Student teams sat at a handful of tables, anxiously waiting to present the food dishes they had prepared. One by one, they described the history and cultural impact of their dishes, and offered tasting portions to an award-winning chef and award-winning restaurateur (the judges).
The "Great W&M Asia Cook Off" was conceived by Professor Stephen Sheehi, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies and director of the Asian and Middle East Studies program, for two of his Fall 2018 courses: Arab 150, The History of Arab Food; and AMES 385, AMES-APIA East Asia Think Tank. The cook-off was funded in part by the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund.
“Part of what I’m trying to do is experiential,” said Sheehi, referring to the educational aspect of the competition. He taught his students about the history, geographical routes, and cultural significance of dishes in the Asian and Middle Eastern regions.
“You have a whole historical trajectory behind that dish. You have a whole economic configuration behind that dish,” said Sheehi. “We started off with that precept, why not finish off with that?”
Each of the groups was required to incorporate the secret ingredient — eggplant — into their dishes.
Sheehi brought in Katsuya Fukushima, chef and co-owner of Daikaya-Izakaya, Haikan, and Bantam King, and restaurateur Yama Jewayni, co-owner of Daikaya-Izakaya, Haikan, Bantam King, and more, to judge the competition.
Sam Desmaris '20, Suzie Bae '20, and Hana Warner '20, prepared gaji-namul, a Korean eggplant side dish.
“The class was broken down in week-by-week topics, everything from transnational feminist networks to diffusion of food and culture,” said Desmaris.
"It was cool to tie it into our discussion of the class and take it in a new direction," said Desmaris. "Also I’ve never cooked gaji-namul before, so it was a wild experience."
Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for. To a round of applause, the judges presented three spatulas to the winning student team. Their dish: sikbaj, a classical Abassid Arab dish, made according to instructions found in a 14th-century Arab recipe book. And then it was time to share, and enjoy all the dishes in the Great W&M Asia Cook Off.