WOOSTER, Ohio — It wasn’t just the food that brought smiles to the faces of the 100 guests at last week’s Ambassadors banquet; it was also the warmth of a cozy dining room at the Wooster Inn and the hospitality of the hosts that made for a perfect evening.
Chef Ben Walsh, in collaboration with The College of Wooster’s five Ambassadors — international students selected annually to share the cultural customs and traditions of their homeland through activities and events on campus and in the community — served up a delightful menu with exotic entrees, beverages, and desserts from China, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan.
“This year’s ambassadors were the most ambitious in providing recipes and ingredients,” said Ken Bogucki, proprietor and executive chef of the Wooster Inn. “The challenge each year is converting the recipes from metric to English measurements, then multiplying those recipes to feed 100 guests. In the end, we have to come up with dishes that are authentic but also acceptable to the American palate.”
The feast began with a delicious cup of egg drop soup, also known as “Fu Pong Tang” in China, served with eight-treasure tea, which was brewed with honeysuckle, licorice, rock sugar, and a touch of chrysanthemum. The first dish consisted of ugali with fried tilapia and black tea from Uganda, followed by peanut butter stew from Zimbabwe, traditional beef stew with eggplant served with tangy ginger beer from Sierra Leone, and spicy lamb biryani and greens from Pakistan.
The evening was capped by a mouthwatering dessert tray featuring Baby Tang Yuan (rice balls) in boozy sweet soup from China; kheer (rice pudding) from Pakistan; plantain chips with fresh mangos and pineapple from Uganda; banana rice bread from Sierra Leone; and cornmeal cake from Zimbabwe.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening, including Emma Nathanson, a first-year student from Erie, Pa., who, in addition to the food, said she loved learning about other cultures. And that was an important part of the evening as each of the Ambassadors spoke briefly about the food from their country and various other cultural nuances.
Samuel Kitara, Ambassador from Uganda, emphasized the importance of hospitality in his country, saying “you are always welcome in our house.” Norman Chamusah, Ambassador from Zimbabwe, talked about the importance of giving thanks and demonstrated how his countrymen show their appreciation by cupping their hands and clapping to express their gratitude.
Rounding out the list of this year’s Ambassadors were Hafsa Ishraq of Pakistan, Ngozi Monica Cole of Sierra Leone, and Kuo Deng of China.
“Having many years of Ambassador’s Banquets under our belts, we are now considering an international night at the Inn so that we might feature these dishes on a more regular basis,” said Bogucki. “Wooster does not really have restaurants that feature these foods so we will see if we can make them more available to the community.”
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