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Whistler Multicultural Network's new cookbook shares immigrants' stories through food

The Multicultural Kitchens cookbook is raising funds for WMN programming

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For immigrant communities, food can serve as a powerful connection to home.

In a new country where the sights, sounds and smells are sometimes strange and foreign, the simple act of preparing a familiar dish can give the homesick a much-needed taste of their native land.

It's with this in mind that the Whistler Multicultural Network (WMN) created its Multicultural Kitchens cookbook, which not only features recipes from 10 local immigrants, but also includes the personal stories behind these dishes that make them so meaningful.

"It's the food that brings people together, and Community Kitchens is very much about people sharing their cultures and learning about each others' cultures, and it's those stories that really make it real for people," explained Carole Stretch, program manager at WMN.

The cookbook features street food recipes from as far away as China, Slovakia and Venezeula that were culled from the past year-plus of Multicultural Community Kitchen events, which welcomes amateur immigrant cooks into the organization's Spring Creek kitchen to prepare a dish from their home country.

Along with offering a space for immigrants to get their hands dirty preparing their favourite street foods, the program also serves as an effective bridge between the many different cultures of Whistler.

"As immigrants, it gave us the opportunity to share part of our culture with the country that opened the doors to our new beautiful life," said Argentine Romina Wells, who contributed to the cookbook.

For Karine Espinoza, the Community Kitchen was a chance to cook up her favourite sopaipillas con pebre, a pumpkin fried dough that offered a window into day-to-day life in her native Chile.

"When I interviewed Karine for the book, she kept wondering why this dish made her think about home so much," Stretch relayed. "She said she remembered that every day when it rained, her mother would cook these as a snack when she got home. And everybody in town knew that their mothers would be doing this, so it really brought back memories of her childhood, and that's what we wanted to include in this book: What did the dish make you think and why did it make you think of home?"

Although Whistler is made up of scores of people who've come here from elsewhere, for the immigrant diasporas that call Whistler home, it's easy to fade into the background.

"We have a lot of people here who are recent immigrants, and a lot of them are working really hard and a lot of them don't really get seen in Whistler," said Stretch, who pointed out that 22 per cent of the resort's permanent population are immigrants — which doesn't include temporary foreign workers or immigrants who have gone on to gain citizenship.

"Because I think we are so multicultural, because we have visitors from everywhere," she added, "a lot of people assume that if you're from somewhere else, you must be a visitor."

That's what makes the work WMN does so important. Whether it's through the cookbook, its Community Kitchens program, or its multicultural festival held each summer, the non-profit strives to bring Whistler's immigrant communities from behind the scenes and into the spotlight.

"This is just another way to raise that awareness and have immigrants participate in the community in their own way," noted Stretch.

The Multicultural Kitchens cookbook is a great deal at just $10, with proceeds going back into WMN programming. Stretch says the plan is to continue compiling recipes from future Community Kitchen events so that the cookbook can become a wider, annual release.

The book is available for purchase at the library on Mondays from 3 to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to noon, or by contacting WMN at info@welcomewhistler.com or 604-388-5511.

Check the Multicultural Community Kitchens schedule at welcomewhistler.com or the Whistler Welcome Centre Facebook page.

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