Gumbo challenge brings West campus community together

Students, faculty, and staff gather for the 2013 Black History month Gumbo Challenge. The Gumbo Challenge is part of the West campus celebration of Black History. (Photo by Ashley Kesweder) Students, faculty, and staff gathered at a professor's house for a Gumbo Challenge. The Gumbo Challenge was part of the West campus's celebration of Black History. (Photo by Ashley Kesweder)

The smell of Cajun spices filled professor Akua Duku Anokye’s home Saturday as students, faculty and staff gathered for an annual gumbo challenge.

Anokye, who teaches Africana language, literature and culture at the West campus, has offered her home for the Black History Month event for 11 years.

There were four competing gumbos this year.

“We try to build community and hope that our students, faculty and staff know that our community extends beyond the brick and mortar of the campus,” she said. “We wanted to have an event where people could relax without time constraints.”

Anokye said she has been organizing Black History Month programs for 40 years.

“Wherever I’ve been … I’ve always been involved in these events,” she said. “The gumbo challenge got to be one of those events.”

The West campus has a very intimate community, Anokye said.

The idea for the gumbo challenge started after Anokye invited people over to try her recipe and wanted to taste others.

“We usually get a couple of guests to be the judge,” she said. “I often make a gumbo, but I don’t enter the challenge, because I always win.”

Kamala Green, executive director of the office of Equity and Inclusion, was one of the four contestants.

She entered the challenge with a recipe she created with her husband.

Lucy Berchini, Administative Associate for SHArCS (School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies) for the West Campus, checks on the food one last time before serving for the 2013 Gumbo Challenge. (Photo by Ashley Kesweder) Lucy Berchini, Administative Associate for SHArCS (School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies) for the West Campus, checks on the food one last time before serving for the 2013 Gumbo Challenge. (Photo by Ashley Kesweder)

“You boil chicken wings … and you fry your sausage in another pan, so it can get hard just a little bit,” she said. “You do it to your taste, but it’s always a Cajun-style dish.”

Green said she learned to prepare gumbo when she was very young.

“We put a little twist on it,” she said. “I can’t tell what it is, though.”

Green said the food brings people together and she plans to come back next year.

Her dish won third place this year.

Rashonda Flint, who is part of the Black History Month committee, said the event is held at a house to recreate the family tradition.

“I think the West campus has a large history of doing cultural events and activities,” Flint said.

Liberal studies graduate student Rosie Huf, one of Anokye's former students, attended the challenge for the first time.

“Food is a staple of the African-American culture,” she said. “I think it really does reflect black history and the black culture.”

Before the guests tried the food, Anokye led a traditional form of African prayer called libation.

“We are Africans. … We are a collaborative community,” Anokye said. “With this, we will create collective energy that we need in order to be the successful people that we are.”

She poured a liquid into a bowl while she recited names of ancestors and asked others to offer the names of their own ancestors.

“We do this because want the blessings of all of the ancestors,” she said. “But most of all, because we are unified people.”

Storyteller and writer Fatimah Halim was one of the three judges of the challenge.

“It’s very subjective, it’s all about what tasted good for me,” she said.

The judges had to grade the gumbos in three categories: appearance, taste and authenticity.

“For me, a good gumbo would have a lot more fish than meat,” she said. “Also, the right flavor and the right amount of okra.”

The challenge is an opportunity to experience black culture, Halim said.

“The best thing about today is the people,” she said. “Food is good, but everybody feels like family, and I like that.”

Ilana Luna, who teaches Latin American studies at the West campus, decided to enter the challenge because she loves to cook.

“I learned to cook gumbo this afternoon,” she said. “This is exciting.”

Luna researched different recipes and added a twist of her own culture with some Caribbean and Mexican ingredients such as chipotle and coconut.

Anokye is Luna’s faculty mentor.

Working on the West campus has been a great experience, Luna said.

“(The West campus) is very nourishing,” she said. “It’s very important to recognize the wonderful diversity that characterizes ASU.”


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