On Thursday evening in the Janice Couture room at CCV-Winooski, Chef Richard Witting was scrambling. Luckily he didn’t mind narrating as he filled small paper plates with a colorful Japanese dish: “This is ramen noodles that we made today, so these are fresh; this is a soft-boiled egg; some corn; pork; scallions; nori, seaweed, on top; and then this is tare (say “tar-ay”), which is a flavor component; and then this is togarashi, which is a spicy seasoning, I’ll put a little extra; this is sisho leaf, which is a plant leaf; and these are wasabi-covered sesame seeds.” The finished product could be on the cover of a magazine.
Witting served up three different dishes at CCV-Winooski’s 17th Annual International Food Festival, where students, staff, faculty, and community members came to share cuisine from around the world. CCV Academic Coordinator Dave Amsden smiled as he explained why he was there. “CCV-Winooski has a very large international population, and this is a perfect way for us to celebrate that population, highlight that population, and help everybody recognize how diverse we’ve become.”
On any other day, this space is stereotypically institutional: chairs, whiteboard, bright overhead lights. But on Thursday night, it was transformed. Dozens of flags hung from the ceiling, symbolizing the countries that are most commonly represented by CCV’s student body. Big square tables were set with white cloths, pots of daffodils, and posters advertising the College’s upcoming study away trip to New York City. It was warm, it was full of food, it was full of people. Loud music provided backdrop for a dance party. Diners huddled together around plates of samosas, arroz con leche, Bircher müesli, egg curry, apple pie. Most everyone wore a nametag that also stated where they’re from, and a quick walk through the crowd revealed a long list of proudly displayed home countries: Kenya, Cuba, Jamaica, U.S., Peru, England, Ukraine, Belgium, Nepal, Costa Rica.
Guests included students, staff, friends, family—there was even an officer from the Winooski police department, decked out in full uniform. “We got an invitation and we love community events,” he said, “so it was a great opportunity.” Between bites, he talked about what it means to him to connect across cultures. “I don’t just mean ethnicities and countries,” he said, “we live in our own little worlds even here…law enforcement is kind of this separate thing, but we’re actually part of the community, so opportunities like this where people can come up and ask questions, just see us around, they’re great for working together.”
At another table sat a group of dual enrollment students—juniors and seniors from area high schools who are taking college classes at CCV—who said they came to taste new foods, meet new people, and listen to music.
On the dance floor, student Dave Larson was teaching salsa. “I teach dance in the community and at UVM,” he said, “and I wanted to contribute to the food festival. I went to Cuba to study dance, twice, and came back and started teaching salsa in the community. I don’t cook very well, but I dance a little bit.” He said he loves the food festival because it’s a reminder of what people have in common. “It’s about being able to see what’s the same in people, rather than what’s different.”
Academic Coordinator Amy Stuart has helped organize the event since its beginning. She says coming together over food is especially intuitive, because “it’s a basic need. I think we identify with food from the time we’re really little…you can see it and smell and taste it, and sometimes you can even hear it.”
Stuart says her goals for Winooski’s annual festival have been the same all along: “I hope [people see] that strangers aren’t really strange if you ask them who they are and what they like to eat. I want this to be the most welcoming place anybody can imagine, so I hope people come in and when they leave they realize they’re welcome here, always.”