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Diaspora Kitchen, New Upper School Elective, Explores Communities via Cuisine

Video by Jesse Paddock


Food is about much more than nourishment for bodies — it can also be a reflection of history and a point of connection to one’s homeland, as students in a new Durham Academy Upper School elective course have learned. The course, Diaspora Kitchen, examines the role that food plays in immigration and acculturation, how culinary traditions help keep immigrants connected to their native lands, and how foods of diasporated communities have enriched the Triangle. 

Upper School history teacher Thomas Phu teaches the course, which can trace its origins as an Upper School Capstone that he and Victoria Muradi (now director of strategic initiatives) led in 2019. The course — now in its first semester — received funding through the Strategic Vision’s Innovation Journey Fund, which supports discovery, design and implementation of innovative ways of teaching, learning and operating as a school. 

“It is really important to think about food as a reflection of people,” student Rinal Dahhan ’23 said. “There is so much history behind the food we are cooking, so much narrative behind the people we’re talking about.” 

Among the goals of the course are to introduce students to the concept of diaspora — a population that has settled far from their ancestral land — and to encourage students to see and understand immigrant communities in the Triangle. 

The class split into small groups, with each concentrating on a different culture. Students have spent time talking with people from different groups who now have roots in the Triangle, exploring why they immigrated to this area and how they’ve enriched their new community. Students then made presentations to their classmates on each diaspora and shared food created with recipes sourced from some of the people they met. 

Plans call for the students to vote for the group with the best combination of tasty, interesting dishes and compelling narrative. That group will be the focus of a concept restaurant in late April. 

“We’re trying to share the culture we learned so much about with other people and we’re trying to kind of give back to the communities that were so gracious and let us talk to them,” said Maya Dolan ’24. “We want to be able to show that, hey, we really did learn from you and we want to celebrate your culture.”