International cook-off heats up Eastway

Bethany English

Students share culture through cuisine.

The first floor of Eastway transformed into a miniature version of “Top Chef” Thursday night as international students battled it out for first place in a cook-off called Beans, Rice and Spice.

In 90 minutes, the teams had to prepare their meal, their area and themselves for the presentation.

“Food is the best way to bring everybody together,” Richard Roldan, director of Dining Services said.

Teams toiled beneath flags representing India, Jordan, Indonesia, Cameroon, China and Puerto Rico to create one traditional meal from each country.

Santanu De displayed his paintings of India’s national bird, the peacock, and national flower, the lotus, on the team’s table for decoration.

His team members, Rajlakshmi Ghosh and Nivedita Mehrotra, hurried to finish “achaari pulao,” a spicy rice dish made with shrimp.

“It’s a big platform for international students to talk about our cultures, our country and the food we miss,” Ghosh said.

Jamal Alsakran, an international student from Jordan, worked on mansaf, his country’s national dish made of yogurt, rice and lamb.

Alsakran’s partner, Fadi Tashtoush said Jordanian women often use mansaf to show off their skills and prove themselves.

“The first question I’ll ask before I get married is, ‘Do you know how to cook mansaf?’” Tashtoush said.

As the minutes wound down, cooks bustled about in chef hats to finish making their meals. Some teams even shared supplies with each other despite the competitive atmosphere.

The Chinese team made a pork dish with brown sauce.

Cong Wu, said they entered the competition because there are so many Chinese students on campus and no real Chinese food.

Paloma Hsu said the Puerto Rican dish, arroz con ganduals, was so important that “our grandmas and moms made us stand in the kitchen and watch” to learn how to make it.

Judging was based on the dish’s appearance and taste, a presentation on its significance and “over-the-top” factors, such as traditional costumes.

After samples and presentations, the three judges tallied the points and determined the winners.

The Cameroonian team won third place for their dish of beef, spinach and plantains. Natalie Biwole, international student from Cameroon, accepted the trophy.

Indonesia took second place with nasi tumpeng, a cone of yellow rice with vegetables around its base.

Imam Hidayat said nasi tumpeng has a “deep philosophical meaning” in his country.

The cone represents “working hard to reach our goals,” and the vegetables at the bottom are “the payoff when we reach the top.”

It also symbolizes a volcano, which Hidayat said is an important part of his culture because Indonesia is part of a large collection of volcanoes known as the Ring of Fire.

Finally, Mary Anne Saunders, director of the Office of International Affairs announced the first-prize winner — India.

Ghosh, dressed in a traditional pink saree, said she was “shaking” with excitement.

The Indian team won $200 to use at the Kent State’s University Bookstore, and their recipe will be featured on Eastway’s menu.

Alsakran said he was happy to participate and to let students experience his country’s food.

“Even the teams that won, they are all my friends, so I’m happy for them,” he said.

Administrators and students said the event was a success, and they want to make the international cook-off an annual event at Kent.

Contact international affairs and honors reporter Bethany English at [email protected].