A Sweet Story: How Food Impacted a Student’s Life

Besides being food, what do flan, shepherd’s pie, and veggie burgers all have in common? Sweet potato. Wait, what? How?

They were featured recipes presented by twelve NYU and Columbia FOCUS Bible Studies at the 4th-annual Top Study Cook-Off held Saturday, December 5th at NYU’s Newman Catholic Center.

The secret ingredient, sweet potato, was revealed to students three days beforehand. Day of, they had three hours to purchase ingredients, prepare and present their delectable designs to a panel of six judges: Fr. Dan O’Reilly, Fr. Sebastian White, Margie Rodriguez, Sr. Mariana Benedicta, Sr. Hope from Sisters of Life, and yours truly. The judges sampled each Bible Study’s dish and rated on taste, originality, and plating.

The winning dish: Vegan Sweet Potato Noodles

The winning dish:
Vegan Sweet Potato Noodles

The winning group with the “coveted” Japanese Golden Snapper Trophy

The winning group with the “coveted” Japanese Golden Snapper Trophy

“It was the first time I realized I didn’t need to have drugs or alcohol to have fun on the weekend.”

While judges were finalizing tabulations in another room, the Bible Study students, about 45 total from NYU and Columbia, enjoyed the fruits of their cooking labors while fellowshipping with one another. After much discussion, the judging panel reached consensus: Reclaiming the title previously belonging to NYU, five young ladies from Columbia were the 2015 Top Study Cook-Off Champs with their “Vegan Sweet Potato Noodles.” Their prize: taking home to Columbia the much coveted Japanese Golden Snapper trophy.

Students, missionaries, and judges

Students, missionaries, and judges

As I spoke with Columbia Team Director and 4-year FOCUS missionary, Niru De Silva, about the origins of the event he helped create, he shared a story I’m still recounting to others:

A couple years ago, a young man who had been sporadically, but not whole-heartedly, attending FOCUS Bible Studies, participated in the Cook-Off. He later told Niru that he’d previously spent his weekends getting drunk and high.

After enjoying his time with other students at the Top Study Cook-Off, he said, “It was the first time I realized I didn’t need to have drugs or alcohol to have fun on the weekend.” Pause. Let that sink in. Niru continued on, telling me that the Cook-Off was a major turning point for the young man. A turning point that lead to the student joining college seminary for two years.

small-potato

That’s why we’re here. That’s why FOCUS. That’s why sweet potatoes.

—Melissa Ebert
FOCUS Philanthropy Officer
Campus Advancement: NYU and Columbia

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