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Student employee and international student Daniela Mendez Padilla says she was “super nervous” to have CWU Campus Executive Chef Joe Ritchie recreate one of her favorite recipes from Chile, but he ended up really liking the dish, charquican, which he’d never heard of before.

Central Washington University culinary team drives engagement, connectivity with students in new ways

Virtual cooking demos, affordable pop-up events keep face-to-face interaction just a click away or safely distanced for all students, on campus and at home during this very untraditional fall semester.

Making lemonade out of lemons is the order of the day for many, and that includes Dining Services at Central Washington University, where they’ve found new ways to connect. Virtual cooking demos and pop-ups have been two of the most successful so far.

When the team was looking for a way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in October, student employee and international student Daniela Mendez Padilla shared one of her favorite recipes from Chile with Campus Executive Chef Joe Ritchie, and the two got to work recreating charquican, a hearty stew.

The virtual event, a partnership with Westside Student Life, gave Dining Services the chance to interact with students who were watching along online and asking questions.

“We’re trying to recreate the typical special events that happen during a normal year,” says Director of Dining Services Dean Masuccio.

During the demo, Ritchie mentioned that as soon as Padilla started describing the dish to him, he happily realized many of the ingredients were already growing at the Wildcat Neighborhood Farm, including onions, carrots, peppers, garlic, potatoes and a special item, kabocha squash.

Ritchie’s squash-peeling skills in the first few minutes of the video are worth watching for anyone faced with a kobucha and wanting to deal with it safely. Check out the video here.

“This dish is all about comfort,” Richie says. “These fall items are perfect right now. It’s a really hearty dish that they traditionally cook when the weather gets cooler.”

Padilla remembers eating the dish during cozy winter days at a friend’s house in Chile. “I associate happiness with this, and I hope others can learn to do this and enjoy it, too,” she says.

Production of the virtual cooking demo required a lot of teamwork, Masuccio says. “We’ve never done anything like this before, so it was a pretty heavy lift. The exciting thing for Dining Services is that this fits with our vision of promoting the growth of our diverse community through culinary and educational experiences on campus.”

Pop-up events have also been spicing things up and bringing people (safely) together this fall. The first was a $2 slice night at the Student Union and Recreation Center, which brought in about 165 people for a socially distanced pizza party. Another event, the Wing Night Challenge, had students sampling different wing sauces and then voting online for their favorites.

“These pop-up events offer a price point that encourages participation,” Ritchie says. “We’re doing to do more student events this fall and we’re starting to plan for winter quarter. Our goal is to boost student engagement while keeping everyone safe.”

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

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