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indian cooking lessons


mongo_jones
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every once in a while an enthusiastic american who eats at my house for the first time effusively tells me to open a restaurant or give cooking lessons. knowing that their only frame of reference is the average indian eatery in the u.s i look upon such misguided enthusiasm with a tolerant eye. recently, however, i've begun to wonder how classes like this get set up and what sorts of credentials those teaching them have. here on this forum we have at least two regulars who either run or are about to start running indian cooking classes.

in monica's case i know what her credentials are: two popular cookbooks with third on the way, articles in magazines and newpapers, etc. etc. and on her website one can see how this expertise is being marshalled. edward, would you feel comfortable sharing a little more information about your credentials and setup as well? i'm guessing you too have some sort of professional/experiential background that draws people to your regional cooking classes. if there are others as well who teach formally or informally who're willing to talk about how they operate that would be great. to be clear: i am asking entirely out of curiosity, i have no plans or interest in teaching anyone anything myself--both because i probably need to take many classes myself and because my life is unorganized and crammed enough as it is.

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This is an interesting question on many levels I think. I dont have any formal schooling in the art of cooking. I have taught on and off for many years - sometimes formally, sometimes informally (read sometimes charging forthem and sometimes for free :laugh: )

I have twenty years under my belt though.

I did attend a few classes offered in Delhi and Chandigarh at homes of women who "taught" cooking. I have worked with many chefs here in DC and spend time in their kitchen. .

...... anyway the reason the question is interesting is that I think sometimes passion for something is what it really takes.

Ofcourse people tell me all the time as well, Mongo, that I should open a restaurant and the anwer is no. I dont know the first thing about running a restaurant.. what I do know is how hard it is ....

my two cents.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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i'm certainly not implying that x credentials etc. are required for anyone to set up a cooking class--least of all, you monica.

i'm just curious how this works and how formal the "industry" is (if it can even be called that). i know many asian chefs etc. have probably started off in this informal way--i think i remember reading that thai chef tommy tang began by feeding his landlady when he was a student in the early 70s and then progressed to feeding her friends and then to classes at a ymca and finally to an enormously successful kitschy restaurant in west hollywood. does this path still hold true for people starting out as "ethnic" cooking teachers today?

i think any published, successful cookbook writer has already answered the question, "why should i learn from you?"--though as you point out that doesn't necessarily mean one can teach (something university professors hired on basis of research also bump up against). but how about people who don't have this sort of name recognition yet? does the current generation of indian cooking enthusiasts have access to credentialling from established organizations to overcome this barrier? edward, if you're reading along, i'm sure you get asked questions like "how can you as an american teach regional indian cooking?" a lot. how do you get them past that barrier? i imagine even someone who's gone through a structured cooking degree would face some issues of 'authenticity' if they set out to teach classes on a cuisine from another culture. or are people so enlightened now that they don't worry about things like that?

raghavan, i'd forgotten that you too are an experienced (and award-winning) indian culinary teacher--could you share some of your experiences too?

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Mongo,

These are very good questions. I look forward to addressing them and telling of my own personal experience with these issues. I just returned from a few days in NYC and its late, but I will respond in the morning(but not until I have had my chai!).

Edward

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking

edhamann@hotmail.com

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Long cup of tea indeed! Sorry.

You asked me to talk about my credentials/set-up. Well, my main credential is an intense love for Indian cuisines. The foods of the whole South Asia region, really. I have been studying and cooking Indian-style foods for 15 years. It all started when I tasted my first Indian meal. I was hooked and there was no turning back. I wanted to know more and eat more. I was in my early 20's, didn't have much money and at the time, was vegetarian(definitely not one now!), so Indian food made sense. I wanted to be able to cook the foods I had eaten at restaurants at home.

My first real experience with cooking was with Indian food. I started by buying books. Madhur Jaffrey, Julie Sahni and Yamuna Devi were, through their books, my first teachers. I took learning from these books VERY seriously and basically cooked through them from start to finish and did things over and over until I got it right. I also spent time trying to learn the basic American/European cooking teachniques.

The books led me to my local Indian markets which led me to the people who were shopping at the markets. I started asking questions and making friends. I really wanted to understand the regional differences and what was behind them. I also began to educate myself on South Asian history, politics, art etc. I then decided I wanted to learn Hindi and found myself a teacher and spent 3 years learning. I still have a while to go with this, but I get by.

After 5-6 years of this I took a trip to India for a couple of months and had the chance to eat the food on its home turf. I spied on a lot of street vendors as well.

