Charity Givens and a team of staff and faculty from LCC International University participated in the cepelinai cooking championship, which took place in Gargždai, on August 17. The contest gathered people from all over Lithuania, where 13 teams were competing for the best cepelinai award. Even though Charity and her team Zydeco Zeppelins did not win, it was an incredible experience as they made 75 cepelinai and had a chance to learn more about the Lithuanian culture.
Charity, how did you find out about the cepelinai* cooking championship?
Elvinas Globis, who works in Student Life, contacted me saying that there is such a contest happening at a festival in Gargždai, and suggested it might be fun to participate. We had a team of our staff and faculty, and I was the chef. In our team, we had Dr. Andrew Jones from the Communication Department, Ksenija Ševcova from English Department, Dr. Jennifer Schneider from the Social Sciences Department, and LCC alumna Aušra Lidikevičiūtė (class of 2019). The organizers of the event provided us with potatoes and wood, and we had to bring our own supplies for the filling. My desire to participate in the contest was largely driven by the cultural experience it would bring.
What was the contest like?
Even though I did not know what to expect when we got there, it was fun. We had our tent, with the sign of our team “Zydeco Zeppelins”, and we made our cepelinai with cajun feeling. The story behind the name Zydeco is that it is a music genre, which originated in southwest Louisiana by French Creole speakers. Before the contest started, our team presented itself, the chiefs went up, got the aprons, official serving bowls for the judges, and then started cooking. The official cook time of the contest was from 1 pm to 5 pm, and at 5 we had to be ready to present to the judges.
How many cepelinai did your team make?
In total, we made 75 cepelinai, and we were still cooking even after we presented the dish to the judges. The contest had three winner places and there was one team who won the decoration prize. In terms of decoration, our tent was fairly simple. Me and Ksenija, we made a bunch of masks out of construction paper and we also had a garland and two big signs. Other teams had tables full of decorations, and flowers, so I could see the Lithuanian design approach, and I appreciated that. It was clearly visible from our tent that we were not from Lithuania.
Charity, where does your passion for food comes from?
I have liked cooking ever since I was little. It started out from baking chocolate chip cookies with my dad. During the summer I would visit my grandma, we would go into the garden in the morning to pick vegetables, and in the evening we would cook with the ingredients we gathered. I have always been interested in food and different ways of preparing things. Later, I started working in a restaurant, IHOP**, which is not a super classy joint, but I got to cook on the line, and it was really fun. I use cooking as an expression of love and appreciation for other people.
You also teach a class on Food and Culture. Has your passion for cooking inspired you to teach this class?
That is definitely part of the reason. I really like all the cultural things that come along with food. Growing up in the United States, there was so much international food that gets transformed into something different, and in the end, I was just exposed to a lot of international dishes. As I looked at the student body at LCC, I thought, it would be a great way to talk about different cultural aspects, since everyone is familiar with food and people know a lot about it. Food then becomes a really practical tool to be able to understand the culture and cultural identity from a different angle. When I started the course, I was interested in how we understand cultures. That was my big question. Then the focus shifted to the question of how do we understand that through food. And it opened up a lot of really good conversations with students, so later students started realizing where they come from or why they do things a certain way. This semester I am teaching this course again, and I am excited about it.
*Cepelinai (Zeppelins) - are large dumplings made of a mixture of raw and cooked potato dough that is filled with pork and doused in a ladle of a sour cream and bacon sauce. Though originally called didzkukuliai, the name was changed to cepelinai in the 20th century because of their resemblance to zeppelin airships.
**IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) - is an American multinational pancake house restaurant chain that specializes in breakfast foods.