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Gordon College gets a taste of Colombia

Kay S. Pedrotti Joaquin Suarez is a chef on a mission – not only to share the cuisine of his home country of Colombia, but also to “change the way we eat, so that we reverse the bad effects of years of wasting food and nutrients and not eating the right foods.” Suarez is an executive chef with Sodexo Company, which handles the food service operations at Gordon State College under the experienced and talented Chef Bill Littiken. Suarez is in charge of the”globalship program” for Sodexo, an effort to bring together chefs of different countries and cultures to share how they cook and why and to promote learning opportunities for “sustainable recipes.” GSC is the last stop on the current tour, which also included Disney World, Georgia College and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona. Suarez injured his leg and ankle in an airport as he traveled to Atlanta, so he has been cooking with one of the dining hall’s high stools to sit on. Otherwise, he’s in a wheelchair, but nothing stops this man who is dedicated to his job and to food as a way of sharing and unifying the peoples of the world. His wife Tania is assisting him on this stop. Last Friday the students and the public were treated to numerous Colombian dishes – including octopus ceviche; guava, blackberry and coconut candies; banana and plantain dishes, and – big-butt ants. Not all were that exotic. The ants, he said, are farm-raised for human consumption and served roasted on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. ”No one eats big-butt ants every day in Colombia because they are too expensive. It is truly a delicacy,” Suarez said. One person who sampled the ants last week said they tasted “not bad” and “like a nut.” Suarez said they are usually served with anise and a slice of orange. Suarez has been a trainer for Sodexo for 15 years and leading the international program for most of those years. Sodexo is represented in 80 countries, and he has worked with chefs from such places as the Scandinavian countries, France, Poland, and even China and Russia. Costa Rica and Norway are coming into the program this year, he said, and he is beginning to work in some African countries. ”Gordon is an important client of the company,” Suarez said. “Being part of the international program is one way of taking care of Sodexo’s customers, bringing learning experiences from other cultures and cross-training Sodexo chefs.” Suarez explained “sustainable recipes” as those in which all of the food item is used. In order to accomplish the nutrition-without-additives that is the purpose of the recipes, he said, “we must follow the food from the fields, what fertilizers they use, how the food is harvested, and so forth.” One example that has worked well is the use of banana peel in banana bread. ”We wash the peels several times very carefully, and then grate the peels to include in the baked bread. This way every part of the fruit is used.” he said. In another case, cooked beets can be made into a sweet dish with coconut and condensed milk, “and the children don’t realize they are eating a vegetable that is good for them.” The nutrient-filled water from boiling the beets could be used in a jelly recipe, he added. Suarez emphasizes that everywhere around the world, people are poorly nourished, especially newborns. Everybody should make “live food,” one which has had a life, like fruits and vegetables, 80 percent of their diet. The “dead food,” like meat and fish – that comes from something that has been killed – should be only 20%, he said. Instead, most people’s diets are badly out of balance, said the chef. Because newborns who are undernourished or malnourished will suffer all kinds of problems in later life, Suarez said, he works with more than 15 food banks in Bogota and other locations in a “Stop Hunger” program. He had good things to say about his and Tania’s experiences cooking at home. She is the chef and I am the sous-chef, he said, and “the best part is she is a foodie like me.”

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