International Students Driving New Cooking Project

By Matt Prokopchuk

A new initiative being driven by international students from several countries studying and working in Thunder Bay will showcase their culinary skills, and introduce local residents to a variety of dishes from around the world.

Abhi Rao is with the Community Arts & Heritage Education Project, or CAHEP, and is the program coordinator for the international students cookbook initiative. He says the project will be centred around a website, which will effectively be a digital cookbook and feature dishes made by 15 international students, including video tutorials. Depending on the level of interest from the community, a physical cookbook could also be possible, Rao says. Seven other international students are also involved in the project’s coordination, execution, and promotion, including video editing and website design. The project is a collaboration between CAHEP and the United Way of Thunder Bay.

“I think it’s been a fantastic experience; it’s been a mix of everything,” Rao says. “There have been points where I have seen the students […] grow, especially in the situation of a pandemic, when students are feeling isolated.” The website is slated to go live in March, Rao says, adding that they’d also like to work with local restaurants and grocery stores to showcase some of the dishes. Students come from places like India, China, Nepal, Nigeria, as well as a number of South American countries.

Angela Chen is one of the featured cooks from China. She’s currently working in Thunder Bay after earning her MBA from Lakehead. Chen’s dish, she says, is a meal that features stir-fried tomatoes and eggs, along with green onions and seasonings that’s typically served with noodles or rice. “It’s a very traditional dish that’s common [at] all Chinese dinner tables or lunch tables,” Chen says. “It’s very easy and simple to cook and the ingredients are fairly easy to find as well.”

“The students are really looking for a sense of community and the students really want to feel a sense of connectedness; these are international students who are away from their homes,” Rao says of the importance of the project. “I think one of the biggest takeaways of the strength of this project is that it’s creating a sense of community.” In describing her dish, Chen says that whenever she prepares it for herself “it brings […] sentimental feelings; it reminds me of my home, my family, when I [would eat] with them together growing up.”

While CAHEP is coordinating the project, $12,000 in funding for it came through the local United Way, as part of its goal to foster an inclusive community. CEO Albert Brulé says that the organization’s Youth United program, which focuses on projects being led by or benefiting young people, chose the cookbook project for funding support; they also helped raise the money for the fund from which the project was financed.