COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — Celebrity chefis back in a university dining hall for a first-time visit to Saint John's University.
"Oh man, I am really back in college. I feel old though. Walking on this campus all my college memories came back," said Vang, chef and owner of Union Hmong Kitchen.
One strong memory features the most basic of ingredients. Food and friends.
"We had this house. We had this rinky dink grill that we found on the side of the road of somebody's house, and we would grill chicken. We'd have a few of the guys come over. Right away we had this heart where we wanted to build community around food. For me that really started in college," said Vang.
"Food is like music in that you don't need to be able to speak the same language to be able to enjoy it with someone who doesn't speak the same language as you," said Tony Finnestad.
That was Finnestad's thinking when he asked his good friend to bring the stories, food and flavors of Union Hmong kitchen to Saint John's after talking over the dining program three months ago.
"I want our food to have a little more energy and a little more life and reflect what's going on in the world around us than what we see right now," said Finnestad.
Students lined up for Vang's introductory course of Hmong cuisine.
"We have this lemongrass grilled chicken, and then it's going to be over some jasmine rice, we have a cucumber salad and then we also have our kua txob which will go over that. It's going to give it a little heat, but you know with this weather, it's perfect," explained Vang.
"The seasoning is pretty good. I've never tried Hmong food before, so I think it's good," junior Sami Boerboom said while giving it a taste.
"My first few bites have been amazing," said junior Mackenzie Matthies.
Saint John's University students say they appreciate the opportunity to explore through food.
"I feel like it's a good way to experience other cultures in Minnesota. I know there's a bunch of people who come from different cultures and it's a good switch up of food," said junior Jesus Medina Jr.
"Young diners, they're always asking that question of why am I eating this? Where does it come from? It's that origin story and that curiosity makes the food taste better and you understand the spirit of the food," said Vang.
"The idea is to drive a ton of excitement around this so we can do more of these moving forward," said Finnestad.
Vang's celebrity takeover at Saint John's University is the first of three.
On Nov. 13, Chef Pedro Wolcott of Guacaya Bistreaux will be on campus serving Latin and Caribbean food.
Dec. 5, Chef Gustavo Romero will serve Mexican dishes as they continue sharing culture through food.