The Red Plate Society: Culture, Connection, and Community

Five student chefs are bringing the Taft community together one dish at a time.

For many years, José Andrés was known mostly to foodies as a multi-James Beard Award-winning, Spanish-American chef and restaurateur. After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Andrés became a household name. That’s when he founded World Central Kitchen, an NGO providing healthy food to families and individuals touched by disasters across the globe, including in the US and Puerto Rico during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now in Poland, on the border of Ukraine.

Andrés and his work caught the attention of upper mid Nam Dao, something of a foodie in his own right, with a deep understanding of the role food plays in both culture and community. Last year, Nam, Sean Liao ’25, and Christian Yeung ’25 created The Red Plate Society at Taft to build connection across the Taft community through food. Recently, the group hosted a borscht dinner. The event coincided with the second-anniversary of the war in Ukraine, and raised funds to support those affected by the conflict.

“I really admire José Andrés and his work in Ukraine and Puerto Rico, so I took a lot of inspiration from his cookbook to come up with the borscht recipe,” says Nam. “Our Ukrainian friends were there with us too, and they asked for seconds, so you know the borscht was good!”

Last year, Nam, Sean, and Christian—all international students—found themselves cooking a lot of meals from home in the HDT4 kitchen. They began sharing their favorite foods from Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong with one another. By the end of the year, they decided to expand their efforts by reaching out to other international students and preparing dishes from their home cultures. And The Red Plate Society was born.

“We began sharing each other's comfort foods and, in the process, each other's stories and culture,” says Sean. “We felt a strong bond that was created through our food and felt that this was what Taft needed. Especially in times when students can sometimes feel divided.”

Sean, Nam, and Christian initially considered creating a student-run, for-profit restaurant. In the end, Sean says, they settled on a catering club that would cook student-submitted cultural dishes in the style of a “dorm feed,” with occasional opportunities, such as Borscht Night, for students to make voluntary donations to specific causes. This year, upper mids Tonchok Dhanasarnsilp and Aman Dhiman joined the cooking team.

“On Saturdays, we go around the dorms making foods from different cultures for dorm feeds,” says Nam. “We made Tonkotsu ramen for HDT2, Taiwanese braised pork for HDT4, and, of course, Ukranian borscht for USGD and the MAC house.”

The benefits run deep, for both the chefs and the community.

“Even though we are a club that tries to share cultures through food, we end up bringing people back home through it,” notes Christian. “I think it’s a small thing, but having someone say to me, ‘Wow, I haven’t had this in a year,’ or ‘I haven’t been home in a year and this really hit the spot,’ is probably the biggest reason why I keep cooking.”

The student chefs are currently working on a cookbook featuring dishes from members of the Taft community. They’ll use it to teach the basics, while offering a window into the lives of students from across the globe. And while the chef’s main objective is always to share the many cultures reflected in Taft’s student body, the gatherings also represent an opportunity to, in many ways, embrace Taft’s motto: Not to be served, but to serve.

“Through our collective efforts,” says Nam, “we can make a meaningful difference.”

Photos courtesy: Nam Dao, William Yang, and Dylan Muellers

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