Indiana chef cooks all night, drives six hours to deliver authentic Malawian meal
by Rev. John Hamilton and Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Servce
LOUISVILLE – John Pangani, a real estate broker and chef with his own catering business in South Bend, Indiana, has a heart for helping others in his native Malawi and in America.
Recently Pangani, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in South Bend, learned a delegation from the Blantyre Synod in Malawi, were a few states away, celebrating 25 years of international partnership with the Pittsburgh Presbytery. These Malawi Mission Network delegates were holding their annual meeting in conjunction with the New Wilmington Mission Conference at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.
Pangani, who has served his church six years as a deacon and six years as an elder, felt the Lord telling him to cook. So he and his daughter, Jolene, did just that. They cooked all night. Then they carefully loaded their trailer with well-insulated containers of the food they had prepared—enough for at least 50 people.
They packed curry goat stew, curry beef stew, rotisserie chicken, baked Jamaican jerk chicken, white rice, kidney beans, stir-fried cabbage, cornmeal-based nsima, a staple Malawian food also called ugali in Swahili, and fried, bone-in tilapia/chambo fish, which is native to the fresh waters of Lake Malawi.
“This is the first six-hour one-way food delivery we have made,” Pangani said. Previously their longest delivery had been to a Baptist church in Indianapolis.
“Coming from a family of five boys and five girls, Mum had no gender preferences [as to] who gets in the kitchen with her,” Pangani said. “She concentrated mostly on the five boys. Her smart reasoning was that one day we would be on our own without a woman to cook for ourselves and our guests.”
Pangani came to the U.S. in 1992 to study. He attended Southwestern Michigan College and Indiana University, graduating with a degree in marketing. Several of Pangani’s family members still live in Malawi, including his sister, Kamtsitsi Njirammadzi, who is a member of the Blantyre Synod’s Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. This was her first trip to the New Wilmington Mission Conference to take part in the Malawi Mission Network meeting.
The food delivery arrived shortly before lunchtime on Tuesday of the conference. A crowd of conference attendees from Malawi—along with many others who have supported mission trips to Malawi or traveled on them—gathered in the McKelvey Campus Center food court at Westminster College. As Pangani carried the food in, the crowd cheered.
After a heartfelt prayer of gratitude, hungry people piled their plates high, grateful for the flavor and texture of the meal. Then at the chef’s insistence, others in the dining hall also were invited to join in the feast.
A short time later, Pangani gathered the mostly empty containers and meager leftovers, loaded up his trailer, and headed back to South Bend—and back to work.
Pangani and his daughter have a food concession trailer that they take to festivals, concerts, and fairs as the main fund-raiser for their nonprofit Pangani Foundation Inc., which benefits their beloved Malawi. Through their mobile culinary fund-raising efforts, the father-daughter duo have helped Malawians in many ways, including:
- donating medical supplies valued at more than $1 million to Lilongwe Central Hospital after historic flooding (2015);
- donating a computer and books to Ladybird Private School in Blantyre (2012);
- building bathrooms in Mpondas Primary School in the Mangochi District (2010);
- donating medical supplies, computers, equipment, and furniture valued at more than $500,000 to Mulanje Mission Hospital (2008);
- donating more than 2,000 blankets to Mulanje District Hospital to be used in hospitals and mortuaries (2005).
Pangani also has a part-time “hobby” hosting a weekly program, Reggae Street, on the University of Notre Dame’s fine arts radio station, WSND. The program is broadcast to more than 8,000 listeners locally and worldwide each Saturday from 10 p.m. to midnight Eastern Standard Time. The program inspired Pangani to create an annual outdoor music festival that raises money for the local food bank in South Bend.
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