Voices overlap as everyone chatters excitedly. They grow quiet when the instructor starts to introduce herself. “Hola, me llamo…” is followed up by an interpreter translating for the students who don’t understand Spanish.
The instructor picks up her knife and begins to chop the red bell pepper in front of her. Everyone understands the language of food.
After going through the recipe instructions with only a few mistakes, the class is ready to pop their masterpiece in the oven. As the food sizzles and sighs in the heat, the chatter picks up again.
Everyone wants to laugh about how they didn’t realize you needed to take out the pepper seeds or about how messy working with spices can get. Soon, there is a sweet smell in the air of good food amidst good company. To end a great night, the class sits down to eat together, satisfied with themselves and their meal.
Each night of Latin cuisine cooking classes flows about the same but welcomes a new instructor and new food on the menu.
So far, there have been three sessions. The first was Oct. 1 and was led by Mimi Sandbulte, a Northwestern staff member, where they made fajitas. The second dish was huaraches made on Oct. 8 by local business owner Lucy Martinas, who runs Trejos Catering. The third was held Oct. 15 by Maria Peralta who made ceviche and shrimp cocktails.
The classes coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) and are meant to shed light on Latin American culture by using an outlet everyone can get behind: food.
“This event is about building community and reaching cross-culturally” said Martha Draayer, Hispanic community liaison. “If you’ve never had a conversation with someone of a different culture, this is a way to start the conversation in a natural way that isn’t so intimidating.”
Each class is free to students. All they need to bring is themselves and an empty stomach. The classes are held at Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City as a way to not conflict with NW Dining Services responsibilities.
In only an hour, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., the class will make and eat their own Latin cuisine while being able to interact with someone from the area who is a part of the Latin community. At times, a translator is needed and other times they are not. Either way, the students are able to communicate through the food they are preparing.
“The food was awesome, but the best part was definitely being able to listen to Mimi, Martha and Neftali speaking Spanish, learning new words, learning different cooking techniques and laughing about fun facts about Latino culture,” Maria Lopes said.
Another student found the class to be a good way to destress.
“I have enjoyed being able to learn and cook the dishes and eat them at the end but also being able to have an escape from the stress of school,” said Kathleen Chicas, Latino student liaison.
Whether for “food therapy” or fun, the classes have been a hit with almost all of them hitting their max of 10 students. There is only one session left, Oct. 22, in which Draayer’s own mother, Martha Perez, will be teaching the class how to make their own flour tortillas and guacamole.
But the community building will not end with these cooking classes. Draayer hopes to develop a video series of what it means to be Latino.
There are many cultural nuances throughout Latin American countries. The Instagram videos hope to highlight these and to spark cultural conversations.
“It is important to notice that ‘Latino culture’ is a very, very broad term,” Lopes said. “I am Latina, since I am from Brazil, but I am not Hispanic, which means everything in the class was new to me.”
For anyone interested in these sessions, signups are at the Campus Ministry desk in Ramaker.