OTTUMWA — Chef/Instructor Gordon Rader says eating is a type of exploration. If that's true, then he recently helped about three dozen Ottumwans travel the world.
Students at Indian Hills decided to host a fundraiser for two clubs: the Multicultural Club and the Culinary Arts Club. The Multicultural Club has members from Japan, Germany, South America and the United States. They worked with the chefs-in-training to prepare a meal that would bring in $20 per donor.
Loren Yoder, an American student in the Multicultural Club, told guests at Indian Hills Community College that they would be trying course after course of food from around the world. Some of the food, even food not normally served in the U.S., would seem familiar, she announced, because our own ancestors came to America with the traditions of "the old country." Those are the recipes being passed down in our own grandmothers' kitchens.
"In the international [community], their history usually goes back further than ours," Yoder said.
As if to emphasize the point, the first students to present a story were from Japan, and their dish was one of their most traditional foods. The three young ladies told guests that "yakitori" has been served for more than a thousand years. The marinated, grilled meat skewers are normally made with chicken, but knowing that Americans enjoy beef, they and their culinary partners made the switch.
They do the same thing in Japan, the girls said, when it comes to adjusting another culture's food to their taste. In China, meat dumplings are steamed or boiled. The dish, which became popular in Japan after World War II, is called gyoza, and the Japanese make it by baking.
And the United States is not the only nation that functions as a "melting pot" of culture: A student from Central America prepared two very different dishes: a crispy pork fritter served on a banana leafand a vegetarian samosa, a type of dumpling.
"I am from Nicaragua, but my father is from India," he explained.
Students from Ecuador made another vegetarian dish from the highlands of their country: a bean-based vegetarian ceviche. Along the coast, the dish would be made with seafood. In the old days, there wasn't a whole lot of shrimp in the mountains of Ecuador. A quick poll of diners, however, showed the beans with olive oil, served chilled in a glass, were popular.
Other nations represented at the annual International Dinner were Brazil, with a flaky meat and cheese pie, and Germany, with a traditional pancake soup made from crepes sliced into a clear beef broth. Dessert was apple strudel with vanilla sauce.
Rader said he wants students to travel and see the world. He takes some culinary students on a trip to Spain each year so they can take language classes, cooking courses and get ideas by interacting with the local people. The next best thing, he's told them, is bringing foreign guests here to see the people of Ottumwa.
IHCC currently has 77 international students.
— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark