Guests who attended the Spanish Banquet received a variety of authentic Spanish foods on March 29. COURTESY OF BRIAN WOLFGRAM
Guests who attended the Spanish Banquet received a variety of authentic Spanish foods on March 29. COURTESY OF BRIAN WOLFGRAM
In an area with residents' ancestors coming from Scandinavian countries, many times hearing of Spanish food makes one think "spicy" or "tortillas." Fillmore Central Spanish teacher Brian Wolfgram believes this to be a common misunderstanding when it comes to food from Spanish-speaking countries.

By hosting a Spanish banquet annually, Wolfgram hopes community members will set aside this misconception and take time to expand their food palate.

"One of our goals in hosting this banquet is to bring more cultural diversity into our community through food," he explained.

Since food can unite people of various backgrounds, all over the world, the banquet offers an opportunity for Minnesota natives to experience a completely new culture.

At the same time, the banquet is beneficial to the students as a fundraising opportunity. For the past few years, Wolfgram has traveled to Bemidji with students from his Spanish class to take part in the Concordia language immersion camps. Instead of expending thousands of dollars for a young person to spend a semester in a foreign country studying and being surrounded by a completely new culture, the immersion camps give students an opportunity to spend much, much less for a weekend spent speaking only Spanish, eating only Spanish food and living in Spanish style buildings.

"It is the next best thing for students who want to learn a language and not spend much money," Wolfgram stated.

With events such as this banquet, he hopes to eventually give students scholarships for their immersion camp experience.

This was the second year Wolfgram and several of his students worked to put together this excellent, four-course banquet for area residents to enjoy.

"This year was much better than last year's banquet. We applied for Walmart grants to help buy the supplies in order to present the banquet in a more professional manner," he related.

The menu was an example of this professionalism. Rather than a simple printed sheet listing the courses, those who attended received a bi-fold menu, fitted with a list of the donations and hints for ordering something in Spanish. They may have not expected it, but they left the banquet with a little lesson in the Spanish language as well as being satisfied with a delicious meal.

Adding to the authenticity of the Spanish banquet was the assistance of two native Spanish speakers. A few weeks prior to the banquet, Wolfgram mentioned the banquet to the director of the immersion camp that he and his students were to host the banquet. She shared recipes with him and even asked for volunteers to come to Harmony to help with the banquet. One volunteer originally came from Mexico and another from Argentina.

The countries represented at the banquet this year were Mexico, Spain and Argentina. The menu included special courses from each country. The four different courses were served in the family style to represent the culture that is family oriented.

The first course this year was Shrimp Ceviche served with homemade tortilla chips. This dish is popular throughout the coastal countries of South America, Wolfgram explained.

Following that came Spanish Manchego Cheese, which he said was the star of the show. This cheese is an excellent but very expensive cheese costing $10 to $20 per pound. Thankfully, Trader Joe's donated the cheese necessary just for this occasion.

"The cheese was panko breaded, fried manchego cheese drizzled with honey and sprinkled with smoked paprika," Wolfgram described.

The third course featured an Argentinean Carrot Salad and Marinated top sirloin steak with Argentinean chimichurri sauce.

Finally, the desert presented was crepes with dulce de leche, or South American caramel sauce, topped with bananas and powdered sugar.

Throughout the dinner, an alcohol free sangria was served to the guests, for which Hy-Vee supplied the provisions.

The dishes were further authenticated with the aid of the assistants sent by the camp director as they cooked in the way they are familiar with in their home countries.

Around 30 guests attended the banquet this year. Wolfgram hopes to expand that number eventually, but never make it go over 50 people.

"I want the food to be fresh, but with more than 50 people, it would not be quite to that standard. The preparing and cooking alone for this year took around 10 hours," he said.

The banquet succeeded with the help of Wolfgram's wife and kids, the two assistants and three very devoted student helpers. These students, Nacrissa Hughes, Lina Della Libera and Tara McGinley spent around 15 hours each at the high school between Friday and Saturday preparing for the feast.

Held in the school cafeteria, many items decorated and colored three tables in styles from Peru, Spain and Argentina. These items Wolfgram brought from his home or borrowed for the use of the banquet.

Wolfgram plans to continue this banquet for many more years. Each year it would reflect three or more Spanish speaking countries, adding variety to the banquet. Though he is a Spanish teacher, there may be an opportunity in the future to produce a multicultural event, though it would remain separate from the Spanish banquet. This, however, is merely an idea at this point, Wolfgram added. Right now, the goal is to provide the community with a chance to experience a new culture while giving them high quality food.

"This food is comparable to going to Rochester for a nice meal. It would be like dining in a typical restaurant in Rochester with quality food that would be much more costly," he concluded.