Making the leap to start a new business is not something everyone can do, I know this. I think I have been blessed….. and to a degree, cursed… with the entrepreneurial gene.
I have had several businesses: A company newsletter writing business called Mindox Ink; A college advising business called College Prep With Mindy; an educational comics company with an array of comics and games called Noteniks. And now, Cooking Round the World.
The secret to a successful business? Let me break it down for you:
Sift together 2 pounds of tested ideas, 3 cups of chutzpah, ½ cup of capital, and 3 tablespoons of research. Mince, then discard, the head-shakers, the nay sayers, and the fear imposers. Mix vigorously under the careful eye of a skillful accountant and a caring group of bank people and insurance people. Pour into a differently shaped pan and know that your business will look and taste unique. Allow the business to rise with a good staff, encouraging friends and family, and open minded schools and centers. Then enjoy the fruits of your labor!
This is not to say the labors have been all easy ones, but they have been eye opening. Among the many challenges have been finding international recipes for children’s classes.
While the recipes need to be representative of the country of the day, they still have to be palatable for a child’s taste buds. So, no watercress, no hot peppers, nothing spicy, nothing too foreign like cheese curd or durian. The recipe has to have many steps – peeling, chopping, mincing, sautee-ing, mixing -- so children feel they are contributing to the making of the dish.
The recipe has to comply with the allergies of the class, so no nuts and sometimes no meat or mango or fish or wheat or legumes or eggs or preservatives, dyes and food coloring. The recipe has to keep within a time frame, so no recipe that take longer than 45 minutes to make. In some cases, when we cook in a classroom, the recipe has to be made without an oven. And the recipes have to keep within a budget or I won’t make any money! I used to think that keeping all these things in mind only leaves mashed potatoes!
These constraints might sound limiting but we work around the constraints and find great joy in cooking and teaching. And I dare say the children say and do some of the funniest things. Here are 2 examples:
It was China Cooking Day, and I asked the group of children who knows where China is. And one child says, "That way!" and points.
Another time, during a cooking camp week, whenever I would ask has anyone been to this or that country, the same child would raise his hand. Yes, he would say. He’s been there. What was it like I would ask and he would offer up some description, like there were many trees, and the ocean was so blue, and many of the buildings were old. Later, I commented to his mom how amazing it was that he is so well traveled at such a young age. She looked at me stupefied: “He’s never been out of California,” she said. “He made everything up!”
For many classes and the camps we show a slide show about the country of the day. I insert interesting cultural tidbits about the country’s culture like marriage customs, family, education, toys and games, street art, how climate influences food, and fashion. It is my goal to immerse people in the culture of the country so they will get a sense of what life is like.
There have been times when a cultural image might get a spontaneous “EWWWW” from the group. For example, on one occasion I did a slide show on Sicily and showed a photo of an Italian model whose make-up, hair and dress were so very different from those of an American model. They couldn’t believe that this is what beauty looks like in Italy.
I seized the moment and talked about how cultural difference informs beauty. For example the Maori women in New Zealand put blue tattoos on their lips and chins, the bluer the more beautiful, and in China beauty used to mean tiny feet, so feet were bound tightly to thwart growth. My personal favorite is Nigeria, where a skinny girl is pitied for being underfed; zoftig is in! I’m packing my bags now!
And while I am interested in calling attention to cultural differences, I am just as eager to call attention to likenesses around the world. I like to point out that a Jewish kreplach is similar to a Chinese wonton is similar to a Polish perogi is similar to a Spanish empanada is similar to a Japanese pot sticker. We are alike and we are different, and isn’t that cause for understanding and celebration?
If I could leave the people who take Cooking Round the World classes with a message it’s that the world is a wonderful, complicated, reachable and beautiful place to explore and learn about. I hope to leave Cooking Round the World students, young and older, with a taste of the world and an interest in making the unknown embraceable.