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Culinary Co-op Gets Taste of the World Expo

Food and world’s fairs have always been linked — ice cream cones and cotton candy were introduced at these events — but it wasn’t until this year that a world expo (what world’s fairs are now called) has been entirely devoted to food. Culinary arts senior Peter Schoemer not only witnessed this historical moment, but he worked to make it happen.

For his co-op, Schoemer worked as a student ambassador in the U.S.A. pavilion, America’s showing at the 2015 Expo Milano in Italy. As a student ambassador, Schoemer worked as a docent throughout the pavilion, which included serving as a tour guide for international and V.I.P guests by assisting them at the various interactive exhibits. 

“The ground floor of the pavilion featured an interactive, animated [or] live-action video exhibit that discussed contemporary American food culture, which I was really interested in,” Schoemer said. “It would get very frustrating if people came to the pavilion and were expecting McDonalds or KFC, because American food is so much more than that. It was nice to sort of educate and correct the assumptions.”

Of the 120 American college students from various majors at 95 colleges, three students hailed from Drexel, including Schoemer. Food science major Hanako Itokazu and international area studies major Rebecca Olsho were also selected as ambassadors from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants.

As the only culinary arts student in the first part of the student ambassador program, which ran from April to July, Schoemer’s expertise was highly sought out. After all, the expo’s theme was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” meant to spark discussions about the problems of nutrition and the resources of our planet. The U.S.A. pavilion’s theme was “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet,” which showcased the country’s current and historical food culture, including food trucks, as well as future endeavors in food sustainability and technology.

“I felt that my background gave me a very specific brand of knowledge that my colleagues didn’t have, necessarily,” said Schoemer. “When someone within your realm of knowledge came, our managers very quickly figured out who the best people would be to give that tour.”

Among the VIPs Schoemer took on tours were chefs he looks up to, like José Andrés, a Spanish American chef credited with introducing the concept of small plates meals to America, and Lidia Bastianich, an American restaurateur, television host and author specializing in Italian cuisine. First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, who developed the “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity, also visited the pavilion with celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Carla Hall, who co-host ABC’s “The Chew.”

“It was especially cool to see Carla Hall because she’s done some work with Drexel culinary students to prepare recipes and ideas for her restaurant, so I had already met her a few times,” Schoemer said. “She obviously wasn’t expecting to see me there!”

Schoemer also toured some of the pavilions for the other 140 or so participating countries.

“You can get food from all over the world in one space,” he said. “One of our favorite spots became the Eritrean pavilion. When I ate there for the first time, I was just blown away. Like, ‘Wow, I’m missing some stuff!’”

Other expo highlights included the technology and environmental exhibits from Germany, the aquaponic technology from Belgium, and the cuisine of Italy and Japan.

“My goal is to work in restaurants cooking,” said Schoemer, who has been cooking at Vernick Food & Drink since taking a culinary practicum class after his sophomore year. “Down the line, [I want to] open my own place. Once I tell people that, the inevitable question is always ‘What kind of food do you want to cook?’ and I really have no idea right now. So it was really great to get a level of exposure to all of these different cuisines.”

Since his co-op ended in July, Schoemer continued to learn more about international cuisines by traveling to great food cities including Paris and Lyon in France, and Madrid, San Sebastian and Bilbao in Spain. He plans to enroll in the accelerated MBA program offered through the LeBow College of Business after he graduates in June.