‘Taste of Soul’ festival serves up comfort food classics

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SVSU’s Office of Diversity Programs, Dining Services and University Communications sponsored the annual “Taste of Soul” food festival at the Marketplace at Doan on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Students, staff, faculty and community members gathered to eat a wide variety of traditional soul food, with many of the recipes being provided by African-American faculty and staff and prepared in collaboration with Dining Services.

“Faculty and staff give us recipes,” said Executive Chef Daniel Najera. “So, they can give us a recipe for their family favorite, and it could be for 10 people. We then take that recipe and multiply it out and make sure all the ingredients are here and then our staff puts it all together.”

The event also featured live music, setting the mood of the festival as attendees were able to experience a mix of food and culture.

“I enjoyed the culture of the event the most,” said Nolan Twardy, a second-year supply chain management student. “Inviting community members and having live music really added to the experience. Plus, the food tasted like it was made with care and passion.”

Twardy added that his favorite food at the event was the banana pudding.

Mamie Thorns, special assistant to the president for Diversity Programs, said the “Taste of Soul” planning process begins in the fall. Thorns is happy with how “Taste of Soul” has expanded from a campus-focused event into a larger community engagement opportunity for SVSU.

“We know we want to have soul food, but in the last six or seven years, we’ve started bringing in people from the community,” Thorns said. “It’s a way to bridge the community with the university.”

Thorns values the inclusive nature of events like “Taste of Soul,” seeing them as an opportunity to appreciate SVSU’s diverse community.

“This event is what diversity is all about, inclusion and embracing our differences and celebrating our differences.” Thorns said. “Seeing the number of people from our community come to our campus is my favorite part. Some of the community members have never been on our campus before, so that’s exciting and it makes me happy.”

The various dining stations at the Marketplace at Doan featured items such as baked chicken, catfish, candied yams, ribs, fried chicken wings, mac and cheese, smothered pork chops, corn bread, banana pudding and a variety of other foods.

Najera said once all the recipes are compiled, portions are determined based on expectations, and ingredients are ordered a week prior to the festival. Food preparation, such as brining ribs and chicken wings, begins a few days prior to “Taste of Soul.”

“Any type of diversity that you can bring on campus is good,” Najera said. “For instance, showing the international students different cultures that we have here. I talked to some of them here (Wednesday), and they thought the food was great. It was the first time they’d had something like fried catfish.”

Najera said he enjoys “Taste of Soul” in its entirety.

“I love the whole process of putting it all together, going out there and seeing people happy, telling me how great it was. That’s the end goal,” Najera said. “When people come up to you smiling and full, that’s what it’s all about.”

Additionally, the Men of Bethel from Bethel A.M.E. Church in Saginaw assisted the Dining Services staff in preparing the food for Wednesday’s festivities. The group arrived about 8 a.m. to help prepare the chicken wings and catfish.

“The (Dining Services) staff was so receptive, they welcomed us,” said James McMillan, a member of the Men of Bethel. “We communicated so well.”

The Men of Bethel assist in projects like “Taste of Soul” on a regular basis, but last Wednesday was their first time helping out at SVSU’s food festival specifically. McMillan said the group is excited about the prospect of returning in the future.

As the event began to wind down, the Men of Bethel were joined by Thorns and SVSU President Don Bachand in the Marketplace Conference Room to enjoy some of the food for themselves.

“These guys are excellent cooks,” Thorns said. “They accepted the challenge, and here we are. Some of the staff and faculty recipes are from their great grandmothers that have been handed down to them. It’s a way to celebrate our heritage and say thank you to our ancestors for passing the recipes down to us.”

Third-year management student Karah Hoch echoed Thorns’ point.

“The food was fantastic, but also, you could feel and see the culture and diversity at the event,” Hoch said.

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