On a Thursday morning earlier this month, a hungry group gathered in the hall of the Academic Complex building at Western Kentucky University.
It was almost lunch time.
“I am looking forward to Cuban food. I want to see what it is like, I’ve never had Cuban food before,” said Vijay Golla, associate dean with the College of Health & Human services. He’s new to Cuban food but he’s no stranger to these student-led lunches.
“This is unique, because it is put together by our students and they do an incredible job and I think they take a lot of pride in presenting this to the public,” said Golla.
Several times each semester, students in the Applied Human Sciences department at WKU prepare a dining experience. For faculty and staff members this lunch may be just a walk across the hall or across campus. For the students involved in preparing these meal, however, it’s a weeks long process that culminates the day before.
The kitchen buzzes with energy as students are busy preparing a meal inspired by WKU’s International Year of Cuba.
“So we’re going to have our pork roast that’s going to bake for six hours and then we’re going to have a side of rice and beans and then sweet fried plantains, so that will be the main entrée,” said Carlee King, a student from Somerset. She’s providing guidance to students who chop cabbage, peel carrots and cut up pineapple. While all that happens, desert sizzles nearby.
“It’s definitely something that we don’t do on a daily basis,” said King. “So cooking the flan over there, we haven’t melted sugar in a big pan since freshman year, so that’s definitely something we have to remind ourselves.”
Twenty one students are part of the class preparing this meal. About a dozen students are in the kitchen which leads to what professor Julie Lee calls organized chaos.
“The challenges are always just in the whole process. The student management teams pick a menu, they find the recipes and they then have to determine what flavors and what recipes are best and do some research,” said Lee. “I brought in about a half dozen Cuban cookbooks and we read through them and looked at different things. Especially with our international meals, we usually test the recipes, so I prepared some of the dishes and they prepared some and we picked the menu from there.”
Front of House
Meanwhile, in the dining room the day before, students work in pairs, hunched over ironing boards making sure the tablecloths and napkins are free of wrinkles. The students have also crafted centerpieces specifically for this meal.
“You can smell the aroma,” said Joanna Oser with a laugh. She’s a student from Louisville.
“We’re just doing a vase and then some white sand underneath with coffee beans, because that’s one of their main drinks in Cuba, so we decided to do that. And then we added a Cuban flag with a stick,” said Oser.
As faculty and staff members start showing up, there’s a last minute rush to prepare the dining room.
“It’s very important because you have to prepare for all these people there are 60 people coming so, we want to make sure it’s perfect for everyone that comes and visits,” said Oser.
As they say in Cuba, ¡Buen provecho! (enjoy your meal!)