A CCV student named Ali is speaking French as he scrapes the last serving of a thick and fragrant stew from a casserole dish. A hungry guest wearing a wide grin holds out a bowl. “What is it?” he asks.
“Moroccan tagine with prunes.”
“You made it?”
“No, my wife did!” Ali says proudly. He’s been at CCV for a year, studying business.
“How did she make it?”
“It’s an intricate assemblage with spices, beef, and prunes. It’s cooked in three phases—it takes a couple of hours.”
His new friend nods in appreciation. “Thank you for sharing, and thank your wife for her labor.”
“No problem,” says Ali. “That’s why we’re here—to share.”
One day every spring since 2001, the Janice Couture Room at CCV-Winooski is transformed—you could be standing on a busy street corner, you could be at the heart of an urban neighborhood, you could be a tourist in a foreign country. The International Food Festival is Winooski’s annual tribute to culinary creativity and diversity, and the crowd on Tuesday night is a testament to its popularity.
CCV staff and students organize the free event each year to celebrate community, and to bring people together over the most basic of creature comforts. Some guests contribute a dish, some come to dance, and others simply to enjoy warm food and good conversation. The feeling in the room is reminiscent of a wedding reception or bat mitzvah; people are hugging, laughing, and talking over one another. There is a sense of reunion; an excitement; an eagerness, as Ali put it, to share. Music starts, a happy hip-hop beat that fills the room, and students dance.
In one corner, chef and CCV alumnus Richard Witting and his catering company Firefly are wowing guests with traditional dishes from Peru, Egypt, and the Philippines. On nearby tables, student volunteers share cuisine from France, Italy, Nepal, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CCV students hail from more than 120 countries, and the annual Festival is one way to honor the traditions they bring to their classrooms and community.
Katherine De Ruyck is a member of CCV’s Community of Student Representatives (CSR). She sits at the reception table, greetings guests as they arrive. She’s handing out name tags, and she’s beaming with positive energy.
De Ruyck, who grew up in Jericho, is especially excited about CCV’s study abroad opportunities. She’s participated in two of the College’s recent trips: she traveled to New York City in January with her Ethnicity and Diversity class, and to Scotland last May for Travel Writing. She’s sampling three different dishes during our conversation—which takes place in fits and starts; as friends and classmates come and go, she stops to hug or say hello—and she’s describing her plans to return to Europe in September for a full semester at a Scottish university. She says during the ten-day trip last spring, she learned the most by simply reaching out. “I’d say the most important thing I did is talk to locals,” she said, adding that she got valuable insight about her new surroundings by approaching strangers. “You can’t really learn [as much] from anywhere else. You can’t learn it from the internet, or from your teacher. You really have to talk to people.” This might help explain why she’s friends with nearly everyone who comes through the door.
A former CCV instructor named Mario is here with his husband Mark—like Katherine, they seem to know everyone in the room. They’re regulars at the Festival; at this point it’s a tradition, they say. Both taught here for many years and say the College has a special place in their hearts. They visit the Winooski center for the event each spring because, says Mark, “we love culture, we love food, we love meeting people.” He believes the celebration is a powerful learning experience for students. “It raises the recognition of various cultures and peoples here,” he says. “I think it’s very important for the students to see, and be proud of their own cultures.”
Mario, originally from Costa Rica, says the Food Festival draws more guests every year. He speaks with a deep, musical accent, easily bouncing between Spanish and English as he embraces old friends. “The people know now how this works, so that’s great,” he says. “When you come back again, it’s like a welcome home.”