Prep for the Big Day: International Food Fair brings in all flavors

Liz Zabel

The International Food Fair is one of Veishea’s largest traditions, just second in attendance to the parade. With nearly 3,000 people present last year, and an expected 3,500 this year, one can only imagine how much work goes into such an event. 

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, student organizations, the International Student Council and ISU catering will be coming together to present the Food Fair. 

Lana Seiler, International Student Council adviser, said the council begins working on preparations for the Food Fair at the end of fall semester. Seiler said it is council’s responsibility to publicize the event, get student organizations involved and be the contact between ISU Dining and the student organizations.

Seiler said the council collects contracts from student organizations hoping to participate at the beginning of spring semester. This year, there will be 17 different organizations offering 47 different dishes.

Ashok Rajan, events coordinator for the council and senior in electrical engineering, and Kanchana Hettiarachchi, finance committee member and junior in civil engineering, are in charge of coordinating the Food Fair. Hettiarachchi works with the council on advertising, organizing and running the show on the day of the event.

Rajan works with the student organizations and ISU Dining, which supplies the organizations with a place to cook: the Memorial Union production kitchen.

“It’s very much a big deal that we get to use the Memorial Union kitchen,” Seiler said. “I can’t say enough about ISU Dining. … It wouldn’t be successful without the student organizations and ISU Dining.”

The biggest restraint student organizations face is the kitchen schedule.

“It gets really busy — packed with people,” Seiler said. “Only three people from each organization can go in at a time for crowd control.”

Jeffrey Miller, manager of ISU Catering, said that the Union’s production kitchen is one of the smaller kitchens on campus, at about 2,000 square feet.

“It progressively gets busier and crazier,” Miller said. “By Saturday, craziness hits — controlled chaos, but chaos nonetheless.”

Miller said ISU Catering also scales up recipes from their original size and orders food for the organizations, as well as helping them cook, budget appropriately and serve food in a healthy and safe fashion.

“Students have never cooked to this capacity — creating 300 to 500 samples instead of two or three — it’s on a whole different scale,” Miller said.

The software ISU Catering uses is called “Mastercook.” It takes the original recipe information, sends it through the software and automatically scales it up.  It also computes a price — which will also let organizations know how many tickets they need to sell, Miller said.

To get the original recipes, ISU Catering needs to be able to communicate with the student organizations.

“You can never over communicate when it comes to [the Food Fair],” Miller said. “It’s a lot of back and forth [between student organizations and ISU Dining], sometimes the language barrier can be an issue.”

Hettiarachchi agrees there are sometimes problems with the language barrier, but he believes the International Student Council does a decent job in helping them.

“We try to route all communication through [the council], working as a third party in the middle to help [student organizations] understand what’s going on,” Hettiarachchi said. “We are international students ourselves — we work with these people on a day-to-day basis throughout the year, so it’s easy for us to communicate with them.”

Seiler said the recipes student organizations provide for the food are usually homemade and always authentic.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get recipes because students just know them,” Seiler said.

Miller said ISU Catering has relationships with every ethnic store in town, and sometimes has to order certain ingredients over the Internet.

“We do our best to keep these recipes as authentic as possible, short of bringing in somebody’s grandmother,” Miller said.

The Food Fair provides international students an opportunity to share their culture with a large audience. Seiler said they are able to share their food, traditional clothing and can answer any questions about their culture.

“It seems like there are so many international events on campus, but it’s hard to get Americans to come to those things.  The food fair seems to draw in the most Americans,” Seiler said. “We want people to have fun, taste good food, talk to the students serving the food and open their minds to a new culture.”

Miller said there are choices for everybody.

“There’s nothing that I wouldn’t eat,” Miller said. “Even if you’re a picky eater, you’ll find something here you like.”