Smile Politely

U of I’s International Cooking Show cooks up global cuisine

There is a live cooking show filmed right here in Champaign-Urbana, and each episode serves a taste of global cuisine cooked by a C-U chef. The show is called International Cooking Show, and it’s hosted on Zoom by the University of Illinois’ International and Area Studies Library. 

I spoke with Sandra Gutierrez the chef who is cooking for the November episode this Friday, November 11th at 2 p.m., and also with the organizers, graduate assistants Alexus Kreft and Ethan Walter, about the show.

Smile Politely: Hello Sandra! Can you talk about your dish that you will make on Friday, November 11th?

Sandra Gutierrez: I will be making tamales. I love to cook tamales. It’s a four hour job, but I’m going to pre-cook and show every step by demonstrating.

SP: Who or what influenced your cooking?

Gutierrez: My mom.

SP: What are ingredients do you like to cook with?

Gutierrez: Garlic, pepper cumin, chile guajillo, and chile de árbol.

SP: How do you prepare your kitchen for the cooking show? 

Gutierrez: I have all the ingredients ready in bowls. I’ll boil and mix and strain to get rid of seeds, but I would have already done that and have it ready to use. Most of my life, I’ve spoken two languages, so I might throw a few Spanish words mixed with English.

SP: What would you like to cook in the future for the cooking show if you were to come back for another episode?

Gutierre: Enchiladas de mole.

Photo from International and Area Studies Library at Illinois’s Facebook page.

I also chatted with organizers Alexus Kreft, a graduate assistant in UIUC’s International and Area Studies Library, and Ethan Walter, graduate assistant for the Slavic Reference Service at UIUC’s IAS Library.

SP: Alexus and Ethan, can you tell me about the show and how it got started?

Alexus Kreft: From my understanding, the show has only existed as a virtual event, and it began after programming went virtual due to COVID-19. I’ll leave it to Ethan to see if he has any more info to provide here.

Ethan Walter: Alexus is correct. The show was conceived and first conducted as a virtual event by the library during the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To the best of my knowledge, the show was first “produced” by Kerstin Wolf, another GA for IAS, and then handed off to Caryn Corliss (a former GA) and myself for the Fall 2021 semester. I then produced the show by myself from December of 2021 to May of 2022, and we restarted the program this August with Alexus.

SP: Can you talk about the virtual connections you (or the department or the show) made over food?

Kreft: I really love seeing things like the strongly-held opinions people had about Nigerian versus Ghanian jollof rice during the first episode. Lots of friends and family members of chefs have joined as well as members from the University of Illinois community, and it’s really fun to see people from all over come together and talk about food!

SP: I watched the first episode of the fall season, and I really enjoyed it. Can you talk about how this season compares to the earlier seasons?

Walter: In comparison to previous seasons, we are seeing an increase in the number of returning chefs who may be contributing to the program. Additionally, with other units on campus conducting similar programs (e.g. the campus’ International Student and Scholar Services’ department has been conducting an “International Cook-Off” program since the start of the Fall semester), the format of our show may change as time goes on to better provide a unique experience for audience members; however, at the moment, the show’s format and “sense of self” are fairly stable.

SP: How do you select the chefs for the show?

Kreft: We have a few ways of reaching out to chefs. A lot of times, we hear through the grapevine about someone within Illinois’s library or larger community who loves to cook and has recipes to share and we reach out to them. We also have a form that we’ve shared on our social media to collect volunteers and have had some great chefs come from there. 

SP: What is the process of filming a live cooking show for Zoom?

Walter: In terms of producing the cooking show, the vast majority of our time is spent in promoting the show. As the chef is essentially responsible for preparing and streaming their demonstration via Zoom, our role in the process is to ensure that they have an audience for the time that they have given us. Therefore, our team does a great deal of communication and promotion via internal listservs for the UIUC library system, our social media accounts, and peer-to-peer discussions. We also create flyers and other visual materials to promote the show, and we keep the conversations engendered by the program going by recording and uploading the show to our library’s Illinois Media Space page.

SP: What has been the response from viewers?

Kreft: As you can see from the first session, I think people are really excited to hear about foods that might be new to them or to have the opportunity to create connections over foods they love. A nice response from the community has been people seeking out information about international food stores in the Champaign-Urbana area. It seems like lots of people have been really excited about to try new recipes!

SP: What can you share about the upcoming episodes?

Kreft: We haven’t confirmed any specific recipes quite yet, but we’re hoping to have both new chefs and some returning ones cook for us in the upcoming months! I’m really looking forward to seeing what they bring.

Watch previous episodes of the show here. If you want to try to be a chef on the show, you can apply here.

Register to watch the November tameles episode with Chef Gutierrez live this Friday, November 11th at 2 p.m. on Zoom.

Top image provided by International and Area Studies Library at Illinois.

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