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Sugar House Journal

Food festival features international tastes

Oct 05, 2017 16h21 ● By Jana Klopsch

Green Urban Lunch Box shows off their fresh-pressed apple cider. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

For those interested in foreign fare or trying something new, the 2nd annual Wasatch International Food Festival hit just the right spot. 

“It really encapsulates the mission of the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, in bringing people together in diverse cultures and backgrounds,” said Taylor Timmerman, one of the program managers from the UCCC. “One of the best ways to do that is through food and so that’s where we found success with the festival and where we hope to grow as well.”

The festival was held on the lawn of the Utah Cultural Celebration Center on August 19 and featured vendors from West Valley and all over Salt Lake. 

Jessica Iweriebo from Mama Africa Grill on Redwood Road, was pleased with the turnout for the beignets, made from “flour, sugar and love,” as well as the samosas filled with veggies and beef, jambalaya, and smoked chicken. Iweriebo, who originally is from Nigeria, came to the United States five years ago to visit her cousin, Cathy Tshilumbo—Mama Africa herself—who is originally from the Republic of Congo. Iweriebo decided to stay and now helps out in the restaurant.

“You’ve got to try the hot sauce. It has the spices that makes everybody go ‘Wow!’,” said Iweriebo. “We have a ginger punch that’s made by Mama Africa herself here in Utah. It’s really spicy.”

Art projects from the Wasatch Gardens were available for kids to play in, a Thai fruit carver put up intricate works of fruit and vegetable art, and cooking classes were taught by some of the vendors like Papito Moe’s Puerto Rican Grub and Spudnik. 

Karine Mnatsakanyan, who is part-Armenian and part-Russian, started her business, Spudnik, in 2016 and has been having a great time wandering farmer’s markets, doing catering, and selling filled baked potatoes and lavash wraps as a Spice Kitchen Incubator. 

Spice Kitchen Incubator is one of the projects set up by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) which brings together refugees and disadvantaged community members to teach and cultivate the skills necessary for creating a food-based business. One of Mnatsakanyan’s dreams is to open a kiosk or food court space in a university setting.  

“I had very good recipes in my mind I decided to use here. My main dish that I serve is baked potatoes with butter and mozzarella. I have five toppings that are most popular,” said Mnatsakanyan. She came to the U.S. seven years ago and said she had a lot of friends but said it wasn’t easy to change cultures, though she did appreciate that Utah’s climate is similar to Armenia’s.

“I found my home,” said Mnatsakanyan. 

Timmerman said she’s pleased with the turnout of people from all ages, especially since there are so many people who don’t even know about the UCCC.

“I’m really happy with the variety of vendors especially having some West Valley staples,” said Timmerman. “This is our second year with the event and it is quickly becoming one of our capstone events. It’s been really well received by the community.”

A lineup of local bands like LoFi Riot and Steel Badgers were scheduled throughout the two- day event, giving a mix of music for every taste and age. 

John Sanders and Willow Alexander live right around the corner from the UCCC and after coming to last year’s festival, knew they had to check it out again, especially after being drawn in by the smells.

“Ten out of 10. Fifty out of 10,” said Alexander.

As guests walked into the festival, they were greeted by an apple cider pressing truck manned by Katie Mulliken and Quentin Morse from Green Urban Lunch Box, a Salt Lake non-profit that harvests urban fruit trees that would otherwise be wasted. 

“The fruit that we have here today is from hundreds of trees around the valley that people are unable to harvest for whatever reason,” said Morse.

The program, FruitShare, has over 2,600 trees registered and the fruit that is harvested gets split between the owner, the food bank, the volunteers who help gather, and programs like the cider press. 

“The cider we’re making here has tons of different varieties in every little cup. Last week, we had 21 different varieties in one little cup,” said Mulliken.

In 2016, the organization harvested over 48,000 pounds of apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries, many of which are heirloom varieties planted by the pioneers. This year, Morse said, they anticipate closer to 90,000 pounds gathered.  

Angela Mursener and her friends took it upon themselves to try a little bit of everything from the festival, such as mofongo, a dish of smashed plantains from Puerto Rico, where some of the group had been before. 

“This is definitely something that we wanted to check out because it was new in the community, local food, local companies, we’re all about that, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to come out here,” said Mursener. “I think it’s great.”