut bound together by melted chocolate chips—have become a favorite treat on campus. They are named after Jordan Thomas (’18), who served as an RCA in Rockefeller College and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
Chef de Cuisine Michael Gattis, CEC, created the clusters as a substitute for nuts, which are not served in dining halls for allergy reasons. The clusters draw comparisons to trail mix, granola bars or nut brittle, yet none of those descriptions alone quite captures the clusters’ unique flavor and texture.
The first few batches were named, simply, “sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, cranberry, and coconut clusters,” which while descriptive, lacked imagination.
Gattis found the perfect name when Thomas was named a Rhodes Scholar in fall 2017.
It is a tradition for the residential college of Princeton students who achieve this recognition to prepare a celebratory dinner. The student sets the menu and invites favorite professors or administrators, close friends and other special guests. Thomas had loved the clusters since their inception and requested them at his Rhodes Scholar dinner.
Ever since, and in honor of Thomas’s presence and leadership in Rockefeller College, the treat has been called the JD Thomas Clusters.
Creating the JD Thomas Clusters
Looking to create a snack that replaced nuts, Chef Gattis first created a seed loaf, which he deemed lackluster. There was not much to hold it together. He noticed, however, that he enjoyed the loaf’s crunchy exterior. This detail led him to his second concept, a thin brittle spread over a large pan to create an even crunch. Today, the culinary team makes upwards of eight to ten pans at a time to serve in the dining halls.
Chef Gattis explains how to to make the JD Thomas Clusters.