Brother Neal Laloo OSB
will add a dash of Caribbean flavor
to the Grand Tour of Nations

By Gay Zyvoloski
Special to the Times

The tropical sun and sandy beaches of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean stretch far away from the snow covered hills enveloping Saint John's Preparatory School in Collegeville.

But Brother Neal Laloo will change all that at the school's Saturday fundraiser, "A Grand Tour of Nations." There, he will tantalize tastebuds with his native Caribbean cuisine.

The eighth annual fund-raiser, expected to attract about 500 people, celebrates cultural diversity and offers an opportunity to sample food, music and art from countries around the world. Many of the school's 215 national and international students and their parents participate.

"It teaches our kids that volunteering is such an important part of making a difference in this world.... (Y)ou lead by example and this speaks so loudly to these kids. They get so involved. It makes them feel good," said event chairperson Sharon Lukach.

Said Laloo: "Grand Tour of Nations also speaks about cultural diversity. We try to open the door to say, 'Hey, there's another side of the world. Let's celebrate that."

To most Minnesotans, Laloo's home is on the other side of the world. the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, two islands which lie just northeast of Venezuela. That is where he first learned to cook -- from his mother. As a helpful wide-eyed 10-year-old, he assisted in the kitchen while his mother did other household chores for his three brothers and his father.

"My two sisters were married and gone. My mom needed help with cooking from time to time so I was assigned the task of monitoring whatever was being cooked. Mom had a very special way of blending cross-cultural cooking that needed a lot of vigilance, especially her shrimp rice pilaf," he said. "My interest in cooking started very naturally. To this day, I still enjoy it!"

Since then, Laloo has fostered his interest through travel, missionary work, reading, watching gourmet cooking shows, as well as plain old observation and experimentation.

When he lived with the Missionary Brothers of the Poor in Kingston, Jamaica, Laloo served meals in the slums from 1984 to 1990. He picked up donated soup from a hotel every week. He always arrived two hours early to peel potatoes and carrots. At the same time, he would watch the chefs to learn their techniques and ask questions.

"They asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a cook since I took so much interest," Laloo said with a chuckle.

Laloo joined the St. Augustine's Monastery in Nassau, The Bahamas, where he went through a candidacy program. In July 1990 he came to Saint John's Abbey where he received his early monastic training. In 1991, he went back to The Bahamas. Two years later, he returned to Saint John's Abbey and then to the Saint John's Preparatory School "as director of maintenance where I pursued cooking," he joked.

He likes to cook occasionally for the monks at Saint John's Abbey.

"In a strange way, I think food makes people happy and it makes me happy too, in some respects.... I really can't nail it down or express it, but there is a real good sense that is associated with cooking."

"It's that ephemeral moment of self-accomplishment that enables you. to feel good. For instance, I love French and German cooking. They're both so diverse, there's such a richness about the food and people take pride in cooking it. It's not like flipping burgers. There's nothing to flipping burgers."

Burgers will not be on Saturday's menu. Laloo has carefully assembled an array of food to provide a snapshot of colorful Caribbean fare which has Latin, French and Asian influences:

Mystical Caribbean Soup (served with ever-popular Johnny Bread, instead of the traditional coconut bread), a rainbow blend of vegetables cooked in cream and white wine; Caribbean-flavored pork, beef and shrimp; sautéed vegetables with shrimp; Oriental rice and a French Creole Spanish Latin Caribbean rice pilaf.

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