Cook up a book

Dora Cheok tells how she turned her love of cooking, eating and talking into a publishing venture.
Cook up a book
Published 09 Jun 2017

"I have many fond memories of my time spent in Boston as a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. As I made friends, I learned to ice-skate and published a cookbook. Yes, a cookbook. The project took off in 1997 during orientation week for newbies. A group of us got together to cook dinner at someone's house one night.

While eating eggplant salad, vegetarian red lentil balls couscous and broccoli, stir-fried vegetables, doufu and Californian rolls, we realized we have stumbled on something good.

About 40 per cent of the students at the school were from countries other than the United States. To ask our classmates to cook something from home was to enjoy dishes from over 57 countries. Why not capitalize on this amazing food resource by asking our classmates to contribute to a cookbook? Our commitment of 5 had the whole world covered.

Christof, our German delegate, was our sole insight into the inner workings of how men cooked. Carlisle, was our American organizer, and set us deadlines we never met - except the last one. Zeynep, my roommate, brought her Turkish flair and apple tea to the table. And Joy's Ethiopian - Filipino heritage was enough to spice up any meal. And, as someone helping to finish the food, I was eminently qualified for the job of editor!

Seriously, though, it taught all of us how to coax, cajole, and chase people around for a few precious recipes. Working with people from 4 different continents was a test of unity in diversity. Like our international potluck buffets, it made for an exotic, exciting and ultimately superb meal.

And there's nothing like a meal to bring people together. Want a better understanding of the relationship between China and Taiwan? Go out with a group of Chinese and Taiwanese graduate students for dinner and, inevitably, the discussion will turn to the political divide.

Why is there no love between the Greeks and the Turks? Have coffee and baklava with them and listen to their history. Want to know more about Jewish culture and tradition? Get yourself invited to a rosh hashanah celebration. Two friends even got married after sharing ingredients for a Jewish chicken soup! In all instances, the food was fantastic, but the conversation was truly priceless.

Our little cookbook is called Fletcher Flavors: Recipes from around the World. Within its covers are pages of life from so many people. I was blessed enough to enjoy cultures I would never have experienced if I had simply stayed in the library and studied. And I can't even begin to tell you how much this experience has helped my career, much more than the actual degree.

And what seems to be frivolous and fun teaches you the most about the sort of person you are and want to become.

Life is so much more than chasing that degree."

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