Mary Washington University Cultural Series


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Through a collaborative effort of students, food services and the campus multicultural center, the University of Mary Washington hosts a dozen events celebrating different ethnic and cultural groups each year. In the decade since its launch, the series has always been a fan favorite among college students at the Fredericksburg, Virginia campus.

The college catering service, a Sodexo account, is working with the school’s James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) to host special meals in support of the centre’s cultural awareness series. The series is designed to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age and culture. Besides food, it includes performances, lectures, forums and other presentations.

Photo: In addition to a menu featuring dishes from tribes from various regions such as the Sonoran Desert, Northern Plains, Southeastern and Northeastern Tribes, Grill Cook Teddy Harrison, who is of origin cherokee, wore his tribal badges and spoke with guests about his heritage.

The special culinary events involve a number of stakeholders: Sodexo Executive Chef Peter Stine, representatives from JFMC or specific student cultural groups and Marketing Manager Rose Benedict, who originated the idea with Stine. . Sometimes individual students or catering staff who are intimately familiar with the culture highlighted are also involved in setting the menu.

“These culinary events were created to use culinary experiences to help promote Sodexo and the university’s core values ​​of promoting diversity and inclusion,” said Benedict. “We think it’s very important to take every possible opportunity to raise awareness and appreciate other cultures,” she adds. “What better way to do this than through our common love of good food? “

The key, she notes, is to do this in a way that avoids distorting or hijacking other cultures. This is where the help of the JFMC and student cultural clubs was essential.

“In my opinion,” says Benedict, “we could not be successful in creating this kind of restoration program without the direct contribution of members of the university community who have these cultural backgrounds. We never tell our customers what their culture should be like in terms of food; we listen to them.

Sometimes students bring their favorite family recipes from home. More recently, Stine recognized the opportunity to include additional contributions from members of the restoration team, who represent a cross section of cultures. He began to include them in the planning process of each event, soliciting their opinions on menus, recipes and general presentations.

A recent Islamic cultural celebration dinner, for example, was planned and executed by Hind Abulali, a Jordanian pastry chef, who shared her joy and enthusiasm for her culture with the restaurant team, students and other guests. The menu included Saudi kabsa and Lebanese kafta made with halal meat, Moroccan mashed potatoes, tabouli, halal chicken with Saudi rice, halal roast beef with seven spices and several Middle Eastern desserts. East.

Raymunda_Rauer_cooking300_2.pngPhoto: Raymunda Rauer, a dining supervisor from the Philippines, prepared her family recipe for Filipino pancit and wore a traditional Filipino costume while serving dinner.

Special events – some lunches, some dinners – take over the university’s main dining hall at Top of the UC, an all-you-can-eat restaurant with various service outlets. They are mainly promoted through social media and flyers, and the food costs are about the same as for normal menus.

While students and staff have a say in menu development, “we help guide them based on availability and the seasons of the day, so that we can deliver the best quality,” says David Schneider, director of catering at the university. “We are trying to achieve that authentic flavor profile to represent the culture.” The biggest challenge in hosting these special events lately has been Covid – sometimes the food service has not been convenient, and these lovingly prepared meals have been packed in take out containers. As a result, some students left with five or six take-out boxes from different stations.

“This year, we think the biggest challenge will be to keep the students away,” Schneider jokes. Events draw larger than average crowds and require advance planning and additional assistance from the student catering ambassadors and members of the cultural groups involved in the specific occasion. These volunteers help keep the lines moving and sometimes serve food. While the establishment adheres to its no-limit policy, portion control for certain items is a must for items like fried foods to ensure that everyone in line has a taste.

Benedict says the program has strengthened the restaurant services global partnership with the university and created goodwill among its diverse student body and staff. “We have a lot of professors here from other countries and a lot of international students here, and we always look forward to their comments,” said Benedict.

“Through this series, we have demonstrated how a campus catering operation can successfully host multicultural catering events that are truly inclusive, from concept to final execution, and that elevate and support the vision, mission and the values ​​of the university, ”said Benedict.

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