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Monday, May 27, 2024

Gainesville celebrates Taste The World International Food Festival 

The festival offered home-cooked meals from chefs around the world March 23

People work tables adorned with the flags of Brazil and Palestine during the Taste the World International Food Festival at First Magnitude Brewing Company on Saturday, March 23, 2024.
People work tables adorned with the flags of Brazil and Palestine during the Taste the World International Food Festival at First Magnitude Brewing Company on Saturday, March 23, 2024.

Nestled beneath a canopy of trees and twinkling lights, Gainesville residents came together to indulge in a comforting taste of home from cultures around the world. 

More than 150 Gainesville residents and food enthusiasts gathered at First Magnitude Brewing Company March 23 to celebrate Taste The World International Food Festival. 

Greater Gainesville International Center organized the event with the help of the Sister City program of Gainesville, working to bring together a silent auction and 10 home chefs to share cultural dishes from across the globe. All proceeds from the night went directly to promoting the GGIC mission.

Lauren Poe, GGIC executive director and former Gainesville mayor, said the event was aimed to bring the city together and raise money to allow GGIC to continue its goal of elevating and empowering the international community. 

“Part of our mission is to celebrate all of the different cultures that make up Gainesville,” Poe said. “Food is something that brings people together and allows people to sit down and break bread with folks that don't already know and maybe learn something new and different about our neighbors.”

To kick off the festival, home chefs donated their time in the brewery’s courtyard to set up a buffet-like line of tables with pots and pans containing dishes from home. Each table showcased items from the chef’s culture, including flags and items like Russian mother dolls. 

Tickets were $50 for adults and $25 for students. 

As part of Poe’s partnership with Zero Waste Gainesville, a city initiative supporting environmentally sustainable practices, attendants were encouraged to bring their own plates and utensils to contribute to a cleaner environment. Those who brought their own dishware were able to choose from a collection of international keychains Poe collected while traveling. 

“We're working … to make this a zero waste event,” Poe said. “The best way to do that is bring your own and take it back with you and wash it so there's no waste to the landfill or even recycling.” 

As people walked through the line of tables, they were encouraged to try a range of desserts, breads, sauces, salads, meats and rice dishes from countries like Russia and Brazil.

Steven Kalishman, the executive director of the Sister City program of Gainesville, joined the festival as a home chef and brought a Russian meat pie, a famous Russian dish featuring ground beef, mushrooms and onions inside a puff pastry. 

Kalishman said he felt the event was important to the national community and promoted the mission of Sister Cities Gainesville, which works to create international partnerships with local governments and communities in Palestine, Kfar Saba and Brazil. 

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“We’re connecting all of the neighbors in Gainesville with our international community and also promoting Gainesville to the world as a global city,” Kalishman said. “We actually are an international city where 15% of our population was not born in the U.S., and that doesn't even include the 10,000 students, faculty [and more].”

Other home chefs at the event brought dishes such as Italian pizzelle cookies; American cornbread; the traditional Kuwait rice dish, machboos; and the Brazilian black bean and meat dish, feijoada.  

Laila Fakhoury, a UF family youth and community science graduate and GGIC board member, attended the festival with her friends and brought the traditional Palestinian dish mujadara, which contains lentils, fried onions and rice. 

“I wanted to support and represent Palestine,” Fakhoury said while sporting a Sonic Liberation Front t-shirt, representing the Palestinian radio company. 

Families also attended the event to share their love for cooking. Gainesville resident Brent Ho showcased a French-style cake and Treacle bread, marking the 90th recipe he has baked after working towards completing all 100 recipes in his favorite bread cookbook.

Ho’s brother, Terrence Ho, a 37-year-old GGIC member, brought Northeastern and Southern Thai dishes: shrimp paste rice and papaya salad, which he created at the festival with a mortar and pestle. 

Terrence Ho also contributed more than 10 drawings to the festival’s silent auction. Ho’s artwork featured hand-drawn images from his time in Botswana, Mexico, Dubai and Greece. 

The silent auction included items from Gainesville businesses like a gift basket from Opus Coffee, a Satchel’s Pizza gift certificate and tickets to the Hippodrome Cinema. A variety of rare items like a vintage Russian electric tea set, a hand-painted mirror from Tunisia, rare cigars and a hand-made felt piece from Kyrgyzstan were also offered in the auction. 

Gainesville residents said they were excited to attend an event that exhibited authentic parts of the world. 

Brianna Austin, a 28-year-old resident at UF Shands, visited the festival to experience a range of different cultures and foods she had never tried before. 

“I feel like these were very authentic dishes,” she said. “There was Pakistani food, which I don't think we get a lot of exposure to…We don't have those restaurants, and then when we do, it's a very minimal selection.”

Austin said she was happy to live in a city with opportunities for authentic multicultural events. 

“I liked the places that they chose because they’re unique,” she said. “It’s not like anything I've experienced before.”

Contact Alexandra Burns at Follow her on X @alexaburnsuf.

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