Friendly competition of home cooks builds community around food
There is nothing like a potluck to bring a group of people together over their common love of food. But one woman in Sammamish has taken that concept to a new level, creating an entire annual event where home cooks engage in a friendly competition on whose cuisine reigns supreme in town.
The event, called Feast of Nations, was started by Sammamish resident Venu Sareen in 2016 to celebrate her love for food and to give a creative outlet to other home cooks.
“It all started as a potluck at my house which then turned into a friendly competition,” said Sareen, who had called the event “Top Chef” back then.
These potlucks have evolved into an annual event, where all the dishes are tasted by attendees who then vote for the winners.
The event has featured cuisines from 12 different countries, including Indian, American, Malaysian, Burmese and Mexican. Both savory and dessert dishes are eligible, as long as they adhere to a chosen theme each year.
Sareen’s vision is to create “a community through creativity.” She vets interested participants for her event and mailing list to ensure that they have the same aligned interests as the rest of the group. Sareen said that the practice of vetting participants beforehand ensures the sanctity of the group is maintained and discussions never veer off course. At present, the community has about 70 members.
The themes are the cornerstone of the event, and they challenge the contestants to exercise creativity over their traditional cooking techniques.
In 2018, the event was held under the theme “Royalty,” and Saveen challenged the cooks to bring dishes that would befit a royal menu. The following year, she went to the other end of the spectrum with “Street Food.” In 2020, she chose the aptly-timed theme of “Cooking While Covid.”
This year was the 5th anniversary of the event, and Sareen chose the theme “Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow.”
The competition featured innovative dishes according to the theme and was judged under various categories, including Best Meal, Presentation, Creativity and Most-Insta worthy photo.
The competition also features a category called “Best Dressed as per Theme” to celebrate innovative fashion choices of the cooks who participated.
Feast of Nations used to be held in-person before the pandemic. To keep her participants safe, Sareen has shifted it to a virtual event since 2020.
“We had to change the way the event would be judged based on photographs and presentation, but [this] led to more innovative ways of viewing the culinary world,” she said.
For this year’s virtual event, the participants were given instructions and deadlines via an official Facebook page. They were also provided a link to vote on the categories on the final day of competition.
Every year, the winners of the competition are given customized gifts and all participants get goodie bags as a way of appreciation.
“What motivates me to carry out this competition every year is the look of happiness the winners get accepting the humble prizes because it is no less of an achievement and celebration of a talent based on the ultimate love for food,” Sareen said.
Interested participants in future Feast of Nations events can reach out to Venu Sareen via email to join her mailing list. Additional details of past events can be found here.