MD International Food Festival: Bringing Families and Students Together


Naomi Yaeger and Leah Marquardt

The Middle Division (MD) ran its annual International Food Festival (IFF) yesterday after a two year hiatus due to the pandemic. The event was co-chaired by Joanne Diaz P’24 ,’26, Ratna Mukani P’28, ‘28, and Nyjha Reed P’26, all of whom are members of the school’s Parent Association (PA).

For sixth grade Dean and MD science teacher Michelle Amilicia, the event is a beloved tradition to learn about various families’ cultures and traditions through the food they prepare, she said. She appreciates getting to interact with parents and students, and when her students ask her about their family’s dishes during the IFF, she said. “I think that’s the fun part too, they’re sharing their family’s food culture with us,” Amilicia said. 

The event is also cherished by various parents and administrators. “This is an opportunity for families and parents and guardians to be reconnected with the school, to see kids that their children grew up with that they haven’t seen in a long time,” Head of MD Javaid Khan said. “I imagine there could be upwards of 85 to 100 different dishes.”

Diaz was involved in the planning of the event the last time it was held in 2019, she said. The PA always tries to select at least one chair per year who can lead for two years and pass down the traditions of the IFF, Diaz said. This year, Diaz used her knowledge of the 2019 event to guide the group through the traditions of the IFF, she said.

The planning for the event began at the end of the summer, starting with the school’s decision to change the date of the event from the fall, when it usually occurs, to the spring, Reed said. “We pushed this year’s event to the spring hoping we would be better situated in regards to reported [COVID] cases,” she said. 

The committee figured out the logistics of the event six to eight weeks before IFF took place, Diaz said. To plan the event, the co-chairs met with the heads of the school’s five parent alliance groups to discuss their ideas for the upcoming festival: the HM South Asian Families, the Hispanic/Latino Family Network, the Chinese Family Network, the Black Parents Union, and the Korean Parents League, Diaz said. 

They communicated with Senior Director of Dining Services Brenda Cohn to organize the supplies needed to serve the food, partnered with the Facilities Management Team on the logistics of the event, and worked with the entire PA leadership to sort out all details of the event, Diaz said.

While moving the event from its usual time in November to April made sense considering the threat COVID posed in November, the move places the IFF during Ramadan, Diaz said. To accommodate Muslim students and families observing Ramadan, the committee, with the guidance of the HM South Asian Families parent alliance group, set up to-go boxes for students to fill up and take home so they wouldn’t miss out on the experience of the IFF, Diaz said. Khan also offered to store student’s to-go boxes until dismissal, making sure students could fully enjoy the event, she said.

One MD parent, Sharmeen Dossani P’23 ‘25 ‘28 made chotpoti, a popular Bangladeshi street dish for IFF. Chotpoti is traditionally eaten during Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, as a way to break the fast, she said. “The International Food Festival has always been one of my favorite events at Horace Mann,” she said. “I love trying different foods from different cultures, and I also love sharing the food from my culture with other people, and it’s also just a great way to see all the middle division students, and teachers, and other parents.”

Mauvelette Burchell P’27 contributed to the event, making Jamaica’s national dish, saltfish fritters. Burchell slightly modified the recipe, leaving out the egg and curry powder, to avoid common allergens, she said.

Simone Ramos P’26 made Pão de Queijo for the IFF, a Brazilian cheese bread. While the bread is now a staple of Brazilian cuisine, available everywhere from supermarkets to upscale coffee shops, it was originally made by enslaved people in Brazil as the ingredients were easy for them to access, she said. Ramos loves to share Pão de Queijo with her family, she said. “This is a comfort food,” Ramos said.

Lalita Ramachandran P’27, whose daughter joined the school last year while COVID-19 restrictions were at an all-time high, decided to cook for the festival to get more involved in the school community, she said. “I’m looking forward to participating and saying thank you to the wonderful HM community,” she said. Ramachandran baked samosas and chole for the event to represent her family’s Indian origins, she said. She also made chocolate chip cookies to celebrate the traditions she picked up in her new home, America, she said.

Aleida Hornfeld P’22 ‘26 baked mini chicken pies and a Brazilian dessert called brigadeiros, two foods that she grew up surrounded by, she said. “It’s a flavor of your childhood,” she said. “It’s not only about bringing a special dish from your home, it’s about bringing your culture,” she said.

No food gets wasted after the event, Khan said. The faculty and staff members eat the leftover food, and staff members bring some over to students in the MD Reading Center, he said.

Amilicia thinks of the event as a way to “break bread together,” she said. The festival is important to the MD community as it promotes inclusivity and allows students to experience the cultures of their peers, she said. 

Students got to try foods from many different cultures, Sienna Correia (8) said. Correia tried tiramisu, pork dumplings, latkes, and Hornfeld’s brigadeiros at the event, she said. 

Ashley Kuo (8) said that it was nice to see parents and other students at the event. “It was also nice to eat homemade food,” she said.

Other students appreciated the variety of food dishes available at the event, Maya Yoon (8) said. 

Seeing the community come together in-person after the planning process was gratifying, Reed said. “So much collaboration went into this event, I can’t wait to see it all come together and to see the kids really excited,” she said. “To be able to eat together and drink together, I mean, what’s more exciting than that?”