The idea came to her in the middle of the night. “I woke up my husband and told him, ‘I know what I should do: I should cook a meal from every country in the world, one per week,’” says Sasha Foppiano Martin ’02.
So began Global Table Adventure, Martin’s blog that takes readers on an international tour, highlighting each featured country’s customs, culinary history, and culture, as well as offering her own recipes based on its traditional cuisine. She has been interviewed on NPR, invited to speak at schools, and approached by a publisher. Each time she speaks about her project, she emphasizes her mission beyond the meals: “We create peace when we learn about each other, when we understand one another,” she says.
Her global thinking began with the most local of thoughts: how do I help my daughter grow up to be excited about tasting new foods—and appreciating other cultures?
A lover of travel, Martin recalls the thrill of living in Europe, “where you could hop on a train and be in another country in an hour or four hours later and have totally dif- ferent foods and a totally different experience.” Now living in Tulsa, in her husband Keith’s home state of Oklahoma, and staying at home with their young daughter, Martin began to feel, “I was really starting to lose the traveler part of myself.” Seeing the film Julie & Julia also encouraged her to set a goal and break it down into manageable pieces.
Martin’s educational background suited her well for creating this culinary adven- ture. An English and French studies double major, she wrote her thesis on the history and science of artisan bread in France, with Professor Jeff Rider as her adviser. She also developed web design skills at a workshop through Wesleyan’s Information Technology Services. Within two years of commence- ment, she enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, completing a year of the curricu- lum before moving to Oklahoma.
For those who might like to cook along with Martin but despair of finding exotic ingredients, Martin has you covered. She tailors recipes to use ingredients available to most people—with a few exceptions in her repertoire. “My philosophy is eat globally, shop locally. I want people to be able to rep- licate this adventure—turn it into a move- ment—to bring us closer together by sharing a global table. If I can’t buy it locally, I don’t make it—simple as that.”
When mopane worms figure in Botswana’s cuisine, she skips the recipe and shares the cultural info: “The people of Botswana prize mopane worms as a national specialty,” she writes, including a photograph of the spiky looking little caterpillar. She adds that they “are eaten fresh, dried, or canned with tomato sauce or hot sauce. Most families are able to harvest them from the trees near their homes. Luckily we don’t have any mopane worms in our backyard, so we won’t be eating any for this week’s Global Table. Keith is relieved, to say the least. I hope you’re not disappointed.” However, when recipes do call for more esoteric ingredients, Martin directs readers to the websites of sev- eral African markets she frequents in downtown Tulsa—all of which offer shipping.
One of these African markets was the source of both the fermented locust beans (“The dark brown bean smells like a sharp blue cheese and, just like blue cheese, will make your mouth tingle,” she warns in the blog) and the dried anchovies that go in Babenda, an African dish. It is among the recipes in her collection that American taste- buds will find stranger than most.
“If you enjoy the flavor of funky blue cheese, dried or smoked fish, and bitter greens, then Babenda is for you!” she wrote last August. “I know. I’m asking a lot,” she concedes. “Although we might be a select group of people with such accommodat- ing palates, this one-pot meal is a common staple in Burkina Faso. Babenda is like a jazz orchestra in the mouth, making wild taste sensations and pungent high notes meander whimsically through mouth and home.”
Another recipe, Jeow, a Laotian dipping sauce, is “typically made with char-grilled veggies. Sometimes spicy. Sometimes not. Always delicious. It could be vegetarian or it could be made with crushed beetles. Or anything in between. I’ll skip to the chase: my version is beetle-free. Phew. And it’s also really easy,” she writes. She also offers a poll, asking readers if they would be willing to eat a recipe that included beetles. Only 12.5 percent of respondents voted yes; most pre- ferred a roasted tomato and chili alternative.
The poll is another appeal of her blog: Martin is an accessible guide, eager for conversation among her tourists. And lest anyone be timid about new flavors, Martin brings along the low bar, her own “Mr. Picky,” husband Keith. As eager as Martin is to put new flavors on her table, her husband repre- sents the most faint-of-heart stovetop traveler—at least he was in the beginning. She shared his response to the Babenda: “The smell is making my eyes water. One bite, and I can’t get the flavor out of my mouth! It’s like I’m still eating it.”
However, Keith has earned an upgrade to “Mr. Not-so-Picky,” and she notes with some pride that he now suggests they go out for sushi. And Ava, who was a baby when Martin began this journey, is now a toddler, with full use of the word “No!” “I’ve had to learn how to not care whether she’ll try the new food— and then she’ll taste it,” Martin confides. “She always likes the things I think she won’t and hates the things I think she is going to adore. Babenda was one of Ava’s favorites; she just ate and ate and ate it. It was so intense and I thought that for a little baby’s mouth it would be offensive and unpalat- able. But she really liked it. King’s Cake from Liechtenstein, covered with sparkling sugar—that received her flat-out refusal.”
The relentless weekly routine has pushed Martin to hone her skills in the culinary arts. All her recipes are originals, based on her research and expertise. “I used to be really intimidated by the recipes and scared of making the wrong choice,” she says. “Now it’s a really organic process: I understand some about how each region of the world cooks; this helps when I am making adaptations in the kitchen. My experience at the Culinary Institute gave me the tools to break down recipes and see what is going to work before I even cook. I’ll try to find a quicker way or a healthier way without changing too much. It’s been an exciting evolution.”
Furthermore, she notes: “I find it fascinat- ing that all over the world, we all use many of the same ingredients, just in different com- binations. I’m trying to put together recipes anyone can make, anywhere in the world. That’s a really big part of the message—that anyone can join me in cooking the world— from his or her own kitchen.”
By the time Martin finishes this global adventure, Ava will be well past the tod- dler phase. Counting time out for vaca- tions, she estimates she’ll finish her culinary tour during the 2013 holiday season. Meanwhile, she invites all to join her at globaltableadventure.com. PROFILES —BY CYNTHIA E. ROCKWELL