GREENFIELD — Nolan Jones made his sopapillas perfect on the first try, he said.
The traditional Spanish fried dessert pastries turned out amazing, the freshman Spanish student said as he set them up in his high school cafeteria.
He just hoped his classmates and teachers felt the same way about the dessert.
Greenfield-Central High School’s world language classes held their 19th annual World Language Cookoff Thursday evening to celebrate the school’s foreign language and exchange programs. It’s an event that celebrates inclusion and promotes diversity; every year, the occasion kicks off with a special ceremony honoring the year’s foreign exchange students.
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About 150 students, including 13 foreign exchange students from France, Switzerland, South Korea, Slovakia, Germany, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Ukraine, participated in the event, which also welcomes friends and family members, this year.
Annually, students in foreign language classes are challenged to create a dish from the countries they’ve spent months — and in some cases years — studying. Desserts, appetizers and main dishes are all fair game in the contest that aims to expose students to different regions of the world.
Greenfield-Central students have the option to study Spanish, German or French, and the dishes they prepare come from countries where those languages are spoken.
Each year, the event also includes a flag ceremony honoring international students who are spending the year studying at Greenfield-Central. The students present their flags to the school and introduce themselves to the crowd and talk about their home country.
Then, the crowd is ushered back to the cafeteria, where some 150 dishes await.
School staff members review the recipe cards on display and sample each entry, then vote on their favorites before unleashing the crowd on the tables crammed with goodies.
The event is a fun way for students to learn about the cultures they’re studying, said Spanish teacher Sonja Jaggers, who coordinates the event each year.
She enjoys seeing students expand their horizons each year as they experiment with cooking new dishes and trying what their peers have served up.
“It’s a celebration of all the cultures coming together,” Jagger said. “It’s our one night a year the world language department comes together in celebration.”
Students who participate receive extra credit in their world language course; winners are rewarded with gift certificates to local businesses.
Layne Kintner, a junior taking Spanish, prepared Spanish corn for the event. The creamy dish features corn, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise and a variety of spices.
He found the recipe online and thought the straight-forward steps were ones he could easily tackle. And what resulted was simple but satisfying, even for the student who declared he’s “not normally a cook.”
Kintner prepared the dish earlier this week and thought it was so tasty he’d add it to the menu for an upcoming family gathering this weekend, he said.
While extra credit is always a good incentive for participating in school activities, the opportunity to try new culinary creations is the biggest draw for many students, Kintner said.
“You bring in a dish and get to try out food from all different places,” he said.
For the school’s foreign exchange students who have spent months learning about all things American, the event provides a chance to introduce their new classmates to traditional dishes from their home countries.
Hien Hoang of Vietnam prepared Vietnamese egg rolls, a staple in her home, for her peers and teachers.
The appetizer features shrimp, carrots, rice noodles and a mix of spices.
She joked the egg rolls — one of her favorite foods — might look ugly, but they’re pretty tasty.
Alexandra Kubackova of Slovakia made cabbage soup, her country’s traditional soup served during special occasions, such as Christmas. She wanted to give her peers a taste of her home, she said.
The soup is easy to make and can include a variety of different ingredients. For Thursday’s version, Alexandra used sour cabbage, ham, sausage, potatoes, garlic and onions.
Some students spent weeks searching for the perfect dish for the contest, while others knew what they’d make right away, Jaggers said. Every year, the event gives students a chance to break away from normal classwork while celebrating cultural awareness.
“It’s so much fun, and the kids really love it,” Jaggers said. “I look forward to it all year. I think we all do.”