By Bob Robinson
Students at Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton recently celebrated a “melting pot” of world cultures with a special luncheon that culminated weeks of research and preparation.
The annual Multicultural Luncheon was held Friday, March 15, and provided students a chance to research and celebrate cultures and cuisines from around the globe. It’s sponsored by students in the Business Systems Technology class at TTC.
Lisa Miller, one of the instructors in the BST class, said this was the second year the Multicultural Luncheon has been held.
“The purpose of the event is to give students an opportunity to conduct research on their family history and write a brief summary to profile their heritage,” she said.
Miller said the students also selected a food item to prepare for the luncheon that was typical of the cuisine associated with their heritages.
Carter County student Danielle Watts contributed slow-cooked pulled barbecue chicken for the luncheon.
Watts said barbecue in the South has deep roots, especially in Memphis and the Carolinas.
“One of my favorites is pulled chicken, which is what I chose to present for the luncheon.”
Watts said that Memphis shines as the focus of barbecue in Tennessee.
“Restaurants like Neely’s Bar-B-Que and Payne’s Original Bar-B-Que are staples in the South,” she added. “The Carolinas have always had a name in the barbecue game, too. Being southern-born-and-bred has given me the opportunity to eat the best meals, and barbecue is a main dish in my family.”
Pulled chicken, however, was a new dish for her.
“I put my best effort into this meal,” Watts said.
Sullivan County student Eva Blaylock researched several different countries before she chose Ireland because of the March date of the luncheon, which fell two days ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.
“Also, I thought Ireland would be a good choice since my grandfather had some Irish blood in him,” Blaylock said. “I chose to make Irish Pub Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread since these two items have been a staple food of the Irish for many years.”
Carter County student Linda Whaley added an Irish dessert.
“The reason I picked Irish was because of the upcoming spring,” she said. “Spring means the color green.”
She was also influenced by the proximity of the event to St. Patrick’s Day when she chose to make an Irish Coconut Cake for the event.
Carter County student Jennifer Phelan looked to Japan for inspiration.
“My mother-in-law is Japanese,” Phelan said. “The traditional Japanese diet is said to be one of the healthiest in the world.”
Phelan said her mother-in-law’s traditions are being passed down to her immediate family and their families.
“She still is very conscious of her health and has great knowledge of how the Japanese foods are prepared,” Phelan said.
She added that her mother-in-law has taught her how to prepare various rices such as sweet rice, or mochi, as well as sushi rice.
“Miso soups and green tea are a few of my favorites,” Phelan said.
Her mother-in-law also prepares a well-known dish for Oshogatsu, or the Japanese New Year.
Phelan said the family has blended both Japanese and American traditions for its New Year’s Celebration.
A New Year’s meal of mochi rice cakes with red beans is always served.
To make the rice, the rice is soaked overnight and cooked. After the rice is cooked, it is pounded with a wooden mallet, or kine, in a traditional mortar, or usu.
Phelan said that traditionally two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the mochi.
“They must keep a steady rhythm or they may accidentally injure one another with the heavy kine,” she said.
Phelan noted that today mochi can be produced using non-traditional means of home appliances that automatically cook the rice and then “whip” the rice into the glutinous glob that is known as mochi.
Carter County student Erin McCowan chose to represent Germany with her recipe.
“I chose to make wienerschnitzel with curry sauce for our cultural day,” she said. “I chose Germany because of my German ancestry. My mother lived in Germany for a time and brought back lovely items and memories of the beauty and culture of the German people.”
McGowan added that she finds both the German language and German food are wonderful.
“I love Germany,” she said.
Carter County student Christina Collins Stills said she studied the Melungeons in anticipation of the event.
The origins of the Melungeons are not known.
“The Melungeons are a group of mixed ethnic ancestry,” Still said. “The Melungeons have lived in isolation in the central Appalachian Mountains, predominantly in Northeastern Tennessee, Southwestern Virginia and Southeastern Kentucky.”
Still said that during the summer months Melungeon women still gather fresh, fuzzy green plants that grow along clear streams.
