By Monica Chapman
Too many cooks in the kitchen? Not when it comes to Ohio University's annual international dinner.
Held Saturday at Baker University Center Ballroom, the International Student Union's premier event served up 35 culturally inspired dishes from around the globe to a crowd of 500.
But the real action occurred well before the first dish was served. More than 60 students from the student union's 18 member organizations worked shifts throughout the day in Jefferson Dining Hall, preparing their favorite foods.
Executive Chef Matt Rapposelli's "the more, the merrier" approach kept the kitchen hopping.
"I just love working with these guys in the kitchen," he said "They're experiencing things that they don't normally get to experience, and I'm experiencing things that I don't get to experience. The atmosphere is fantastic."
Mariya Chakir was the first student to arrive at 8 a.m., followed by Bouchra Kachoub, both of whom are graduate students in linguistics. The pair worked to prepare two traditional dishes from their homeland of Morocco.
"This will make you a very happy woman," Rapposelli said with a laugh, as he plopped down a food processor on Chakir's chopping block.
Although this was the first time she had ever used a food processor, Chakir is a veteran when it comes to cooking up harira. The Moroccan soup is often served after sunset during Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims that requires fasting during daylight hours. As president of Arabic Language Association, Chakir said she welcomes the opportunity to share her culture through food.
As the international students trickled into the kitchen, a smorgasbord of aromas and languages filled the air. By 1:30 p.m., all 12 cooking stations were occupied, with more than 50 students working in tandem.
"We're down to two hours!" Rapposelli bellowed over the sizzling griddles, as 3 p.m. rolled around.
Graduate students Eloisa Alcocer Vazquez and Silvia Navarrete Rivero, both from Mexico, looked up momentarily from their fajitas. With little time to spare, graduate student Joan Kanyange flipped her chapati, a flat bread that is common fare in Kenya, Tanzania and Kanyange's homeland of Uganda.
"It's a great opportunity to try food (without leaving home)," said Ta-Chi "Michael" Chen of Taiwan. The cost of a $5 ticket to the event is cheap compared with the cost of an international trip, he said, while assisting with shrimp pancakes and spicy tofu.
As a junior sports management major, Chen also serves as president of the Taiwanese Student Association.
Phil Staten, dining services production manager, noted that delivery trucks would be arriving soon to begin transporting food to Baker Center. "There are always hiccups, but we'll make it," he added.
Using the students' recipes, Rapposelli did all the shopping, buying some ingredients from the New Market in Athens as well as specialty stores in Columbus.
In a change from last year, when all 56 student chefs were working in the kitchen at once, Rapposelli said he tried to space out the preparations, slotting different groups throughout the day. This year's event also marked a big addition to the guest list, with 500 tickets sold, up from 350.
"When you figure how little Athens is, and how many different nationalities are represented, and how many different dishes they get to try, that's worth everything right there," he said.