Joshua Kiilu knows his way around serving others. For several years, he has brought his fellow members at Columbus’ North Christian Church on mission trips to his native Kenya.
However, on a recent evening at the church at 850 Tipton Lane, Joshua demonstrated a different kind of serving.
The literal kind — at the dinner table in the church’s downstairs kitchen and dining area.
“Here, you don’t have to travel for international food,” he said.
Such are the surroundings for the twice-monthly “Cooking Across Cultures” group that began simmering warm fellowship among American and foreign North Christian members and acquaintances about a year ago.
Organizers Ken Lanteigne and Anna Jacobson figured good recipes for a variety of dishes also would serve as good recipes for filling friendship. That came from working alongside various international residents on community garden projects.
“It has drawn together people who might not ordinarily mix,” Lanteigne said. “After all, everybody loves food, right?”
Columbus’ David Bain, who grew up on the mission fields of South Africa, the West Indies and Australia, sees a great blending of culture and camaraderie among the gatherings that have attracted from 10 to 40 people per meeting.
“For me, the draw is the friendship with different nationalities and how they eat and live,” David Bain said of his second visit. “Here, we can see how we’re all different, yet appreciate that we’re also very much the same.”
Wife Patsy Bain finds a different lure to the get-togethers marked by generous helpings of food and friendliness.
“I love the idea of watching people prepare the food,” she said. “For me, it’s a real learning experience.”
Some people even take notes as volunteer chefs cook or bake before observers’ eyes.
North Christian’s expansive kitchen appears perfect for such a role of demonstration. At a recent Cooking Across Cultures session, 12 people comfortably sat and watched Kiilu and his wife, Rachel, prepare Kenyan chicken curry and chapati, a kind of flatbread.
Participants also discovered plenty of room for humor, consistently ribbing Joshua when he skipped measuring everything from garlic to cooking oil to butter, which he loves.
“Butter does miracles,” he said with a laugh.
Apparently, so does casual banter about various ingredients for dishes, even among those who say they’d much rather eat than cook.
“Really,” Jacobson said, “we don’t have a specific agenda.”
Other than stirring warm conversations and relationships.
Members already have shared dishes such as Trinidadian vegetable rice and stewed chicken, Chinese spring rolls and dumplings and Indian masala rice.
And apparently, a November pitch-in looked a lot like another version of Columbus’ Ethnic Expo international festival, with more than
40 dishes from around the world, according to attendees.
“You would have thought that you were in the United Nations cafeteria,” Joshua said.
Columbus’ Billie Jean Littiken spent eight years in Japan as a U.S. Navy cook. She recently grew excited about plans to demonstrate her specialty of Palimino pepper potato cake at one of the upcoming gatherings. Meanwhile, attendees will continue to sing the praises of the group’s four-star menu for simple discovery.
“You couldn’t ask for better food than we have here,” said Lesli Lanteigne. “Or better friends.”