Two women laugh while cooking together

Kashew Baboolall ’20 was finally done preparing cabbage kofta, pakoras and chai. She called out through the large window into Ford Hall’s event space: “Do you want to taste some?”

“Yes!” cried Hanna Bliss, director of the Center for International Student Engagement, dashing into the kitchen.

Baboolall was one of seven students who spent the afternoon of Nov. 23 at CISE’s Global Kitchen event, cooking up a buffet feast for her friends and fellow students staying on campus through Thanksgiving break. She described the pakoras and kofta as “like fritters in a stew” of cabbage, chilies, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cardamom, coriander and other spices. “My grandma makes it,” she told me. “We are from Mauritius, so our food is a combination of Indian, Chinese, African and French foods.”

close of of someone chopping vegetables on a cutting board

Melody Dodoo ’21 also made a family dish—jollof rice—along with a fried plantain snack called kelewele. As a student staff member of CISE, she had helped to run previous Global Kitchens, but this was her first time cooking for the event. “My mom—she’s usually here to, like, slap my hand, so let’s see if this works out without her,” she said, stirring the rice and vegetables. Dodoo felt some self-imposed pressure to defend her nation’s honor, having noted on the sign-up form, “Jollof rice is a West African staple; countries are always fighting about who does it best (but we all know the answer is Ghana)!”

Lidia Gutu ’20 is from Moldova, but she baked two types of eggless brioche, a fluffy French bread. She did a lot of cooking for herself while studying abroad in Germany last year, and continuing to do so, she said, has helped her adjust to her senior year back at Amherst.

A man breaks an egg into a silver bowl

CISE has hosted a culinary event in late November each year since the center opened in 2017. “The Office of the President graciously offered to make the reservation for us, and to provide funding so Dining Services could procure all the ingredients for the students,” said Bliss. Dining Services also sent Rounds Cook Nate Cartel this year to supervise the Ford Hall kitchen and advise the student chefs on food safety and allergen awareness.

Bliss and Tenzin Kunor, director of diversity and student leadership, looked in on the kitchen from the event space—not only through the window but on the video screen above it, which made the students look like the stars of a Food Network show. As they maneuvered around each other to take turns using the burners and countertops, the students grooved to pop music (on the playlist were Lizzo, Gwen Stefani and what sounded to my ears like a foreign-language version of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”).

A woman stirs the contents of a pot on a stove

“I’m always in CISE, with CISE, about CISE,” said Jonathan Paul ’22. He and the other students pronounce CISE to rhyme with spice, and he was all about that too, as he prepared vegetarian curry: at last year’s Global Kitchen, he said, “I tried to cook the exact same thing, but I didn’t have the relevant spices, so I came armed this year” with saffron, geera and more. The curry would be accompanied by roti, a flatbread that originated in South Asia but that he considers “the best dish in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Like Paul, Haoran Tong ’23 has been “a very enthusiastic participant” in CISE activities, such as the weekly Global News Hour, when “we discuss international affairs with different perspectives,” Tong said.

A man and a women cooking

He called his dish—which featured tofu, pork, eggs, ginger, beansprouts, bok choy and other veggies in a special sauce—“Stir Fry of Harmony.” “It’s an effort to bring ingredients from the northern part of China and the southern part of China together,” he said, “so it’s usually cooked when we have guests from outside of Beijing, where I live.”

Tong contrasted it with the offerings at Valentine Dining Hall. “Val has had a choice of Asian cooking styles for some time, but it’s not really Asian to the point that it’s authentic—it’s still American-ish,” he said. “But this dish definitely brings me the taste of my home.”