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The Mass Media

International Flare Spices Up Cafeteria

International Flare Spices Up Cafeteria

If you were in the cafeteria last Tuesday, you might have noticed that things were a little more…international than usual. Yes, there were cameras and people in suits all around, but the biggest difference was the presence of fantastic food prepared by chefs from far flung corners of the globe. Why were they there? Because our cafeteria was the kick-off site for Sodexo’s Global Chefs program, in which the visiting chefs will be touring the country and sharing the unique flavors of their respective cultures with campuses and student bodies looking to get a taste of something different.

This year the chefs in the program brought the cuisines of India, Spain, and Colombia to the Harbor Point campus and were greeted with rave reviews from the student body. Each chef took on a different part of the meal, and Indian chef Mohit Varma kicked things off with a classic dish known as Aloo Tikki, consisting of fried sweet potato cakes served with a spicy chick pea dressing. He followed this offering with Murgh Malai Tikka, a refreshing dish featuring yogurt marinated chicken that served as an excellent, cooling balance to the spice of the Tikki.

Next up was chef Francisco “Paco” Manzano, who hails from Madrid and brings an intense and focused, no-nonsense attitude to the kitchen. Chef Paco took care of the entrée by providing a succulent paella, a very traditional rice dish with saffron and seafood, although in this case he substituted chicken. The dish was served out of one of the largest pans I have ever seen (this thing was sled sized) and stayed true to the form of the classic dish by presenting a tender texture and the bright orange color that can only come from the addition of enough saffron to last a couple months in an average kitchen.

Finally, Chef Joaquin Suarez, representing Colombia finished the meal with the Lemon Dulce de Leche custard that was a crowd pleaser when chef Suarez visited campus last year with the Global Chefs.

In addition to being on the tour, Chef Suarez is also the executive chef of the global chefs program and the culinary leader for Sodexo Central America, and in that role was responsible for the daunting task of getting everyone organized and ready to roll in a very short period of time.

“Chef Marzano and Chef Varma arrived in the country only two days ago, so I’ve been working very hard to make them comfortable here and to integrate cross-cultural experiences in the kitchen. That’s why I did dessert, because I’m mopre comfortable doing that when I also have to oversee what the other chefs are doing and make sure that they have everything they need.”, Chef Suarez explained.

One of the most interesting and important parts of the Global Chefs program is the training that these cultural culinary masters impart to chefs from local Sodexo campuses so that they have something to bring back with them when they return to their own kitchens. I was lucky enough to be able to work in the kitchen with the chefs while they were preparing this feast, and it was fascinating to see so many different chefs from so many different places all working together on food that many of them had little to no experience with.

“It’s interesting to work with all of these different chefs, because you see so many different things and different preparations, sometimes of the same food. For instance, both Chef Varma and Chef Manzano were working with garbanzo beans, but they did really different things with them. They also both used bread, and one made a dessert while the other used it for a savory dish” said Suarez.

Despite the incorporation of a number of unfamiliar flavors and ingredients, the students who tried the Global Chef’s experience welcomed the change from the usual cafeteria fare. For senior Brian Rothschild, the potato cakes were the star of the show.

“They really have a great combination of spices and flavors. It’s a really nice change; we usually have the same stuff every week, and this is a really good value for the amount of food.”

Sophmore Linda Tran preferred the paella, but shared Rothschild’s sentiments regarding variety as the spice of life.

“This [paella] is something really different; it’s like nothing I’ve ever tried and nothing like the food they usually have.

One of the things that makes the program so successful on the UMB campus is that while the flavors are new for many, for a number of international students these flavors remind them of home. This can be best seen by the groups of Indian and Colombian students who mobbed the chefs, thankful for familiar flavors.

For Chef Varma, this program is an example of the advantages that a global company like Sodexo can bring to the table. “As a chef, It’s the experience of a lifetime…Sodexo being in more than 80 countries really provides great opportunities to travel and leverage the experience of each chef while giving them a chance to share their flavors. Food is really the universal language, so people appreciate it wherever you are”.

The Global Chefs have started their tour and are done on this campus for now, but keep your eyes open for the next time these world class culinarians guerilla attack your taste buds and your on-campus dining options.

About the Contributor
Ben Whelan served for the following positions at The Mass Media for the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Spring 2009; 2009-2010. News Editor: Spring 2008; Fall 2008 Sports Editor: 2006-2007