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A taste of Malaysia

Sodexo chief brings Southeast Asian cuisine to Ludwig

Olivet students do a lot of traveling; we study abroad, go on tour through musical and athletic programs, and embark on MIA trips to other side of the world. This week, the other side of the world has come to Olivet. Chef Ismail of Malaysia has traveled thousands of miles to bring his kitchen to ours.

Chef Ismail and his delicious Southeast Asian cuisine are in our dining room during Oct. 13 and 14, thanks to Sodexo’s Global Chef program. According to Sodexo’s In My Kitchen website, “In the Spring and Fall of each calendar year, a dozen Sodexo Chefs from around the world venture to the United States on a four week tour of select cafes and dining halls in which Sodexo provides food service.”

The chefs provide expertise from food from their countries and bring it here for us to sample. Chef Ismail’s expertise is food from Singapore and Indonesia.

“I don’t know what to expect, but I’m excited about it,” Olivet Sodexo General Manager Brice Grudzien said prior to our guest’s arrival. He enthusiastically discussed the “two-fold purpose” of the program: an exciting cross-cultural experience for Olivet students and faculty and for the Global Chef.

Grudzien recounted such interactions from the two previous years we have hosted a Global Chef. Last year, our guest was from the Netherlands; several students from this country were thrilled to have “food like at home.” Other students were able to try new food and learn more about the chef’s home by asking “why they served what they served.”

Likewise, the welcome we provide the Global Chef fosters a mutual cultural engagement. Grudzien revealed his plan to take Chef Ismail to Chicago for staples such as Portillo’s or Giordano’s and to take him out to dinner in Kankakee on Thursday.

Our guests’ engagement with American culture can be very enjoyable to facilitate. Grudzien recalled the “culture shock” of the Australian chef who was here in Spring 2014. He arrived in February, which is summertime in Australia. “He had never seen snow before,” Grudzien explained. “We got him gloves and a hat for him…we took him snowmobiling.”

The chefs typically spend between two to three days at each location before traveling to other locations for the remainder of the tour. Chef Ismail is currently being housed in a hotel and receiving transportation between Olivet and the hotel from Sodexo staff.

This year, the cultural interaction is turning out to be a lot of fun for everyone involved. Chef Ismail is thoroughly enjoying his experience here; this is his first time in the United States. “I am so excited,” he smiles. “I have been to Milwaukee and Cedar Rapids and now Bourbonnais.”

So far, America has been good to Chef Ismail, although in contrast to the 95 degree temperatures of his country, he is “freezing” here. “We turned on the heat in the car this morning,” laughs Brice.

Last night, Chef Ismail got to see the downtown Chicago area and enjoy dinner at Portillo’s. “The place is very good…only seen in television in Malaysia,” comments our guest. He is pleased to have finished the chocolate cake.

The Global Chef tour can be quite lonely for the chefs as they are away from their families and kids for a long period of time. For most chefs, this is the first time they have left their country.

Chef Ismail is away from his family for six weeks and has been through 26 hours of flight to be here and enable this unique cultural engagement. “Community is important. They’re here for us, we’re there for them,” Grudzien said.

Some of Chef Ismail’s special dishes include foods that are commonly served for festivals, such as the traditional beef rendang, soup mamak, chicken percik cooked in 100 percent coconut milk, and lemon grass.

It is a rare occurrence that Olivet has been selected now three times for this program. A selection committee by Sodexo corporate management decides which campus gets a chef for several days.

Chef Ismail will prepare the President’s lunch held on Oct. 14 at noon. Administration, faculty, and some students will be invited to attend this event and learn more about the Flavors of Malaysia.

–Elisabeth Garratt and Jennifer Doran

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