After moving from the west coast to the east coast I studied North Indian Classical vocal for 3 years. My teacher was Bengali and his wife is from Sylhet. I spent as much time with her in the kitchen as possible. I aslo made many friends with his other students and their families. I learned a lot about homestyle cooking during that time. I could not continue to study music, it takes way too much discipline.

At this time I was working part time for a small cooking school/cookware store in Baltimore. The owner asked me if I would teach an Indian cooking class. I was a little nervous, but once I got started it came naturally and I realized that it was what I really wanted to do with my life. My classes were pretty succesful and I continue to teach there 4 years later. Though not as regurlary since I moved to the DC area.

Since the time I started teaching I have met Julie Sahni and completed her classic Indian cooking program in NYC. Thats a decent credential since her name is so well known and respected. She has since become sort of like a culinary coach and a friend to me. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined.....

I have also become a member of the IACP. Which I think is a great way to help build a career and learn the ropes. It was through IACP that I got the chance to meet a great teacher like Raghavan. And of course because of egullet we have Monica who lives right in my neck of the woods.

I am also set up to do private classes at peoples homes. That is coming along slowly, but it requires a lot of self promotion and word of mouth. I am working on a website for that. In the fall I begin teaching Adult education cooking classes through the public school system. This looks to be very enjoyable and very promising.

You see, even if I wanted to go through some kind of "formal" training in culinary school it would not have helped me too much because these schools are primarily based in French technique. You get about 1 day spent on Asian cuisines. So, I learned through experience by my own will. I really tried to immerse myself. Am I bi-cultural? :laugh:

About the "authenticity" thing. Some people have been reluctant or suspicious and asked "how can you teach Indian cooking if you are not Indian", but by the end of a class I think they are won over by my enthusiasm and are surprised by how much I do know. I think the students are encouraged by the fact that I am American. Most of them are. So they think if he can cook it so can I! I have also had a couple of second generation Indian-Americans that were very eager and accepting students. I will cross each barrier as it comes.

Hope my response was not too long. Its a good topic and I'm sure we will discuss these things more.

Edward

Edited by Edward (log)

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking

edhamann@hotmail.com

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Thanks a lot. There are so few of us in the states, Indian or not, that are teaching Indian cooking. I think its great that those who are teaching as well as home cooks who love the stuff encourage and support one another. Indian food is still on the rise in the US. Who knows what the future will bring?

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking

edhamann@hotmail.com

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Since the time I started teaching I have met Julie Sahni and completed her classic Indian cooking program in NYC. Thats a decent credential since her name is so well known and respected. She has since become sort of like a culinary coach and a friend to me. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined.....

edward,

thanks for the response--your enthusiasm is certainly palpable. and i hope you won't be offended by my seemingly uncharitable follow-up--i don't mean to disregard your enthusiasm; i'm asking probing questions to better understand how all this works. and again this is aimed not just at you but anyone here who might be teaching indian cooking classes, or for that matter classes in any other cuisines.

looking at your background dispassionately a cynic might ask can you really learn enough about a cuisine to then teach it by reading a lot of cookbooks, having some friends from the source culture, and taking a cooking class? now in your case *we here* know that this isn't the whole story and that your students are definitely not being cheated--there are certainly people who've lived their whole lives in india and can't even make rice--but to get people *into* the class is it the julie sahni part of your background that is most helpful? is this set up as a credentialling thing? in other words, do a lot of people who finish sahni's class then start teaching themselves? how long and detailed is this?

this may just be very old-fashioned of me, but speaking frankly, i'd have to say that i'd be hesitant to take a cooking class in a specific regional cuisine (say tuscan or provencal) from someone who hadn't spent a long time immersed in it. they don't have to be from there, of course--see rice-making comment above--but i would think it would take a long time for an outsider to get all the nuances of a region's cuisine --mario batali, for instance, spent 2-3 years living in a small village somewhere in italy. you don't have to go quite that far to start cooking a non-home cuisine, but i'd think you'd have to to then be able to teach it to other people, or represent it in any way. i'd be far less hesitant about classes on indian "moghlai" cuisine, since the true region for that is the avg. north indian restaurant! but it sounds like you might have received some of that immersion from your music teacher's wife.

so, is bengali cuisine the regional one you teach? i would think most americans who would be interested in learning to cook indian food would want to cook chicken tikka masala and paneer kormas and things like that, so i am glad people like you are introducing them to other things. better you than some of my friends who were born and raised in india, would probably have little trouble attracting people to indian cooking classes, but would have no business teaching them!

mongo

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I have no experience with teaching indian cooking, although as a former chef, I have taught a few cooking classes here and there. It has always been my impression that teaching cooking, outside of professional, degree-issuing culinary schools is generally not a lucrative economic venture. It seems that more often it is a labor of love, a portion of a multi-faceted food career, or a means to promote cookbooks, restaurants or the other parts of that multi-faceted career.

