International cuisine "embroidered" in Koch family traditions

Kevin Koch is not only an expert embroiderer, but a world class chef.  Photo by Paul Boers.

Kevin Koch is not only an expert embroiderer, but a world class chef. Photo by Paul Boers.

Four ducks prepared “a l’orange” simmered in a small apartment stove. Four tables were set with fine dinnerware.

For Kevin and Jeannie Koch, it was sixteen of their close friends and their first gourmet dinner party – the first of many to come. “We cooked together when we were dating,” said Kevin. “We’re a well-oiled team.”

But the ducks were only a launching pad.

For their senior prom dinner, Kevin and Jeannie prepared stuffed trout, fully dressed with head attached. Their second dinner party was Chinese chicken and dumplings, prepared for 20 friends. They would go on to cook dishes together such as stuffed veal, borscht (a Russian soup) and bombe (a traditional French dessert).

The Kochs were junior-high sweethearts who dated again in high school and got married after graduation. “We had cooked enough together already to get cookbooks for our wedding gifts,” Kevin said.

Ethnic cuisine was an activity they later integrated into family traditions with their children. “I just love it when we work as a family; everyone knows their role,” Kevin said.

Their children Jessica, Jennifer, Janell and Kyle have grown up tasting new dishes and contributing to dinner preparations. “I help with all parts [of the meal], but I am typically cooking,” said Kyle, currently a Goshen College senior. “If we are grilling something, that is definitely my job.”

Kevin has traveled to an array of international locations which has allowed his interest in the culinary arts to flourish. “The thing for me is making it authentic,” he said. “Every place I go, I try to learn a dish hands-on.”

Koch has spent significant time in Russia and the Ukraine and has traveled in France, Germany, Austria, West Africa, China, India and Mexico.

“Any time he would come back with an idea, he would experiment until he got it right,” said Jeannie.

One of the Koch family’s all-time favorite meals is Chinese, a style Jeannie has become a near expert with after working in a Chinese restaurant for six years in the 1980s. According to Kyle, “[Chinese] dishes would include pepper chicken, steamed dumplings and steamed bread.”

Kevin has done most of his traveling by himself. Missions and humanitarian aid prompted some trips as well as serving as an American delegate for an artistic dance group in Perm, Russia and leading S.S.T. in Senegal last summer. Jeannie and Kevin also had a chance to travel to Ireland together, and celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in Jamaica.

Although they originally began their cooking by hosting small, intimate dinner parties, Kevin and Jeannie have also expanded to international-style meals for meetings and special occasions at Goshen College. “Usually [the meals] are out of appreciation,” Kevin said.

S.S.T. faculty meals, Chinese scholar meals and dinners to honor international guests who have given other Goshen College faculty the opportunity to taste Koch cuisine. “I’ve been to two or three of their meals,” said Dean Rhodes, associate professor of Spanish. Rhodes attended a dinner in October to honor Father Jack, a priest from Chimbote, Peru who visited the college.

“Not only is the food so good, the presentation is so nice,” Rhodes said.

Kevin gives much of the presentation credit to Jeannie. “She has restaurant-style in her blood!” he said, explaining that she takes special notice of presentation aspects and logistical details involved with cooking for large groups in different kitchens.

The Koch’s strive for authenticity even in their beverages. “We don’t allow Lipton in our house!” Kevin said.

The Koch family owns authentic tea sets from China, Russia and Germany. They feature many types of tea, each with a different twist according to which style of tea is being served – Russian tea is served with Lemon and German tea with crème.

Their set of gold flatware also adds a fancy touch to meals, as does the traditional Russian outfits each of the children own and occasionally serve meals in.

The traditional outfits and garments present in the Koch household are another indication of Kevin’s passions. After graduation from high school, he entered an apprenticeship to become a master tailor. He is now a bespoke tailor, able to take one’s unique measurements and custom design for them a piece of clothing such as a full suit or dress.

Through his work in tailoring, embroidery has become a specialty. Kevin studied with an expert from Chicago, Ruby Woody, and spent many years working as a bespoke tailor.

This particular skill gave Kevin a special role in many of his children’s’ weddings. He created two of his daughters’ wedding dresses from the designs they provided and sewed one of his new son-in-laws tuxedos from scratch.

Kevin also created his children’s’ dream Halloween costumes. “My favorite outfit by far was my high school senior semi-formal outfit,” said Kyle. “‘He made me an exact replica of the yellow ‘zoot suit’ worn by Jim Carey in ‘The Mask.’”

After 23 years in the tailoring business, Kevin said he was missing the artistic element of embroidery and tailoring and had become too involved with the manufacturing. He took Goshen College’s open position as administrative assistant to international education – a position he was uniquely qualified for with so much international travel experience and competency in many languages.

However, Kevin still runs a tailoring business on the side and makes full suits and occasionally embroiders dresses.

A recent project involved Leslee Smucker, a senior. During S.S.T. in Senegal, Smucker noticed Kevin’s exceptional interest in the textiles of the country. Through conversation, she learned of his tailoring skills. Kevin is now helping to embroider Smucker’s wedding dress.

Kevin’s intentionality to learn both cooking and tailoring from only the most experienced was inspired by his first boss, a fashion designer who gave him a word of advice he’s considered all his life. “Whatever you do in life, learn from someone who is successful at it,” she told him.

Perhaps we can all take something from this statement. Next time you want to try your hand at cooking Chinese dumplings or even a duck, Kevin will mostly likely be a terrific consultant.

Laura Schlabach
Written by Laura Schlabach

1 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    December 22, 2009

    I’m trying to teach my husband to cook, he doesn’t want to. :) Do you think this is a good idea?

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