Like countless other in-person events, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO)’s annual Taste of Nations hasn’t been happening because of the pandemic. But Chef Asif Sarkar, RDM Steven Godard and the Aladdin Campus Dining team found a way to improvise that delivered the spirit of the event, and maybe even some inner peace, to boot.
Since the Taste of Nations event celebrates diversity and global cuisine, Sarkar decided to dig into his own roots and created the Namaste menu, which was a big hit and has morphed into a part of the residential dining cycle, expanding into different cultures, as well.
“I grew up in India and completed culinary school in Kolkota, West Bengal,” Sarkar says. “I completed my internship at the Swissotel Hotels & Resorts and I learned so much. Then, I moved to the U.S. and began my first job in New York as a line cook at The Sagamore (an historic upstate hotel).”
From there, Sarkar moved to Wisconsin and eventually found the college foodservice world. For the past year, he’s been on board at UWO as the retail and catering sous chef with Elior North America/Aladdin Campus Dining. Starting a job in the middle of a pandemic isn’t easy, but “I found so much positivity and hope within my team,” he says. “I was impressed with how collaboratively the team worked prior to the pandemic, and that collaboration has only increased today.”
A common goal has been the key to that connectivity, he adds. “We are all on the same mission to bring happiness and delicious food to the students and the wider university community and have leaned on each other to talk through the best ways to make that happen.”
As for the Namaste menu, “during the pandemic when everything was restricted, we were on a mission to try and bring back a sense of normalcy to students. My team is always coming together to think of creative ways to serve the students better.”
The menu included crispy tandoori chicken drumsticks with mango chutney, tandoori tofu with pineapple chutney, naan bread, cumin raita, rice, sauces, sweets and more.
Sarkar hopes that that this event will become a regular dining fixture, rather than a once-a-year special thing. Taste of Nations will live on, though, with a relaunch featuring South African culture and foodways. Also coming up this spring, a sushi bar with an impressive variety of rolls. Overall, Sarkar is most excited about “offering more unique foods for the community to try.”