March 26, 2024

Wharton Center Partners with MSU Culinary Services for Small Island Big Song

This March, the Wharton Center for Performing Arts collaborated with a number of campus community partners to showcase Small Island Big Song, a multi-platform project uniting the seafaring cultures of the Pacific and Indian Oceans through song. This contemporary and relevant musical statement comes from a region that is at the frontline of the climate crisis. 
Small Island Big Song connects the islands of the Pacific and Indian oceans through artistic collaboration to present the music of a region connected by an ancient seafaring heritage. Live performances, like the one presented at the Wharton Center March 21, feature a roster of respected islander artists performing a mix of music and spoken word paired with footage collected during a three-year trip through 16 countries guided by the artists on their homelands.  
The Wharton Center team had been working with community partners since November to plan what became a four-day residency for Small Island Big Song. One highlight of the residency featured a partnership with MSU’s Department of Student Life & Engagement’s (SLE) Culinary Services (CS).  
The evening of March 18, MSU students and guests were invited to attend a special dinner at The Edge at Akers dining hall, during which, they could enjoy a screening of the short film "Small Island Big Song: An Oceanic Songline" in Akers Auditorium. Those who attended the screening had the chance to win two tickets to that Thursday’s Wharton Center performance. 
The CS team offered a themed dinner menu inspired by Small Island Big Song. Executive Chef Kevin Cruz, who oversees MSU’s East Neighborhood dining halls, watched the short film before he began considering menu items that could represent the various countries featured.  
“I noticed that many flavors and spices I utilize in my Hispanic cooking were intermingled with the Asian Pacific Islander recipes, so it came together perfectly,” shared Cruz. 
To ensure the most representative menu, after conducting research on and outlining initial food items, Cruz and the culinary team worked with SLE Inclusive Campus Initiative Project Director Meaghan Kozar to organize a tasting event. Community partners, including representatives from the Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American/Asian Faculty and Staff Association (APIDA/AFSA), the Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO), and the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community were invited to participate. They shared valuable feedback on the authenticity of menu selections, which allowed chefs to adjust the recipes before the event. A few highlights of the final menu included chargrilled fish wrapped in banana leaves, rendang beef, turon, and tropical smoothies. 
Kozar, having attended the event following the preparatory test tasting, recognized the consideration put into representing the cultures depicted in Small Island Big Song’s performances.  
“It was absolutely apparent how the culinary staff listened to our recommendations and applied them,” she said.  
She was also quick to add how this attention to detail carries weight beyond just the taste of the food. “This is a wonderful example of a successful collaboration that brings together diverse communities while embracing the expertise and influence of lived experiences.” 
The attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed by Joy Hannibal, Detroit M.A.D.E. Scholars Program director and interim director of Pathway Programs in MSU’s Neighborhood Student Success Center, who attended the dinner and screening.  
“As someone of Pacific Islander heritage, I appreciate the effort, research and time spent to identify and prepare foods from island cultures … represented in Small Island Big Song,” said Hannibal. “It is meaningful to see food on the menu that utilizes ingredients connected to home.”   
Interim Corporate Executive Chef for Culinary Services Bryan Latz also believes deeply in the positive impact events and partnerships like this can have. “It’s so important that we create events and experiences like Small Island Big Song for our students. Many of them are far from home, and we want to make them feel comfortable and welcome.” 
In addition to the dinner and film screening with CS, the Wharton Center partnered with the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH), College of Music, Asian Studies, the Native American Institute - MSU, Nokomis Center, and LATTICE Teacher Network.  
Monday saw members of the Small Island Big Song company visiting the Pattengill Biotechnical Magnet School to present to 75 first graders. The company then visited Professor David Mcarthy's class in RCAH, attended a welcome potluck at the Nokomis Center, and then led a drumming event at Wharton Center for 45 attendees. 
On Tuesday, the company visited two MSU College of Music Classes, followed by a visit with McCarthy's class to the Ingham County Youth Center as part of its Incarcerated Arts program. Next, the visiting performers participated in a climate activism panel at the Erikson Hall Kiva attended by members of the public. Wednesday, the company presented a lecture/demonstration at Murphy Elementary in Haslett for about 75 fifth graders. 
Senior Education Program Manager for the Wharton Center Institute for Arts & Creativity Kelly Stuible-Clark expressed her pleasure with the success of this not only fun but impactful partnership.  
“We were thrilled at how eager SLE and Culinary Services were to partner with this, and the way it was handled was outstanding. I think about when I was in college, how cool a dining experience like this would have been,” Stuible-Clark said. “I hope that the students learned more about what offerings we have here at Wharton, and I hope that we're able to partner with the SLE team for future events!” 
And did the assorted menu satisfy?
“The consensus at our table was that the huli huli cauliflower and the pork belly on the bao bun with the pineapple slaw were the best of the evening,” Stuible-Clark said. “You could tell how the culinary team put so much work into making these delicious, authentic recipes.”  
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