Vancouver’s Paula Mohammed grew up in a culturally diverse household, with an Indian father and a Kiwi mother whose rich life experiences were often expressed through the family meals they prepared. “Different traditions, recipes, and stories mingled together to create meals that were fun, inspiring, and memorable,” she says. “A kitchen is a great connector—a crossroads of culture where entire worlds open.” As of April 2018, Mohammed has spearheaded an endeavour to open such worlds of culinary exploration to a broader audience through her In My Kitchen program, which aims to bring Vancouver locals and visitors alike into the homes of passionate home cooks from various cultural backgrounds for charming, friendly cooking classes.
In My Kitchen launched with four participating chefs keen on sharing their respective skills and stories while preparing Swiss, Middle Eastern, Spanish, and Japanese fare. Although the program is the first of its kind in Vancouver, it fits into a burgeoning consumer interest in dining opportunities which encourage strangers to connect over home-cooked meals, alongside initiatives like the San Francisco-headquartered start-up Traveling Spoon, which links international travellers and hosts who prepare local cuisine in their homes, and New York’s League of Kitchens, which pairs immigrant home cooks with culinary disciples. Inviting the curious and hungry into private homes for casual cooking lessons has proven to be a recipe for success.
“A kitchen is a great connector—a crossroads of culture where entire worlds open.”
In My Kitchen hosts are strictly vetted and selected based on their cooking skill, passion for sharing their food and culture, and the suitability of their home location to teach groups of up to six (they also take their level 1 food safety certification). They are warm, welcoming, and wonderful teachers. During a recent Japanese cooking class, host Naomi—a personal trainer originally hailing from the Kansai region—entertained guests with tips on how to spot a Tokyo native by their culinary preferences, and stories about learning to love the notoriously pungent fermented bean dish nattō as a child. Together, guests learned to roll out pearls of chewy mochi, marinate chicken yakitori in tenderizing shio-koji, and pack triangles of rice the ideal size and density for yakionigiri—pan-fried rice balls served in a traditional dashi broth. After the meal has been prepared and enjoyed, guests are given recipes to take home and recreate.
For now, In My Kitchen classes are four-hour affairs and best suited to adults and teens, but Mohammed plans to eventually expand the project across Canada, and to add a “dine and demo” style experience both shorter and better suited to children. Additionally, she plans to integrate more hosts, increasing the diversity of cuisines guests are able to be immersed in. “We hope to create meaningful, cross cultural engagement, and increase access to traditional cooking knowledge,” she says.
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