A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving as a judge at the Baton Rouge Center for World Affairs’ International Tasting Fair and Cooking Competition, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about the event and the organization behind it.
In its 12th year, the cooking competition began humbly as a potluck dinner thrown together as a way to thank those who volunteer for the nonprofit BRCWA.
Over the years, it has grown and evolved into a first-rate event that includes a cooking competition with dozens of entries in four categories, and a tasting fair for a couple of hundred attendees, who pay just $25 to sample a variety of ethnic cuisines and wines, as well as dishes from local restaurants.
This year’s competition and tasting was at the Louisiana State Museum, and I was fortunately assigned to judge the entr?e category, which meant I blissfully got to sample some 12 different dishes, many of them curries - which are my favorite - and all spicy, flavorful and good.
It was hard choosing a winner. There was a simple and delicious Caribbean Curried Chicken; a rich, fiery Indian Butter Chicken Curry; and a delicate Chicken and Eggplant Curry served in a cup fashioned from banana leaves.
The winning dish was an exquisitely presented whole, stuffed fish from the Philippines. My personal favorite, which took second place, was a Puerto Rican dish called Ocean Goddess. It was a curried mahi mahi served with fried plantain strips.
The contest included categories for appetizers, desserts and a division for students. In the latter group, some of the contestants were as young as 10 year-old Jean Luc Doucet, a precocious, self-possessed young man who won second place for his zucchini dish.
As much fun as the event was from a gastronomic perspective, though, the real story of the Tasting Fair and Cooking Competition is how it showcases the rich cultural diversity that exists in our community, which is much more vibrant than many people realize.
Part of the mission of the BRCWA is to promote that cultural diversity through education and events like the International Heritage Festival each fall.
“We are involved in international relations on many different levels,” said BRCWA President Monika Olivier. “We try to offer opportunities for people to learn about other cultures ? We work with schools, the chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Mayor’s Office and local businesses to provide information about other cultures and make connections.”
In today’s so-called global economy, having a world perspective is more important than ever. Unfortunately, far too many people - even decently educated, affluent types - live in their own busy bubble with little regard for the different cultures that exist here in Baton Rouge, much less elsewhere in the world.
We need to do what we can to help change that and to support the BRCWA and its events, like the International Cooking Competition. Everyone in our community can benefit from an evening mingling with those from other countries. And everyone should have the experience of enjoying their excellent cuisine.