“The plant is known as Bear Lettuce, and they eat it raw,” she said. “They also pick pails of Wild Sallet, which consists of such edible plants as poke, narrow dock and crow’s foot.
“In the winter, a favorite meal Melungeon meal is corn meal mush baked in a Dutch oven in an open fireplace.
“I chose this because my maiden name is Collins, and Collins is one of the surnames of Melungeons,” Stills explained.
Carter County students Nancy and Tara Hunt chose Italy because they have always liked Italian food.
The Hunts find the Italian culture very interesting and would like to visit Italy.
“We are not Italian, but we can cook some good food from that country,” Nancy said.
“Not many places serve Italian shells, which is the main dish in our presentation,” she added.
Rather than using sausage, Nancy uses hamburger or turkey and often makes the shells using different ingredients.
“We have prepared this dish many times, and every time it is enjoyed more and more,” she said.
Carter County student Hope Smith chose to focus on the culture and cuisine of Mexico in memory of her father, Acie James Dison Jr.. She said several of her father’s ancestors were from Mexico.
She added that she would love to meet some of her father’s extended family members, but hasn’t had the chance to do so.
“Meeting them would help me to learn more about and understand my father’s culture,” said Smith, who made a Mexican salad to share with her fellow students.
Student Chealsie Nevarez also contributed some Mexican dishes, including empanadas and potato tacos.
One group of students banded together with a faculty member to shine a spotlight on the culinary traditions of the Southern Appalachians.
Carter County student Julie Ott said she selected Appalachia foods for her focus because of her family history.
“One thing that the Appalachia culture is known for is moonshine,” she said. “Moonshining actually came over from our Scots-Irish ancestors.”
Otts said her great-grandfather came from Ireland.
“I feel very strong and proud about my family history,” she said. “Plus, I believe that we should feel very privileged to live here. We live in one of the most beautiful places on this earth.”
She also enjoys the various seasons that are so distinct in the Southern Appalachians. Her favorites are spring and fall when the area gets to show off just how beautiful it is.
“We are country, and that is something to be proud of,” she said. “We stand up for what we believe in and try to live in the best way that we can. I am proud to be from the great Appalachian Mountains.”
Otts prepared cornbread for the luncheon.
Fellow students Cassandra Ryan and Jennifer Arnett prepared fried potatoes and onions, respectively. Ondi Shaver prepared soup beans. TTC faculty member Tim Pierce contributed a deer roast to the celebration of all things Appalachian.
Carter County student Pam Sparks got to live out a fantasy of life in the Wild West.
“I always thought I’d like to live back in those days,” Sparks said. “At that time, there was a Code of the West. The bad guys wore the black hats and the good guys tipped their hats to the ladies.”
She admits not everything would have been enjoyable for people living during that era.
“The long wagon trains and cattle drives had to be grueling,” she said. “The Indians and wild animals had to be terrifying.”
Still, she remains fascinated by the legends of the Wild West.
“All in all though, I think life was a lot simpler than it is now,” said Sparks, who prepared pork barbecue to celebrate life in the Old West.
TTC faculty member Charles Snodgrass celebrated the Tuscan cuisine with the preparation of Chicken and Escarole, Apples and Potatoes paired with a Carrot and Celery Root Ribbon Salad.
Fellow faculty member Ranee Dula honored the nation of Holland by baking a Dutch Apple Pie.
Miller, who helped organize the luncheon, considered the event a great success.
Miller also contributed a meal that celebrated France and the French cuisine, making Roast Chicken Provencal, French Green Beans and Basque Cake.
“I chose France because my maiden name, Parlier, is French,” Miller said. “I also had two years of French in high school and always enjoyed the French cuisine we had.”
She recalled one of her favorites — the potatoes pomme de terre, which means apples of the earth, that she and her classmates enjoyed during those meals.
“Not only do students learn more of their heritage, but the event enables the students and other faculty and staff to learn about different cultures,” Miller said. “It allows students to work together, which is crucial in today’s work force.”
She added that many students conduct the research together and prepare items jointly, which makes the event very successful and enjoyed by all.