UI grads went from Georgia to Cooking Channel

By Ting Xuan Tan, The Daily Iowan

After receiving so much from their host family in the Republic of Georgia, McKinze Cook and Sean Fredericks were able to give something back.

“They really liked our ketchup,” Cook said.

When her parents sent the couple a care package, Cook and Fredericks made Kraft macaroni and cheese and hamburgers for their host family — and Cook even baked an apple pie for Thanksgiving.

After graduating from the University of Iowa and working in Iowa City for a while, Fredericks and Cook wanted to explore the world and contribute with what they had learned.

So they joined the Peace Corps and said they would like to do organizational development. A month before they left, they found out they would head to the Republic of Georgia.

UI peace corps volunteers in Georgia
Image courtesy of kargigogo.com

There have been 2,284 Iowans who have served in the Peace Corp, with 22 University of Iowa graduates currently serving in 18 countries.

“Every prospective volunteer prepares for her orhis service differently, but many do research on the Internet and by reading blogs from currently serving volunteers and talk to returned Peace Corps volunteers,” Mary Fuller, public affairs specialist for Peace Corps, wrote in an email.

After returning to the United States in 2012, Fredericks and Cook decided that they would like to share the culture of hospitality that they had learned from the Georgians and opened a food cart in Portland, Oregon, called Kargi GoGo, serving the Georgian fare they love.

The Kargi Gogo food will be featured on Thursday in “Eat St.” with James Cunningham on the Cooking Channel.

“The great thing about Georgian food is that it’s remarkably accessible,” Fredericks said. “So it’s not filed with strange ingredients, but at the same time it is a little bit different and a little bit exotic, and that combination of exotic and accessibility, I think that people in Portland, New York, and Iowa City would enjoy it.”

Their favorite Georgian dish depends on the day, but Cook really enjoys the Khinkali, a stuffed dumpling, because she finds it a good mixture of ingredients, and she likes its juiciness on the inside.

As for Fredericks, he really likes the cheese bread, the Khachapuri, because it’s decadent and “ooey gooey, cheesy, melty goodness.”

food cart
Image courtesy of kargigogo.com

“For a lot of people, we’re the first time they’ve heard about Georgia, the first time they’ve tasted Georgian food, and so that’s something that we take very seriously,” Cook said. “We feel very lucky that we are able to do that because it is such a special place to us.”

In Georgia, food is integrated with the lifestyle — and for Fredericks and Cook, the flavors were amazing, but the tradition behind the food is what they really admired.

While in Georgia, they were warmly welcomed with supra, an elaborate feast that goes on for hours. It can be for a special occasion or just a spur of the moment.

“We hadn’t been in town very long, and we ran into some neighbors on the corner,” Fredericks said. “So we introduced ourselves, and they said, ‘Oh, come over, and sit down.’ And before long, there was a dozen people sitting around this table outside on the road for hours. Toasting, eating and having a good time, enjoying each other’s company and this sort of thing wasn’t just a freak occurrence.”

Fredericks said Georgians are fiercely proud of their food and their culture, as well as being “tremendously hospitable.”

“You experience that from the moment you get off the plane till the moment you leave,” he said. “And it’s hard not for that to leave a lasting impression on your life.”

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