NEW YORK, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The League
of Kitchens initiative solves at least two problems: It provides
talented, immigrant home cooks with cash and New York foodies
with a chance to do more than just sit in the kitchen and listen
to stories of the old country.
"The immigrant is the host. She is the expert. And you are
her guest and her student," explained Lisa Gross, founder and
chief executive of The League of Kitchens, which brings New York
foodies to the homes of immigrants for intimate dinners.
The daughter of a Korean immigrant and a Jewish New Yorker,
Gross had "always been interested in the way that foods can
bring people together in different ways" and while a graduate
art student in Boston living on her own for the first time,
day-dreamed about cooking with her grandmothers.
Those dreams became the basis for The League of Kitchens, a
business where foodies and tourists learn how to make Afghani,
Argentinian, Bangladeshi, Greek, Korean, Indian, Lebanese or
Trinidadian dishes from women who grew up eating and cooking the
Gross interviewed more than 100 immigrants who would be
willing to open their homes, especially their kitchens, cook
their native dishes and had a good enough command of English
that they could teach for five-and-a-half hours at a stretch.
The cooks are paid $25 an hour for teaching, and for the
preparation and clean-up and are fully reimbursed for the food
costs and supplies, Gross said. "It's meaningful, well-paid,
part-time work," she added.
The small class size and the even smaller New York kitchens
make it seem more like a leisurely afternoon spent with a
favorite aunt than a formal cooking class.
"I don't think you could do all of this anywhere else,"
said Mirta Rinaldi, 64, who welcomes visitors to her home in
Forest Hills, Queens with yerba mate, Argentina's national
drink. "You sit around, you serve it. You share stories."
"Everything is done together," she said, surrounded by
Argentine art and bottles of Malbec from Mendoza. "There is an
amazing interaction. By the end of the afternoon, it's like
having five new friends."
Nawida Saidhosin, 35, who grew up in Kabul, arrived in the
United States in 2010 after losing her father, mother and
brother. She had been living in Lahore and, with her
sister-in-law, regularly cooked elaborate meals for 35 people
three times a day.
"In the morning, she would cook and I would wash. In the
evening I would cook and she would wash," Saidhosin said. So
even though her kitchen in Rego Park, Queens was smaller than
the one she was used to, "cooking for six is easy."
Gross found Saidhosin through the International Refugee
Committee (IRC) and loved her Quabili Pilau, a lamb and rice
pilaf that is considered to be the national dish of Afghanistan.
Saidhosin, who also shows how to cook traditional Afghani
vegetables like cauliflower and eggplant, remains amazed that in
New York "you can find eggplant all year round. In our country,
you can find it too, but in the winter time - not at all."
And while she cannot grill in her apartment, "during the
summer, we barbeque in the park," she said.
The five-and-a-half hour classes are held on weekends and
cost $149 per person with no more than six students. There are
also two-and-a-half hour classes that cost $95.
About 30 percent of those who attend are tourists visiting
New York City.
"One of my students was from Sweden, another was from
California. People come from all over," Rinaldi said. "It is a
very flexible schedule that we have and it is fun. I find that I
don't have students so much as I have new friends."
(Reporting By Leslie Gevirtz, Editing by Tim Pearce; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)