Fillmore Central’s annual Spanish banquet will again feature country-themed tables with items from various Spanish-speaking countries complementing the authentic dishes served being at the March 29 event. Tickets are still on sale. Jerry Wolfgram, Scott Wolfgram and Maddox Wolfgram wait eagerly for their chance to start eating at last year’s event.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Fillmore Central’s annual Spanish banquet will again feature country-themed tables with items from various Spanish-speaking countries complementing the authentic dishes served being at the March 29 event. Tickets are still on sale. Jerry Wolfgram, Scott Wolfgram and Maddox Wolfgram wait eagerly for their chance to start eating at last year’s event. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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You might leave speaking Spanish or, at the very least, be familiar with the Spanish names of the dishes the Fillmore Central Spanish Department will be cooking up for its second annual Spanish banquet on Saturday, March 29. With fresh ingredients and a new menu, this year's dinner will again provide both a cultural experience to attendees and future opportunities for Fillmore Central students to learn about the Spanish language and culture.

"It came out of my passion for cooking and wanting to expose other people to the cuisines and cultures of other countries," explained Spanish teacher Brian Wolfgram. The banquet idea was also borne out of necessity, as Wolfgram was looking for ways to raise funds for students wishing to attend Concordia Language Villages' Spanish immersion camp, El Lago del Bosque, near Bemidji, Minn.

Wolfgram, who is in his eighth year of teaching Spanish, has taught students at Fillmore Central for six years. Over the years, he has looked for things outside the class to supplement in-class learning for his 150 students across grade levels 7 to 12.

Last year, he took a small group of interested students to Bemidji for a weekend language immersion camp experience. The camp, though obscurely nestled among the red and white pines of northern Minnesota, attracts thousands of school-age children from across the nation for various camps held each year.

Each terra cotta-roofed building looks as though it was plucked right out of Spain, everyone speaks Spanish all the time, and the food and cultures are authentically represented.

"It is the second best experience," said Wolfgram. "They come away from the experience having truly been immersed in a culture without spending thousands of dollars to go to another country. It's very economical."

Last year, some students were financially sponsored by area businesses and residents. Proceeds from the banquet held that year paid for transportation and meals.

For a weekend camping experience this year, costs usually run around $157 per student. Students arrive on a Friday, stay all day Saturday and leave on Sunday, having participated in activities, eaten food and learned more of the Spanish language and culture. Last year, students learned more about Spain. This year, four students will be attending the camp from March 14 to 16, which will immerse them in the culture of Argentina.

This year, most of the fundraising for paying the camp costs will be through the banquet. However, Wolfgram has received a significant amount of support to make the trip possible. Through the Fillmore Central mini-grant program made possible by F&M Community Bank in Preston, First Southeast Bank in Harmony and First State Bank of Fountain, Wolfgram already has the transportation costs taken care of.

Over the summer, Wolfgram sought out and received a $2,000 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation from Wal-Mart in Decorah. The money was invested in supplies for the banquet, which Wolfgram said can be used every year. These supplies include 50 plates, 30 platters, a rice cooker, paella pans and other cooking tools which Wolfgram said will help meet demands in meal preparation and serving. This capital investment will enable Wolfgram and his students to put on an annual banquet that could serve up to 50 people.

Wolfgram said kitchen shelving for their equipment still needs to be purchased. Necessary proceeds from this year's banquet will go toward that purchase.

Wolfgram said he also wanted to work toward making the event look more professional. When he was planning the banquet the first year Wolfgram decided to create country-themed tables. "I looked around my room and saw where things I had were from," he elaborated. He used pictures, souvenirs and other authentic items from his collection and those of his friends to create five tables: Spain, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico and Peru.

Wolfgram is still planning the tables for this year, but hopes to change out some countries for others. Then, of course, there is the food.

Assisted by Fillmore Central's cook, Sue Barlow, and Taher, Inc., Regional Chef Shari Jarett, Wolfgram and interested students will be preparing a three-to-five-course meal. Wolfgram is still developing the menu, but said all the dishes will be prepared from fresh ingredients and follow authentic recipes from various Spanish-speaking countries.

"I would say that I'm teaching through food," he said. "Some people have the misconception that all Spanish food is spicy or served on a tortilla. I want to open people's eyes and palates to new food."

There are 21 countries he can select recipes from. Last year, the banquet started off with gazpacho, a traditional chilled Spanish soup and was served with a Spanish tortilla. The main course was a Peruvian stir fry called lomo saltado. For dessert, attendees enjoyed arroz con leche, or a rice pudding, and a Mexican orchata, which is a cinnamon-rice drink.

Wolfgram didn't give away too much about this year's menu, but said he was experimenting with dishes from Spain, Mexico, the Dominican Republican, Costa Rica and Argentina. He said it was likely that the appetizer would be a panko-fried, Spanish Manchego cheese, seasoned with paprika and drizzled with honey.

Students will help by waiting tables, cleaning and food preparation that evening. A Spanish music playlist and immersion camp picture slideshow created by students will be playing during the banquet.

Wolfgram hopes the banquet idea will evolve in the future to include bringing in native speakers and live music.

Speaking about the banquet, Wolfgram said, "I think it is a way of bridging the gap between cultures. Food is something that unites all of us."

The meal starts at 6 p.m. in the Fillmore Central High School lunchroom and will last about two hours.

Tickets are still on sale for $20 each and can be purchased by contacting Wolfgram by email, brian.wolfgram@isd2198.k12.mn.us or by phone at (507) 213-3677.

Proceeds from the event will go toward providing scholarships for students wanting to go to future Spanish immersion cam