Professor delving into culinary world at Chatham's Eden Hall campus in Richland - PineCreek Journal

Professor delving into culinary world at Chatham’s Eden Hall campus in Richland

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 | 12:01 AM


Veda Sankaran loves to combine the cuisine of India with traditional comfort foods of this country, but the term fusion bothers her.

She may be drawing from both what her family prepared and what she ate growing up in Altoona after moving to the United States in the late 1970s, but she’s not fusing anything. She’s simply cooking and telling her own story through food.

“I struggle with how to express this correctly and talk about it,” said Sankaran, 49, of Franklin Park. “Even when I write sometimes I say, ‘I incorporated this into American food,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m American, so the food I make is American food.’ It’s just my America. These are all parts of me, and I’m maybe just putting them together a little differently than the parts of you and how you would do it.”

Sankaran is one of the latest Makers in Residence at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus in Richland. The program is run through the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation and is designed to allow local culinary and agricultural entrepreneurs the chance to explore and innovate using the campus kitchens and facilities while sharing what they know with students and the community at large through a series of workshops.

Sankaran has a master’s degree in education, and her professional life has included working as an adjunct professor at Duquesne and La Roche universities. She has taken a break from that during her 15-week residency, however, to focus on getting her new business, Jalsa by Veda, off the ground as she focuses on recipe development as well as accounting and other aspects of running a business. Jalsa, she explained, is a Gujarati word that encompasses the feeling of celebration, joy, happiness and fun.

“Though I am Tamil and not Gujarati,” she said, “I loved that a single word could be used to describe that joyous feeling we all have, whether it’s for a party or simply enjoying being with friends or family.”

Moving to the United States at the age of 4 and growing up as the only Indian person in her high school graduating class of about 800 gave her an interesting perspective on food. When she was younger, she said, she only wanted to eat what her friends were eating and not the traditional dishes her mother prepared, but when she went away to college, she missed Indian food.

“I only really learned how to cook after I went away to school and started asking my mom, ‘How do you make this?’ and ‘How do you make that?’ ” she said.

As her interest in cooking grew, she began incorporating both tastes and styles into dishes to share with family and friends. Her Jalsa by Veda is a unique spice blend that she uses to bring the flavors of her native India into the comfort food she learned to love growing up as an Altoona girl.

For instance, for her homemade paneer workshop coming up this month on the Eden Hall campus, she’ll be teaching participants not only how to make the traditional North Indian cheese but also to use it in a dish that includes pierogies.

That workshop is sold out, but there are openings for a workshop on comfort foods with Indian flavors from noon to 3 p.m. March 22. The menu includes learning to make mac and cheese, meatballs and gravy, and chicken and waffles all with an Indian flair. Attendees will get a Jalsa by Veda spice blend to take home.

“A lot of the passion for all of this comes from my philosophy of food,” she said. “Food tells a story, and the food that we eat, the food that we cook, the food that we share tells our history. Whether it’s a recipe that’s been passed down through generations or it’s where we traveled or the people we first tasted that food with, I think that’s what excites me. And I think the food I personally make tells my history.”

For more information on the workshops, email craft@chatham.edu or call 412-365-1118, or register online at craft.chatham.edu/events.