Team Saudi Arabia Wins Top Honors at 2016 International Cook-Off

Judges Determine Its Dish of Kabsah is Worthy of First Place in the Annual Culinary Competition

An audience of 870 Kent State students, faculty, staff and families packed the Kent Student Center Ballroom Thursday night, November 17, to enjoy the culinary creations of six international cooking teams in this year's International Cook-Off Competition. Three judges – which included Jim Bracken, Dean of the University Libraries, Victor M. Torres, MA, Director of Global Engagement at the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) and Kathy Spicer, Outreach Program Manager for the Provost's Office – were given the task of selecting the top three winners in the competition. The audience were also invited to get in on the competition by using their cell phones to vote for the winner of the People's Choice Award. Six student culinary teams – from Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and South Korea – had been selected to compete from almost 30 entries. Each prepared and presented a different cultural entrée and beverage from its home country.

Team Members, Menus and Recipes

Photos from the Event

Cook-Off Video

The Cook-Off is an annual event hosted by the Office of Global Education to commemorate International Education Week 2016, which Kent State celebrated this year during the week of November 14 - 18. The Cook-Off was just one of 41 different events scheduled during International Education Week which included everything from lectures to luncheons, gallery openings to Gobble, Gobble Global!

The Cook-Off's master of ceremonies, Justin Hilton, Senior Associate VP of University Relations, welcomed the 870 attendees, introduced the cooking team and then got the evening's festivities underway with a hearty "Let's Eat!" Immediately, the audience queued up at the six serving and began enjoying the various dishes, which the teams had prepared. Meanwhile, the judges were sampling the food and comparing notes in preparation for making their selections for the first, second and third place winners. 

Throughout the evening, Justin Hilton kept the audience entertained as they satisfied their appetites with a series of interviews with members of the cooking teams and the judges, as well as a number of special guests - including a welcome, yet surprise visit from President Beverly Warren. The interviews provided a mix of information about the cooking teams' native countries, the preparation and ingredients of the food and plenty of laughs thanks to Justin's humorous approach to the proceedings. The interviews were conducted in a small side set which resembled a late night talk show stage.

Things got serious, though, when the awards ceremonies began. Justin returned to the main stage and was quickly joined there by the judges, cooking team members and Office of Global Education staffers, Desnee Stevens and Angela Schwarzer, the masterminds behind the evening's festivities. The excitement in the ballroom was palpable as Justin opened three envelopes – à la the Academy Awards - to sequentially reveal the third, second and first place winners: 

  • First Place: Saudi Arabia - Kabsah
  • Second Place: India - Chili Chicken
  • Third Place: Bangladesh - Kacchi Biryani, Begun Vaji and Borhani

While the crowd roared their approval of the third and second place winners, upon the announcement that Team Saudi had won the coveted First Place award, a small crowd of Saudi students, friends and family rushed the stage to join the cooking team in its celebration, much to the delight of the rest of the audience who acknowledged the winners with thunderous applause.

It took Justin several minutes to calm and quiet the crowd so that he could complete the evening's ceremonies with the announcement of the winner of the People's Choice award. This year, the Cook-Off audience could vote for their food favorite using their cell phones by calling a prescribed number and texting the appropriate code of their selected team. More than 400 of the 870 attendees voted and the results were tracked on an online voting site. The voting was, therefore, kept secret until a graphic was flashed on screen displaying the voting results for all six teams. The display revealed that Team India had received the most votes as Justin declared them the People's Choice winners. He was barely heard over the roar of the crowd for Team India.

  • People's Choice: India - Chili Chicken

With the close of the festivities, attendees slowly filed out of the ballroom, while the cooking teams lingered behind a while longer basking in the glow of their hard work in preparing the culinary offerings and in the success of providing a measure of delight and satisfaction to everyone in attendance that night.

“All the feedback that we heard from people about the food was positive. They all liked it and came back again and again. But we didn't expect to be the first place winner based on judge's opinion, which really shocked us. We are so happy and so thankful to everyone participated and to all the organizers. The most important thing is not that we won, but it is that we got to know awesome people from different countries and different expertise.”
Saleh Shahini, Captain of Team Saudi Arabia, First Place  

“The cook-off was a delightful representation of the unique way the Kent State community embraces and celebrates diversity in all of its forms.  I am so grateful to all of the students who shared their cultures and traditions as expressed so meaningfully through the special foods of their countries."
President Beverly Warren

"Congratulations to OGE for hosting a great event. It was a delicious blast. I enjoyed every minute of it. The food was excellent. The competition was fierce but friendly. It was a real Kent State community celebration. Hey-ooo!"
James K. Bracken, Dean, University Libraries and Cook-Off Judge

"The cook off was an amazing success. The organizers did a fantastic job, it was incredibly well attended, the atmosphere was festive, the President came to visit and the food was excellent."
Dr. Marcello Fantoni, Associate Provost

"I appreciated the enthusiasm of the students. It was such an uplifting event and obviously well received by the campus community. All of the food was so delicious. In my opinion, all of the teams deserve high praise for the efforts put forth."
Kathy Spicer, Outreach Program Manager and Cook Off Judge

POSTED: Thursday, November 17, 2016 12:00 AM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 08:41 PM