Kimberly Yau said that when she asks students what they miss the most about their home countries, they almost always list their family and friends first and the food second.
“Students get excited about food from their home countries (rightfully so), and we want to celebrate and spotlight what some of those dishes are,” Yau said. “Food also brings people together.”
What started as an idea is now becoming reality for International Student and Scholar Services, because with help from University Dining, they are hosting the first-ever International Cook-Off.
From Oct. 17-21 during International Education Week, chefs will compete against each other to see if their rice, bread, kebab, or curry dish is the best.
Yau, who is the associate director for ISSS, said the idea for the cook-off came during an Intercultural Spotlight Series last year featuring Ghana.
“There was a lively discussion about which African country made the best Jollof rice,” Yau said. “Afterwards, I was speaking with another colleague (Holly Bullamore), and she said that a similar discussion happened when Iranian students talked about kebabs.”
That’s when the gears started moving, and Yau said they began thinking about how much fun it would be to organize a cooking competition.
“A few weeks later, I proposed doing the cook-off as part of International Education Week,” she said.
Now, she said she hopes this year’s event is the first of many years.
Yau said the purpose behind the event is to celebrate diversity, including culinary diversity, within the setting of a little friendly competition.
Additionally, Yau said participants should expect to learn more about the unique cuisines of other countries.
To help with that, a QR code for the recipes will be provided each night so that participants (chefs and audience members) can try them.
“Because participants will learn more about the cuisines of different countries, it fits in nicely with the other International Education Week events,” Yau said.
The competition will be from 5 to 7 p.m. every day at the Illinois Street Residence Dining Center’s newly renovated demonstration kitchen.
Chefs will come and prepare their recipes within an hour to an hour and a half, then the judges from ISSS and University Dining will deliberate and select a winner.
Also, the demonstration kitchen can hold about 100 viewers, and the first 30 viewers who swipe in will be able to not only watch the chefs prepare the food, but also sample the food on any given night during the competition week.
“Aside from sampling the dishes myself, I’m most looking forward to feeling the excitement in the room as students see dishes from their home countries prepared,” Yau said.
For more information on the cook-off or International Education Week check out the calendar of events at https://go.illinois.edu/IEWevents.