College of Education > News and Publications > News: July - Sept. 2011 > Sadhna Agrawal Gives Cooking Lessons to Penn State’s Dining Chefs

Sadhna Agrawal Gives Cooking Lessons to Penn State’s Dining Chefs

Penn State chefs get a lesson on ethnic cooking from College of Education staffer Sadhna Agrawal

Sadhna Agrawalby Jonathan McVerry,
Auxiliary & Business Services Marketing Office
(August 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The College of Education is all about teaching. And to validate the College’s purpose, Sadhna Agrawal, administrative support coordinator in the Dean’s Office, displayed her own teaching skills.

Agrawal, a native of India, used her home kitchen recently to teach new ethnic recipes to a group of nine Penn State dining room chefs and other staff. Her recipes are being added to the menus of the University’s dining room commons this fall.

About a year ago, Agrawal learned that the University was offering some expanded ethnic menus, but still for vegetarians the selection was somewhat limited. She made a suggestion to Lisa Wandel, director of food services, to incorporate some Indian dishes. Wandel was receptive to the idea and invited Agrawal for a meeting with the chefs and other food services colleagues.

Agrawal showed up at the meeting with an assortment of home-cooked items for the group to try. "I felt that Indian cuisine is better explained by actually tasting and savoring the flavor and spices in each dish," states Agrawal. "They were amazed at how much flavor there was in each item without it being overly spicy or rich.

Some time later, Wandel and her staff asked Agrawal to work with some of the University’s chefs and teach them how to prepare several Indian dishes.

Agrawal graciously and eagerly accepted the request.

Sadhnas_Kitchen.jpgWhen Campus Dining staff visited her kitchen, Agrawal found herself repeating the same suggestion: "Don't be afraid to use more spices." She says American food often uses only pinches and sprinkles. In India, recipes call for spices by the spoonful.

"The group was bowled over when they saw how much flavor there was in my dishes," Agrawal said. "And they saw that they weren't hard to do, and that got them excited to try it in the dining commons."

The staff visited Agrawal's kitchen to learn a few tips on home-style Indian cooking. Although a few Indian entrees have always been available in the dining commons, Agrawal offered to help expand the menu. The collaboration will increase the amount of ethnic choices, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options on dining commons menus.

This fall, many of the recipes have become available in all five of the on-campus dining commons. The idea came about when her son, Rishi Raj Agrawal—a Penn State student who lives on campus—brought home some friends.

"My son invited about 25 of his friends over," she said. "It was all Indian food and the boys cleaned it out…and they said they wanted to come back again for more."

This gave her the idea to contact Wandel about expanding the menu to include more home-style Indian options. She invited the staff to her house for a full-on Indian home cooking experience. The lesson was fun and educational for both the staff and Agrawal, as well as beneficial for the diversity of on-campus dining.

"It's always good to learn new things, especially from someone with such expertise," Executive Chef Mark Kowalski said. "We went through the recipes and picked the ones we can add to our weekly menus. We got great feedback. We're looking forward to the semester to start cooking these new recipes."

Kowalski held a tasting demonstration of the new menu items at Findlay Dining Commons in June. Campus Dining staff got a taste of the unique dishes, and Agrawal was on hand to critique and offer feedback.

"They got it completely right. They did a great job," Agrawal said. "I look forward to staying in contact with Mark and Lisa, and hopefully help the Indian selection continue to evolve in the future."

Agrawal and Kowalski said it's good for students to try different tastes from around the world. Agrawal added that it helps them to be open to trying new things and become aware of other cultures and cuisines.

"We've always served Indian food, but this will be a little different," Kowalski said. "These are vegetarian friendly, some of them are gluten-free. And it's all authentic."

"I appreciate their openness the most," Agrawal said. And as for her son, "He is very excited. He is still living on campus and it will be nice to have some of the Indian-style vegetarian choices for him and his friends."

Agrawal has done some follow-up work. On August 12 she did a live cooking presentation to some 60 food services personnel at Findlay Commons. The event was also videotaped for future training events. At this event, Agrawal not only showcased her cooking techniques, but also, as she says, "I touched on the health benefits of adding spices to everyday cooking."