Whether Lilian Vo ’18 (Seattle) is cooking Vietnamese dishes on her own or helping others learn the recipes, she’s passionate about bridging generational gaps through food. Last summer, Vo received one of Macalester’s Live It Fund grants to host a series of cooking classes in Seattle that connected Vietnamese generations and taught the second generation about its heritage.  

As part of the Sticky Rice Project—named to reflect Vo’s goal of “sticking” the community together—she published a recipe storybook that includes the background on the recipes taught in the classes, the stories behind the chefs who taught classes, and reflections from the youth participants. That storybook is available for purchase at St. Paul’s Common Good Books and several Seattle locations, with proceeds funding the next series of classes.

Vo’s introduction in that compilation is excerpted below:

“Plucking crispy mint leaves, crushing peanuts, collecting cans of coconut cream from the pantry, and peeling egg roll wrappers were some of the little ways my mom let me contribute in the kitchen. Despite this, I never acquired the skills to fully prepare any of the dishes that I assisted with. I grew frustrated and eventually it became too daunting to try on my own when I moved 1,600 miles away for college in St. Paul, Minnesota. Every time I returned home to Seattle, Vietnamese accents and vocabulary grew more and more foreign to my ears. It terrified me. Speaking to my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins became intimidating.

When I moved out of the dorms, I began cooking for myself more often. That is when I started to call my mom frequently to ask for tips and tricks in the kitchen. I was able to hone my Vietnamese skills and also learn how to cook with my mom, all while I was miles away. Those makeshift lessons instilled in me a belief that food has the power to maintain cultural connections and help explore one’s roots.

Along with those cooking sessions, I was also able to maintain my connection to the Vietnamese community because my parents kept me close through family gatherings and events. I’ll always remember the food I ate, the people I met, and the stories I heard through these experiences. My community involvement taught me who I am, and I realized it was my turn to give something back.

I began the Sticky Rice Project, founding it upon my dedication to unify communities, my passion for graphic design, and my hunger for Vietnamese food. Connecting Vietnamese generations through culinary bonds for the purpose of building understanding—that is the mission of the Sticky Rice Project.”

January 4 2018

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