In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, the Faculty Student Association (FSA) invited Food Network chef and cookbook author Aarti Sequeira to bring her unique cooking style and perspective on cuisine to Stony Brook University. This event is part of the campus Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Initiative, celebrating our community’s multiculturalism with an educational seminar and food tasting along with performances from SBU Bhangra and SBU Taandava student groups.
“I have sort of a dual identity because I was born in India, but I grew up in the Middle East, so both of those things really influence the way that I cook.” Aarti said. “First and foremost, my soul is Indian, so I’m always going to be looking for spices, aroma, fresh herbs — like sort of layers of flavor — that’s always going to be my default way to cook.”
Aarti’s career as a chef began in 2007 when, after previously working as a journalist for CNN, she decided to earn her professional certificate from the New School of Cooking in Culver City. In 2010, she participated in the sixth season of “The Next Food Network Star” and won, becoming the host of her own show on Food Network titled “Aarti Party.”
Aarti’s cooking style, explained in her cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul, is a combination of her personal history and the cultural influences she has encountered. “I come from a family of extraordinary cooks, and extraordinarily obsessed food people. Cooking for people has always been a part of my DNA, you know, both from my mum and my dad, and just sort of the environment we both grew up in,” Aarti explains.
At the Asian Heritage Open House, students sampled Aarti’s cuisine in addition to enjoying a cultural presentation and signing of her cookbook. Aarti’s recipe for Mushroom Biryani was featured at East Side Dining and West Side Dining Dine-In, allowing students to broaden their culinary horizons right on campus. “I hope that students walk away from this month appreciating their own heritage and the heritage of others.” Aarti said.
For Aarti, the Asian Heritage Month celebration at Stony Brook offers a profound way to bring together people of different backgrounds. “Universities are such an amazing place because everybody from all over, from pretty much all walks of life, are right there in your classroom,” she said. “It’s such an extraordinary opportunity to meet with people you wouldn’t normally meet with, and exchange ideas with people you don’t agree with, and it’s encouraged, and it’s okay.”
This is the second time Stony Brook hosted an educational seminar that highlighted different cuisines. For Native American Heritage Month in November, FSA hosted an event with Chef Lois Ellen Frank where she explained the origins of Native American cuisine and its importance in the past, present and future of the world’s gastronomy. “My vision for diversity, equity and inclusion at SBU is to streamline and galvanize our programming efforts by collaborating and partnering with various programs and offices to deliver exceptional events like the Asian Heritage Month program. As our guest chef Aarti Sequeira told us, we need to flourish where we are planted and we can do so through continued collaborative efforts,” stated LeManuel Lee Bitsoi, Chief Diversity Officer.
“At times when diversity and inclusion is a hot topic on college campuses, this type of event offers a look at how Stony Brook is working to strengthen and enhance our campus community to become even more diverse, equitable and inclusive in creating a welcoming living and learning environment for every member of our campus,” explains Cheryl Chambers, Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs.
This event was produced in partnership with LeManuel Lee Bitsóí, EdD, Chief Diversity Officer, Faculty Student Association (FSA), CulinArt Group, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Charles B. Wang Center Cultural Programs and the following student cultural groups – the Pakistani Student Association, Himalayan Club, Cantonese Club, the South Asian Student Alliance, Taiwanese Student Association, China Blue, the International Student Organization, SBU Bhangra dance team, SBU Taandava dancers and Taiko Tides.
Planning more collaborative programs and guest chefs is definitely something FSA is aiming to do in the future. Angela Agnello, FSA Director of Marketing & Communications emphasized that “this type of event enhances the student life experience at Stony Brook with new cuisines and flavors. I am so proud that SBU has taken so many great steps to serve as a pioneer in setting a standard for inclusive excellence on a college campus.”
“There is something about breaking bread across the table from someone that is so magical and so connective” Aarti suggested. “Making meals and making time to share meals with people is a way to connect, and to connect with people that you wouldn’t ordinarily have a conversation with.”