CANANDAIGUA — Students at St. Mary School spent the afternoon of Feb. 1 celebrating the Americas in a very tasty way.
The school held its sixth-annual cultural luncheon that day as part of its Catholic Schools Week festivities, which took place Jan. 28 through Feb. 2, said Principal Ann Marie Deutsch. Each year school officials invite students to learn more about a particular region of the world by sampling dishes common to those places, she said.
“We want to introduce them to different cultures. We always do a different region each year. This year we’re doing the Americas,” Deutsch said.
“From Sea to Shining Sea” was the theme of this year’s luncheon, and students enjoyed a variety of foods commonly found in North, South and Central America. Many students even wore their blue gym uniforms to school that day to symbolize the sea that surrounds and unites the Americas.
The luncheon featured a burrito-bake dish from Mexico, arroz con pollo — or rice with chicken — from Peru, and the American dishes of Buffalo-style chicken wings and fried wings with country-sweet sauce, said Nancy McCarthy, the parent volunteer who coordinated the luncheon. Students also could choose from several side dishes, including macaroni and cheese, black beans and rice, lima-bean salad and a tropical-fruit salad, she said.
Each of the dishes was made and served by parent volunteers, who each signed up for a specific dish based on his or her child’s grade in school.
“Each group of grades took a continent. Middle school took Central America, elementary took South America and kindergarten took North America,” McCarthy said.
Dessert consisted of 225 frosted cupcakes, which kindergarten parents had baked and delivered to the school. Their children then frosted and decorated them in class on Jan. 30, creating quite a memorable experience, recalled Jean Mercandetti, kindergarten teacher. Parent volunteers handed out bottles of water and — for the more adventurous students — cups of Goya fruit juices made from strawberries, bananas, pineapples, mangos, guavas and bananas.
Each year parents, teachers and staff are challenged to try to find foods that will broaden the students’ horizons but at the same time aren’t too exotic, Deutsch said.
“We try to get food that the children will eat,” she added.
That task was somewhat easier this year, as foods such as macaroni and cheese, chicken wings and cupcakes weren’t foreign to most students. Kindergartner Antonio Flora played it safe when he went through the serving line, filling his plate with chicken wings, celery sticks, a banana and macaroni and cheese, his favorite dish at the luncheon.
Classmate Emma Daino, however, was a little more daring, letting volunteers scoop helpings of black beans and the burrito bake onto her plate. Although she liked these foods, she didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as she enjoyed one of the other dishes on the menu.
“Rice!” she exclaimed excitedly when asked to name her favorite food.
Mercandetti said she was pleased with her students’ willingness to try new foods.
“It surprised me. They took more than I thought they would,” she said.
Even though they’re only in kindergarten, the students are fairly aware and accepting of other cultures, and they even know a number of Spanish words for shapes, colors and numbers, added Diana van der Velden, kindergarten aide.
The sixth-graders also are fairly culturally aware. Sixth-grader Reyluis Gutierrez’s parents were born in Panama and have raised him according to their traditional culture. On the morning of the cultural luncheon, Reyluis spent a few minutes telling his classmates a little more about Central American food and customs. Reyluis felt quite comfortable helping himself to some of the more exotic foods at the luncheon.
“I like the Spanish food, rice and black beans,” Reyluis said.
His classmate, Zak Bussey, however, wasn’t quite so enamored of the foreign dishes.
“It’s OK. I wish we had some more American food,” Zak said.
Fellow sixth-graders Josh Swartzman and Austin Yates said they liked everything they tried, especially a dish with creamy rice and chicken. First-grader Mary O’Neill, who said she’s already looking forward to next year’s luncheon, also said she liked everything she tried, although she admitted she wasn’t extremely adventurous. Neither were classmates Peter Campbell, Jaimie Chapin and Brendan McAuley. Although they didn’t try anything new, they really enjoyed their chicken wings, rice, and macaroni and cheese, they said.
Seventh-grader Austin Cowan said he liked the burrito bake, and his classmates Josh Chapin, Sean Buckley, Kyle Lay and Courtney Scialdone said they especially enjoyed the exotic juices, especially the mango, pear and strawberry juices. Classmate Lexie Chapman said she enjoyed a dish with rice and black beans.
“It’s good. It’s a food that we’re not used to,” Lexie said.