Chef Duke Gastiger, tilting his saute pan to ignite the dark rum as he douses his jerk chicken, can clearly take the heat. The proprietor of Spats Café and Speakeasy knows his way around dry spice rubs, hot sauce, and a bright array of hot and sweet peppers. He will lead the charge in the kitchen at the Ramada Inn on March 1, when Global Connections will present “A Caribbean Odyssey,” the organization’s the Passport on a Plate dinner fundraiser. The biennial gala is a masterfully orchestrated event with legions of volunteers making true the adage “Many hands make light work.”
Gastiger is counting on a lively dozen or so local chef volunteers to prepare portions of the menu that night.
“We couldn’t have a more diverse theme open to so many interpretations,” Gastiger said. “The participating chefs suggested dishes, and everything just came together. The menu highlights the diversity and freshness that are the hallmarks of the foods of the 50-plus islands that make up the Caribbean. How often do you see goat on a menu in this town?”
Global Connections, a community-based nonprofit affiliated with Penn State and Centre County United Way, has been fostering commonality for 50 years in central Pennsylvania. Its mission is “to bring together people of diverse national origins to foster intercultural community and understanding, promote awareness of everyone’s roles as citizens in the wider global community, and facilitate partnerships and resources that enrich the vitality and diversity of the Centre Region.”
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Last year, Global Connections programs served 7,000 individuals — internationals and locals — through speaker programs, assisting first responders with training, connecting interpreters with local organizations, providing friendship and conversation partners, offering English as a second language classes and providing free tax assistance. The Passport on a Plate fundraising dinner is one of organization’s major sources of financial support.
The seating that night is limited to 200 supporters seated at 20 tables after a reception cocktail hour. Each table is sponsored by a designer or design team from a florist or local business or organization, and to say the decorations are elaborate is an understatement. The stunning diversity in the room is appreciated before the guests take their seats, and the friendly competition as to which table is the “best” is unspoken but apparent.
Martha Conklin and Sara Parks, stalwarts from the School of Hospitality Management at Penn State, will co-chair the event and will host hospitality student volunteers helping in the dining room. Main coordination in the front of the house once again will be overseen by Amy Seaton, formerly the dining room manager at Le Jeune Chef at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Seaton has transported many Penn College student volunteers in their crisp whites from the Williamsport school, and she seeds the experienced servers with willing international students who learn on the run. The internationals, largely the beneficiaries of the services that Global Connections offers, say they are glad to have an opportunity to participate and “pay back.”
Local media personality and College of Communications lecturer Katie O’Toole will emcee the event and will keep the program moving through the live auction and the live entertainment. Silent auction items also will be available that evening.
Is there hope for people worldwide to understand and appreciate one another? Maybe, if we participate in Passport on a Plate or Global Connection initiatives and come to the table with the “others” not from our own country and learn that they are just like us.
Duke Gastiger’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Makes 2 servings
2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless (5 to 6 oz. each)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hot sauce (to taste)
One half teaspoon red chili flakes
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon malt vinegar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 green onions, diced
1 tablespoon diced red onion
1 cup cooked collards (braised)
1 teaspoon clarified butter
2 tablespoon Jerk seasoning (recipe or store bought)
Optional: additional 1 tablespoon dark rum for flambéing at the end of the cooking time.
Method: Bring rum, chili flakes, water, lime juice and vinegar to a quick boil, then bring to room temperature. Pound chicken breasts evenly flat and pour mixture to marinate covered in a refrigerator for two hours. Strain off the marinade into a processor or blender, add the oil and jerk seasoning and mix well to make a spice rub. Coat the chicken breasts with the rub and refrigerate for four hours, turning occasionally. In a medium high sauté pan, add the butter and cook the onions until soft, add the collards to heat and remove from pan. In the same pan, blacken the chicken until done, turning only once.
Optional: When the chicken tests done, that is, feels firm to the touch about two to three minutes on each side, depending on thickness, pour on a tablespoon of rum and ignite to flambe right before serving with the collards and sautéed onions.