Students competed in the first-ever Chinese Cook-off this past Friday to celebrate the richness of Chinese culture for International Education Week.
The event was co-sponsored by the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center and the Chinese Student and Scholar Association.
Students and faculty were welcome to enjoy the food and vote for the winner of the cook-off.
The competition was not only to celebrate Chinese culture with authentic food, but also to provide a sense of comfort for international students.
“Chinese students are a large group among the international students,” Shasha Cui, a graduate assistant with the Intercultural Center, said. “We know it’s very hard to study abroad and leave family by themselves. There’s not really authentic Chinese restaurants here.”
Five students cooked meals to be judged on taste, creativity, and presentation. The panel of judges included Cui, Intercultural Center Director Jessica Guzmán-Rea, Language Center Director Teresa Valdez, and CARE Network Assistant Director Nicole Pizzutelli.
“They went to the Asian market and got some really good stuff,” Guzmán-Rea said. “It’s all authentic — it’s Chinese [food] from China and not Chinese [food] from America.”
Around 60 people showed up to the event from all different backgrounds and ages. The cook-off was held in the kitchen on the fourth floor of Frederick Douglass Commons. Guests walked in to see red tables covered with Chinese snacks, pastries, and drinks.
“I am interested to see what this food is like compared to the different Chinese food I’ve had before,” sophomore Ben Feldsott said about the Chinese food in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey.
The first dish was shrimp made by freshman Yonghua Yang. The audience gasped when they saw the shrimp jumping out of the pan when it was cooked it on the stove. In China, shrimp is usually cooked live for its freshness and shells are kept to retain flavor.
Sophomore Yifei Sylvia Lin had the spiciest dish of the night, a mushroom stir fry. Lin used green pepper, garlic, and peppercorn as spices to match the style of Chinese cooking.
“It provided me a platform to cook and share my special food and my story with different people,” Lin said. “I always get excited to talk about [my] hometown and all the special things about it.”
RIT graduate Henry Niu made fish soup, and sophomore Kaili Chen baked an angel cake topped with strawberries. The cake was decorated by freshman Yilin Luo, who painted a Chinese flower in the middle.
“The fish soup was so warm, and it felt like it was made by my mom,” Cui said. “The cake was fresh with strawberries. It was an awesome desert.”
The winner of the event, Warner School doctoral student Vicki Liang, was judged the best in all categories with her pork ribs topped with sesame seeds and dumplings made out of dried flowers, tomatoes, and carrots.
Although they were competing against each other, the chefs supported one another. They took pictures of the different meals and cheered when each finished.
Native speakers taught guests about their culture as they shared a meal together. Homesick international students rejoiced in the nostalgia brought by authentic Chinese food.
“It has been a long time since I’ve tasted real Chinese food,” freshman Kewei Xie, who had been away from her home, Beijing, for about 100 days, said. “I miss it, I can’t wait to go back.”