Once a year for the past decade, the kitchen at the Augustana College Center becomes a warring mess of smells from spices, sauces, meats and piles of brightly colored food, each representing one of seven regions of the world.
One chef and several cooks spend months planning and gathering ingredients for their assigned region, and on the day of the annual International Food Festival, chilis, tilapia and curry battle with the likes of coriander, leeks, Andouille sausage and Ethiopian cabbage to overwhelm the senses.
The festival, sponsored by the Office of International Programs at the Rock Island college, has drawn more than 500 people a year for several years, and tonight, organizers expect at least that number to attend again.
By Friday, only a few dishes had been prepared. Chef Martin Fleetwood said stacks of whole cooked salmon in the cooler had been pungent to cook, but would be even more interesting this morning.
"It's definitely different," he said. "It depends on where you're standing in the kitchen. It's kind of confusing, really."
Fleetwood, who is preparing dishes from the Middle East and Africa, said that in the weeks leading up to the festival, equipment in the kitchen is sectioned off by world region as each cook prepares for several hours of preparing 30 dishes.
He said he didn't think people understood how chaotic the kitchen gets in the days before the festival.
"I don't think they realize how much work goes into the whole event," he said. "I mean, there's some stuff you have to plan a month in advance just to make sure the ingredients get there. Like, ice for the ice carvings. You can't just go pick up a 300-pound block of ice."
Fleetwood said that despite the hubbub around the festival, he enjoys being able to sample some of the food everyone on his staff made.
"I love falafel," Fleetwood said. "That's actually on our student menu once a month, too."
Although many of the cooks are not familiar with the regional food they prepare, one cook spent Friday preparing a dish that has been in her family for at least a century.
Galina Turner of Bettendorf moved to the United States from Siberia and has been making her borscht for the festival for at least three years.
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As she diced the beets, carrots and bell peppers needed for the soup, Turner explained that her family had migrated to Siberia from Ukraine around the turn of the 20th century.
She said she doesn't follow a written recipe. Instead, she makes the soup the same way her mother and grandmother made it for years.
Turner stopped chopping and rubbed her red beet-stained hands together before talking about how proud she is to represent her culture to guests of the festival.
She said she was given the opportunity to prepare the dish after Augustana College president Steve Bahls stopped in the kitchen to thank the staff for their work on a previous year's festival.
"I said, ‘It's so nice that you tell thank you. But I'm not so happy because I'm from Russia, and we don't see Russian food here. I am a Russian cook, you can take advantage,'" she said.
Turner said Bahls told her he loved Russian food and would make sure the menu was changed for the next year's festival.
"Next year, international dinner and I see in the list ‘borscht,'" Turner said. "So I brought my Russian filet, and I make my borscht. It makes me so happy."