At least in Denver I don't think anyone makes much of a living teaching cooking classes to home cooks.

Does this seem a fair assessment?

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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fred, i've certainly not come across any indian cooking classes for home-cooks; though the owner of yummy yummy thai in aurora apparently gives very cheap thai lessons in her restaurant on sundays. i'm guessing most people who teach these classes do so in their home kitchens--thus low overheads etc. there's the question of getting past zoning requirements and so on i suppose...maybe the trick is to give your neighbours a few free lessons so they don't complain?

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fred, i've certainly not come across any indian cooking classes for home-cooks; though the owner of yummy yummy thai in aurora apparently gives very cheap thai lessons in her restaurant on sundays. i'm guessing most people who teach these classes do so in their home kitchens--thus low overheads etc. there's the question of getting past zoning requirements and so on i suppose...maybe the trick is to give your neighbours a few free lessons so they don't complain?

I entered this conversation in the spirit that you did Mongo--curiousity and respect because I know how much work it can be to teach a cooking class--not, god forbid, because I had any interest in taking it on.

My wife took classes from Lynn Rosetto Kaspar many years ago in Denver--she has managed to parlay that start into a bona fide career in the food field, cookbooks and a radio show among other things. But, I'd be willing to bet that she found herself working for a pretty low hourly wage when she was doing cooking classes.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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fred, i've certainly not come across any indian cooking classes for home-cooks; though the owner of yummy yummy thai in aurora apparently gives very cheap thai lessons in her restaurant on sundays. i'm guessing most people who teach these classes do so in their home kitchens--thus low overheads etc. there's the question of getting past zoning requirements and so on i suppose...maybe the trick is to give your neighbours a few free lessons so they don't complain?

I entered this conversation in the spirit that you did Mongo--curiousity and respect because I know how much work it can be to teach a cooking class--not, god forbid, because I had any interest in taking it on....

While I don't know anyone who has taken the classes, the woman who owned the late Roma's Royal Bengal Kitchen in Longmont is supposedly still giving cooking lessons. Royal Bengal Kitchen

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this may just be very old-fashioned of me, but speaking frankly, i'd have to say that i'd be hesitant to take a cooking class in a specific regional cuisine (say tuscan or provencal) from someone who hadn't spent a long time immersed in it.

It's not old-fashioned mongo, it's your level of discernment and expectation. If a brochure says that someone is teaching a class, plenty of people think that's qualification enough. I have a cousin who takes cooking classes at a community college from a real estate agent. She's not concerned with his resume, just that she walk away with new knowledge.

You probably look at ingredient lists too.

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My wife took classes from Lynn Rosetto Kaspar many years ago in Denver--she has managed to parlay that start into a bona fide career in the food field, cookbooks and a radio show among other things. But, I'd be willing to bet that she found herself working for a pretty low hourly wage when she was doing cooking classes.

Quite an interesting post. Lynne is a dear friend and I agree that one can never amass fortunes teaching cooking at one's early stages in this career (lord knows I never did). I started teaching cooking in 1991 at a time when there were no individuals in my neck of the woods doing Indian classes. I have been in the food business for a long time with one of my Bachelor's degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Michigan State University. I got tired of restaurants and wanted to pursue a career in teaching. During the early years I made a living primarily teaching (I used to do 35 to 40 classes every three months) - later on as I became more experienced, I ventured into writing. The two cookbooks came along (and now a third in the works) with subsequent magazine articles (Weight Watchers, EatingWell, Fine Cooking, Gastronomica).

It is not an easy task (as many of you know) - just because one is a fabulous cook, it does not necessarily translate into being a good teacher (or writer for that matter). I still find great pleasure in teaching, as I do a fair amount of it, travelling all over the United States. All I can say is that if anyone is interested, start teaching at community education programs in your local school districts. They are more apt in giving you a chance if you are just starting out. Its a great way to practice - the more you do, the more comfortable you get before an audience.

And of course, knowing your subject matter is very helpful. I would be more than happy to talk further if you wish to e-mail me. Keep up the great discussions on Indian food.

