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Paul Zondo, center, begins the process of preparing rice for cooking in a class on Liberian cuisine at Legacy High in Bismarck on Thursday morning. Helping Zondo prepare the courses are Olive Wehjla, left, and Paige Bergquist, right, a LHS senior.

The smell of palava sauce and cassava leaves wafted through a Legacy High School culinary classroom on Thursday.

Paul Zondo, a Liberian immigrant, stood at the front of the classroom, teaching a dozen Bismarck juniors and seniors how to prepare a Liberian dish from scratch.

"Liberians love this," Zondo told the students, as they watched him simmer a unique variation of greens, seasoned with Maggi cubes — a general seasoning used in Africa — salt, onions and sweet peppers.

The cooking class is in preparation for an upcoming "Evening in Liberia" dinner sponsored by the Bismarck Human Relations Committee, which aims to minimize cultural barriers and introduce new cultures and food to the Bismarck community.

This is the second year the Human Relations Committee has partnered with the Legacy High School Culinary Arts Program to host a cultural dinner, according to Krista Rausch, committee member. Last year, the event highlighted Indian culture.

"The idea is inclusion. We want to build a more inclusive community and really embrace the cultures that are represented here," Rausch said.

Zondo has lived in Bismarck for more than a year with his wife and 6-year-old and 13-month-old sons. He arrived in the United States about 10 years ago. Zondo told the students of an ongoing civil war in his country at the time of his departure and said he "had to escape for (his) life."

Zondo moved to Bismarck from Montana for a job as a correctional officer at the North Dakota State Penitentiary. Zondo said because jobs in North Dakota are plentiful, many other Liberians have made the Peace Garden State their home, and hundreds of Liberians live in Bismarck. 

“Bismarck gives Liberians a fresh start, a new hope," he said.

Students on Thursday learned how to cook with ingredients they've never seen in grocery stores. A Human Relations Committee member traveled to Fargo to pick up some of the ingredients, according to Kimberly Hertz, the culinary arts teacher at Legacy.

“When we look at doing an event like this, we want to make it as authentic as possible," Hertz said.

Zondo said he looks forward to the opportunity to share his culture with his community members.

"The goal is to bring people together to see what we have in common more than what we don’t have in common," he said. "We’ll talk about the opportunities that we have in Bismarck to grow to prosper as a community and how we can work together to make Bismarck a safe and welcoming place for all of us."

The "Evening in Liberia" dinner will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 16. at Legacy. Tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.bismarcknd.gov. Tickets can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-in-liberia-cultural-dinner-event-tickets-39058135936.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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