SHADY HILLS — Zara Supatan is the kind of person who feels the urge to cook even late at night, so when she needed to come up with an ethnic dish for a classroom cultural festival at Crews Lakes K-8 School, she had no trouble settling on the perfect recipe.
The 12-year-old seventh-grader would make siopao, a steamed-pork bun from her native Philippines.
“It seemed good to make because no one knows what it is,” Zara said last week as she kneaded dough in the Family and Consumer Sciences classroom at the school.
Siopao was just one of many culinary treats that seventh- and eighth-grade students in teacher Jill Bopp’s classes came up with for their cultural festival, where they prepared the dishes, then lay them out buffet style to sample the results.
A student from Puerto Rico used a recipe that featured plantains. Other dishes that showed up through the course of the festival included ravioli, shepherd’s pie, English trifle and crepes, among many others.
“They’ve been making things from scratch, and they’ve been amazing,” Bopp said.
The cultural festival was a learning exercise that went far beyond cooking up delicacies from around the world. The project began about two months ago, and each team of two to five students researched a country, learning about its history and its culture, as well as its food.
In addition to the Philippines and Puerto Rico, other countries represented at the festival included the United Kingdom, Italy, Guyana, France and Mexico.
Bopp also enlisted help from the school’s elementary-age students, who are attending Crews Lakes while nearby Shady Hills Elementary undergoes a two-year renovation. The elementary school students helped with decorations, such as coloring flags, maps and symbols from other countries.
Some elementary students also wrote vocabulary words from the foreign lands or traced their hands to symbolize the joining of hands across the world.
As Bopp watched one group of seventh-graders dive into their assigned meal-preparation tasks last week, she couldn’t help but think back to the beginning of the school year, when many students were mystified by kitchen basics.
“The first day, most of them couldn’t tell me what a measuring spoon was,” Bopp said. “A lot of them didn’t know how to crack an egg.”
Two months of tutelage under Bopp’s watchful eyes paid off. As the students prepared their dishes, their questions for her were at a minimum. They went straight to work, measuring, mixing and stirring.
“They didn’t really need a lot of direction from me, and I was sad,” Bopp said.
Although some of the students arrived at the beginning of the year as kitchen novices, a few, such as Zara, came with experience.
“I got the dough right,” she exclaimed as she finished kneading.
Coral Canada, 14, was part of the team working with Zara on the siopao, pitching in even as she bemoaned the fact she wouldn’t be able to sample the results. One of the ingredients was oyster sauce, and Coral is allergic to shellfish.
Nearby, Crystal Bradley, Cailey Stepongzi and Cheyanne James, all 12, concocted an English trifle, a dessert they hoped would look as appetizing as it tasted.
When they finished, they were skeptical they achieved just the right eye appeal.
No matter. They eagerly pulled out their phones to photograph the creation anyway.