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How to eat your way through the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival

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Photo: Culinary DojoAsian cuisine has been a staple of the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival in the past. But for its 14th year, the festival this weekend at Sloan’s Lake Park in Denver is hosting its first ever "Culinary Dojo" where visitors can get a taste of some lesser-known traditional Asian dishes.

The new event affords visitors the opportunity to explore the culinary terrain of many of Denver's 30 Asian ethnic groups. It goes beyond teriyaki chicken and fried egg rolls to such delicacies as the Filipino dish banana lumpia and spam musubi -- a Hawaiian specialty.

Chefs will also give cooking demonstrations, showing attendees how to make dishes like Indian kochi rolls, while Colorado-based Asian grocers will explain how to eat exotic fruits.

Leah Eveleigh, one of the chefs participating in the festival’s Culinary Dojo, is a self-taught Filipina chef who won an episode of the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” earlier this year.

Arts show host Chloe Veltman met up with Eveleigh in a demonstration kitchen in Highlands Ranch earlier this week, as the chef cooked up pancit, a favorite Filipino noodle dish.

“Cooking my food is really close to me because it brings people together,” Eveleigh says. “It’s a very special time. I love to share my food, my culture, my cuisine and the people behind it as well.”

The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival’s executive director, Erin Yoshimura, also joined Veltman and Eveleigh.

Yoshimura is a big foodie and the Culinary Dojo is her brainchild. She talked about the Dojo and how food highlights the different cultures represented at this year’s festival.

CPR: What is a Culinary Dojo?

Erin Yoshimura: Through our festival we really want to engage people in what we call “particip-Asian” -- get it? Food is another way of engaging our audiences, so we thought, “Let’s do some cooking demonstrations.” People love our food at the festival and, this year, we really want to engage people with our chefs -- not only learning how to cook, but also to hear the stories behind the dishes. We came up with the name "Culinary Dojo." Dojo is Japanese and it’s typically used for martial arts schools. But the direct translation is a “place of the way.” We thought, “that’s kind of cool,” let’s make a Culinary Dojo.

CPR: Americans are very familiar with the cuisines of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. Chefs at the Festival will be serving up dishes from these traditions. But what are some of the lesser-known Asian culinary traditions that people can sample this year?

Erin Yoshimura: We have two “Taste of Asia” food courts. And we have about 20 different tastes of Asia. Some of the lesser known are Hmong food. We also have Vietnamese food, Indian food, Korean food and Japanese flavored gelato and ice cream.

CPR: How do the Asian culinary arts serve as a gateway into the various cultures represented at the Festival?

Erin Yoshimura: You learn more about a culture when you share a meal. When you taste the different types of dumplings, for example -- there are lots of different dumplings across the Asian cultures -- you see that some are fried, some are steamed, some have different fillings, and you can start to trace back why they have these particular ingredients in them. Then you begin to understand more about the people and the origination of these foods.

2014 Culinary Dojo schedule:

Saturday, July 19

12 p.m.: Leah Eveleigh demos the Filipino dish banana lumpia
1 p.m.: Biju Thomas of Biju’s Little Curry Shop demos “kochi roll,” an Indian wrap
2 p.m.: Jie Zheng of Volcano Asian Fusion demos a Chinese specialty
3 p.m.: Chaitanya Chandra Das Goswami and his wife, Prana-Priya, cook Indian food
4 p.m.: Sachi Ninomiya and Michael Chang make spam musubi

Sunday, July 20

11 a.m.: Mary Nguyen, who owns Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, P17 and Olive & Finch in Denver demos summer rolls and noodle bowl
12 p.m.: Leah Eveleigh demos the Filipino dish banana lumpia
1 p.m.: Nita Chittijev of Chada Thai Restaurant demos Thai dishes

The 14th annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is July 19 and 20 at Sloan’s Lake Park in Denver. In addition to the diverse food offerings, the festival also features four performance stages, a marketplace and, of course, dragon boat races. For more information on festival activities, visit CDBF.org.