Fusing Cultures Through Food

August 12, 2016 Laurie Ferris

We at International House are proud of the work of chef Jordan Lichman and his team, who demonstrate our mission through our dining operations.  On any given day, they feed up to 1,000 residents, staff and UC Berkeley students. This is not an easy feat, but with our recently remodeled dining facilities, they have been successful in providing more than just satisfying meals for our diverse community.

We are happy to share a presentation by three UC Berkeley Journalism students who recently interviewed I-House Chef Jordan Lichman. The following presentation was developed for a class project and was not publicly distributed. We thank Nicole Henriksson, Jessica Han, and Cindy Ho for allowing us to share their project to our I-House residents, alumni and friends. (See below for student bios)

Fusing Cultures Through Food

International House at UC Berkeley has been a multicultural residence hall for international students for nearly eighty-six years. By giving students a chance to interact with others from a huge range of backgrounds, I-House hopes to create lasting bonds founded on respect and understanding between its residents. Executive chef Jordan Lichman is proud to help I-House continue its mission by bringing people together with delicious and authentic multicultural cuisine.

International Student Enrollment by Country

Lichman was hired in fall 2015 by by I-House executive director Hans Giesecke, who wanted food to play a central role in building community at the I-House. Lichman took cooking classes while studying political economy at UC Berkeley and graduated in 1995. He has worked in top restaurants like The Willard Intercontinental and The Inn at Little Washington, but also has a business degree and experience in the organization and management side of dining. This background made him a great fit for the structured environment of campus employment.

Lichman draws on both his own and I-House residents’ knowledge of world cuisines to plan meals at the I-House. He uses the I-House internal Facebook page to reach out to students, and they often visit his office to tell him what they’d like to see on the menu or even share authentic family recipes that he adapts to serve hundreds of people.

But it isn’t as easy as just cooking and serving food. A Spanish meal sparked controversy when it upset a Central American student, and she shared her thoughts on a resident Facebook group about how her people had been oppressed by the Spanish. Lichman said the resulting debate was eye-opening.

I-House serves a diversified menu every day. Photos by Cindy Ho.

“Food goes beyond just what you’re putting in your mouth, it’s loaded with a lot of cultural and political and economic baggage as well,” he said.

In accordance with I-House’s slogan “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” Lichman attempts to bring peace to different cultures through sharing their respective cuisines.

The pillars at the entrance to International House read “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in a variety of languages. Photos by Jessica Han and Nicole Henriksson.

With inclusion and understanding in mind, Lichman puts equal effort into providing an interesting selection of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options for students restricted to those diets for religious or health reasons. “So much of the time, vegetarian cuisine is sort of an afterthought, oh, it’s a salad, or it’s pasta primavera,” he said. He introduced Meatless Mondays to give his chefs a chance to develop their skills with that kind of food.

Lichman attempts to offer vegetarian options that go beyond salads and pasta primavera. Photo by Cindy Ho.
The purpose of Meatless Mondays explained to the students. Photo by Cindy Ho.

The food is not the only thing that has changed since Lichman’s enrollment at Cal. The number of international students in the UC Berkeley student body has increased greatly since the early 2000s. However, the ratio of international students to domestic students remains roughly below one to five.

A growing international student population enables Lichman to not only bridge cultural gaps but also provide these students a taste of home despite being so far from where they grew up. Each meal that he plans and prepares becomes a universal gesture of peace and goodwill.

“Every night at the I-House we try to build that cohesion and peace through food.”

Journalism Student Bios:

Nicole Henriksson
Year: Senior
Major: Political Science and American Studies Double major Journalism minor Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Career Plan: undecided, possibly PR or Multimedia Journalism

Jessica Han
Year: Sophomore
Major: Media Studies & Political Science
Hometown: Shanghai, China
Career Plan: Freelance journalist, foreign correspondent

Cindy Ho
Year: Junior
Major: Media Studies
Hometown: San Ramon, CA
Career Plan: Magazine writer and/ or editor

Read Chef Jordan’s guest post written after his first 100 days on the job.

See the weekly menu at ihouse.berkeley.edu/menu.

Filed under: What's Cooking Tagged: Dining Commons, food, I-House Life, what's cooking

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