By Ariane Fleischmann
Cooking and eating at home has always been a part of Paula Mohammed’s life. Her parents, immigrants from India and New Zealand, always made the kitchen a place to gather with friends and family to share stories and recipes, to talk, and to open their minds.
Mohammed has an early memory of her grandmother’s Dunbar apartment: it smelled of Indian spices; her grandmother’s bracelets jingled while she stirred a pot of curry peas. Before that day, Mohammed hated peas. “I remember that opening up my mind to try everything more than once,” she says.
As a child, Mohammed spent time in New Zealand for a time before moving back to Canada. At the time, her father had a number of Japanese business partners, and instead of going out for dinner, he would invite them to their home where everyone cooked together. With her background in marketing and event management, Mohammed wanted to create a company that connected her passion for cooking with events, to combing cooking with culture, something that created connections between people.
In My Kitchen is the culmination of that desire. She researched other organizations that do similar things, like Tayybeh in Vancouver. “I really feel that a kitchen is a crossroads for different cultures, and it’s a great way for people to learn about one another, and also learn how to cook different dishes, use ingredients in different ways, explore different flavours.”
“I basically took what I really liked doing and tried to create something that other people could enjoy as well,” Mohammed explains. “That’s part of the reason we have the experiences take place in hosts’ homes. We call them hosts, not instructors, because everybody’s a home cook. The dynamic changes when you’re invited into somebody’s home. It lifts the curtain back.”
The In My Kitchen Experience
You can currently choose from five experiences with In My Kitchen: Swiss cooking with Celine, Middle Eastern with Suha, Paella with Luise, Japanese with Naomi, and Umbrian with Melissa.
When Mohammed first started In My Kitchen, she wanted to ensure she was finding the right people to host. Not only did she put up flyers in multiple Vancouver neighbourhoods, she also reached out to the Translators and Interpreters Society of BC and Mosaic Immigration Services to locate potential hosts. The five women currently offering workshops have gone through an extensive interview, audition, and paid training process, including FOODSAFE Level 1. “It was really important to me that everybody we brought on board got the idea and shared the passion that I had for what we were trying to present,” says Mohammed. She hopes to expand to eight hosts in the Metro Vancouver area, and then into other cities.
The curated experience is open to just six guests per class. Upon arrival at the host’s home, guests are welcomed with a light snack. Then, everyone dons an apron and cooks a traditional recipe alongside their host. Over the course of the evening, guests are encouraged to share their stories and cultures. You can expect to hear stories from the hosts as well, to get conversation flowing. Following the workshop, each guest received a recipe booklet, complete with shopping lists and recommended markets for specialty items.
“The experience is really as much as you put into it,” says Mohammed, “it’s a cross-cultural engagement. Ask questions, tell your own stories. We’re hoping for conversation to happen. I really hope guests come out and feel like they experienced a connection—that they connected with other people, with another culture, with different foods, as well as learning the cooking aspect of it. Each of our hosts brings something different to the table—such as family recipes. Often, it’s these hidden gems where you learn something new, something different you can take home.”
Learn more at inmykitchen.ca