The sounds of Jazz, talking and laughter meshed with the clamor and ringing of cooking, all under the warm wafting smells of meat, spices and vegetables.
Western Washington University students, staff and a limited number of guests were invited to the Viking Union Thursday night, March 6, for Global Gourmets — an international dinner. The event featured traditional food from each nation, whose flags and art were spread throughout the room: Finland, Mongolia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Bhutan. Western’s Campus Executive Chef Patrick Durban prepared the meals with collaboration and guidance from Western’s own international students.
The guests took their seats. After some introductions, Durban took to the microphone.
“This is all about the students,” Durban said. “They’re the ones bringing the recipes. I just executed them.”
Durban said the idea for the evening was born at Nakama — a Japanese word meaning a circle of friends — where Western staff meet and collaborate with colleagues to improve and grow in their understanding of teaching and working with a diverse population of students. Concerning international students, Durban had one question on his mind.
“How do you create a comfortable culture for people new to the country?” Durban asked. “I just kept thinking about food.”
Vicki Hamblin, executive director at Western’s Center for International Studies, organized the event. Hamblin wanted to increase the visibility of international students at Western.
“We don’t have a lot of international students on campus, so they’re even more invisible than they would be normally,” she said. “[It was] just a desire to make sure more people can come into contact with them.”
After introductions, the international students came to the front of the room to introduce their country’s dish, but first presented a slideshow with pictures and information on their native culture. A world’s worth of landscapes lit up the screen — vast plains, towering mountains and bustling cities.
Druksel Dorji, who is graduating this quarter with a degree in business administration, calls Bhutan home. Bhutan, a small, mountainous country, is located in the Himalayan Mountains between India and China.
“There were so many things I was thinking about presenting,” Dorji said. “What part of Bhutan did I want to share?”
Dorji worked together with Durban to serve Nosha Paa, beef cooked with long green beans, ginger, onion and a host of spices. The dish also included dried, spicy red peppers called ema, which Dorji brought back to the U.S. after his last trip back to Bhutan.
“The first time I met [Durban] he was so enthusiastic and inspired to do this,” Dorji said. “One thing he kept saying was, ‘How would you serve me if I came to your country?’” he said.
Particular attention was given to how each dish would be traditionally presented.
In the dish from Mongolia, lamb shoulder was placed on hot river rocks. This creates a process similar to frying the meat before water is added and the dish is covered, letting the lamb become steamed and tender.
In presenting the South Korean dish — Samgyetang, a soup with rice-stuffed chicken — Durban acquired authentic eating utensils: metal chopsticks accompanied with a large spoon.
Yewon Kwon, a senior majoring in economics, represented South Korea.
“As [Durban] was making [the food], he invited us over to the kitchen,” Kwon said. “We could taste it, make sure if it’s authentic or not.”
Back home, Kwon’s aunt prepared Samgyetang nearly every time her cousins and family came together.
“My aunt used to cook that chicken soup for us to get energized,” Kwon said. “It was an act of love that she did on a regular basis.”
Abigail Borchert, international student adviser at Western’s International Student & Scholar Services office, knew the night would go well. She was placed in charge of finding student volunteers to participate in Global Gourmets.
“It’s a pretty big commitment for them because they have to get on board pretty early,” Borchert said. “They needed to get ingredients, they needed to decide on a recipe and some of these things were not easy to get.”
Borchert works with international students on a daily basis and wanted to show a part of Western’s campus that many people might not have been aware of, she said.
“I hope everyone got the opportunity to connect with some international students they might not have met before,” Borchert said. “I hope people realize that Western has students from all over the world.”