Raghavan Iyer, CCP

Winner of 2004 IACP Award of Excellence (formerly Julia Child Awards): Cooking Teacher of the Year

2003 James Beard Awards Finalist for Best International Cookbook - The Turmeric Trail: Recipes and Memories from an Indian Childhood (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) -

Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking (Wiley, 2001)

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raghavan,

can you say more about your experiences in attracting clients? were people so falling over themselves to learn indian cooking that it wouldn't have mattered that you had a professional and educational background in it, or did that help a lot?

thanks,

mongo

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this may just be very old-fashioned of me, but speaking frankly, i'd have to say that i'd be hesitant to take a cooking class in a specific regional cuisine (say tuscan or provencal) from someone who hadn't spent a long time immersed in it. they don't have to be from there, of course--see rice-making comment above--but i would think it would take a long time for an outsider to get all the nuances of a region's cuisine --mario batali, for instance, spent 2-3 years living in a small village somewhere in italy. you don't have to go quite that far to start cooking a non-home cuisine, but i'd think you'd have to to then be able to teach it to other people, or represent it in any way. i'd be far less hesitant about classes on indian "moghlai" cuisine, since the true region for that is the avg. north indian restaurant! but it sounds like you might have received some of that immersion from your music teacher's wife.

so, is bengali cuisine the regional one you teach? i would think most americans who would be interested in learning to cook indian food would want to cook chicken tikka masala and paneer kormas and things like that, so i am glad people like you are introducing them to other things. better you than some of my friends who were born and raised in india, would probably have little trouble attracting people to indian cooking classes, but would have no business teaching them!

mongo

Mongo,

No offense taken at all.

Most of my classes do focus on basic North Indian home style dishes and Moghul cuisine. Its true that is what people want and that is what draws them in. The regional flavors usually come in with the side dishes. Dals, vegetables etc. The reason I say Indian regional cooking is so that people know they are not just getting chicken tikka masala and naan.

For instance I will teach Badaami Murgh Korma, which is a well known classic dish, and have the side dishes be a sour dal with green mango, cauliflower with kalonji or green beans with panch phoran and mustard paste. That way people get something familiar and something new.

I tell the students a little bit about the background of the dishes, but try to stick to my own personal experiences with the dishes. Even though I have had some experience in the past working in restaurant kitchens and some of that cooking Indian-style dishes I am really a home cook and my desire is to teach other home cooks. I by no means think of myself as "master" of Indian cuisine. There is so much more for me to learn, but I have a strong desire to share what I do have.

I also explain to them, that though I have been to India, and will continue to go there as much as I can, that my core experience with Indian food is here in the states. As you know, the cooking is different here because many of the ingredients and situations are different. So as far as Indian cooking in America goes I have definitely been immersed. I try to teach the students the core techniques so that they can improvise with the spices and ingredients that they have. I feel that dishes don't have to be classic to be "authentic". Know what I mean?

It's true that Julie Sahni's name does help, but I would not rely on that alone. Her main course is not very long, but it is very intensive. It is only 1 week, but it focuses heavily on techniques and developing a sixth sense when it comes to spices. I had already been cooking for over 10 years by the time I took her course so it was, in many ways, more of a confirmation of things I had already done. It was great to be able to see the subtle differences in things when they are done by someone who is truly a master of their craft. It opened my eyes to many little things that I had missed or was not in tune with.

Until later

edward

Edited by Edward (log)

Edward Hamann

Cooking Teacher

Indian Cooking

edhamann@hotmail.com

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can you say more about your experiences in attracting clients? were people so falling over themselves to learn indian cooking that it wouldn't have mattered that you had a professional and educational background in it, or did that help a lot?

Well, especially starting in community education, i don't think my background really mattered. They truly are looking for people with a passion (i don't think it matters what their field of work is) - i know of plenty of people who became "foodies" and professionals (or were content in dabbling in a class here or there) with no educational/professional bacground in the culinary field. But if you are serious, you need to get your feet wet and just do it once - the students will come if you can convey your passion - and no they won't break down doors to take your classes (no matter how often you have done them) :smile: - i can still attest to that. Hope that makes sense.

Raghavan Iyer, CCP

Winner of 2004 IACP Award of Excellence (formerly Julia Child Awards): Cooking Teacher of the Year

2003 James Beard Awards Finalist for Best International Cookbook - The Turmeric Trail: Recipes and Memories from an Indian Childhood (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) -

Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking (Wiley, 2001)

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