International Cook-Off teaches culture through food and competition

Mckenna Corson

The International Cook-Off brought diverse foods from across the globe into the Kent State Student Center Ballroom for attendees and judges to select which country’s food reigned supreme.

Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and South Korea went head to head in Thursday night’s competition, leaving the fate of deciding the best meal in the hands of three judges and over 900 attendees.

The International Cook-Off, hosted by the Office of Global Education with Kent State Dining Services, is a part of International Education Week. Thursday marked the seventh annual Cook-Off, and the turnout was among the greatest the event has ever seen.

Rich scents of spices and herbs danced around the ballroom as the six countries served plates of traditional meals and beverages to hungry attendees. People of all age and race went from table to table, taking in new cultures, trying new things and enjoying the free food and drinks.

Angela Schwarzer, an advisor for the Office of Global Education and head of this year’s International Cook-Off, explained the idea behind the event.

“It’s all about sharing food with different people from different countries,” Schwarzer said. “People bond through food. It’s easier for domestic and international students to learn about new cultures. People from a different culture are right there for students to ask questions about the food’s history or why a specific ingredient was chosen.”

Each Cook-Off features a mix of different countries, which are selected by the Kent State Dining Services chefs. According to Schwarzer, only six teams are allowed to compete each year, so the chefs decide the competitors based off of the diversity of each team’s submitted recipe.

The chefs then work with the teams during meal preparation, but the international students are the ones who do the cooking.

While the attendees sampled their way around the ballroom, emcee Justin Hilton senior associate vice president for university relations, interviewed members of the cooking teams, judges and even President Beverly Warren. The interviews were broadcasted onto a screen in the Ballroom for everyone to watch.

Attendees had a wide range of reasons behind coming to the International Cook-Off. Sydney Reid, a freshman teaching english as a second language major, and Dhanijsha Branham, a junior speech pathology and audiology major, came to support their friends competing on one of the teams.

“We came for our friends in South Korea and to see other cultures, but we also like free food,” Reid said.

“This is also an opportunity for students to experience something different and learn, which is very important,” Branham said.

Tejaswini Galla, a digital sciences graduate student from India, cheered on the Indian team.

“My friends are participating, and I get the opportunity to taste so many different types of food without leaving one room,” Galla said.

When asked what country’s food was her favorite, Galla responded, “Obviously India. It’s all in the spices.”

To prevent judges Kathy Spicer, outreach program manager in the provost’s office; Jim Bracken, dean of the Universities Libraries; and Victor Torres from having all the fun in deciding the winners, the People’s Choice Award was added to the first, second and third place awards. Attendees were able to vote for their favorite country by texting a specific number.

As the Cook-Off drew to a close and people were full of food, the winner announcements started.

With applause following each announcement, Bangladesh won third place, India won second and Saudi Arabia came in first. India then won the People’s Choice Award.

Each team member received a certificate, winners won medals and first place won a trophy.

Schwarzer was thrilled with the outcome of the Cook-Off, and said there was little she’d like to change for next year’s Cook-Off.

“I’d like to see even more people come, like domestic students and Kent community members,” she said.

The recipes the teams used can be found on the Office of Global Education’s website.

Mckenna Corson is the international and grad affairs reporter, contact her at [email protected].