Over the weekend, NPR reported on a company in San Francisco that is providing a service sorely needed in homes around the country. Culture Kitchen seeks to put bored grandmothers and housewives, well versed in the cooking arts of their home countries, to work teaching the current generation how to cook just like mom/grandma. Their prices are fairly reasonable too, $60 per class. Currently, classes cover everything from Iraqi to French dishes.
The obstacles they seek to overcome are numerous:
1. Language Barrier: Despite what certain talking heads might claim, the children of immigrants learn English. While that's terrific for getting a job and doing well in school, it also creates a barrier between the younger American-born generation and their elders. When only the older generation knows how to cook traditional foods, its all too easy to lose those family recipes forever. The Fix: Translators for the first-generation cooks they wrangle up.
2. Ingredients: What the hell is a galangal root and how is it different than ginger? Is it possible to buy a bad galangal? How long does it keep? Are there acceptable substitutes? While the internet can provide you with basic information, it rarely trumps a few simple words spoken by your family's matriarch over a boiling pot. The Fix: First, the staff actually gets weights and measures for all those pinches and smidgens that normally populate home cooking. Secondly, you can actually buy recipe specific boxes of ingredients like this awesome Thai dinner. The box includes all the bizarre ingredients that you need as well as printed instructions to use them.
3. Recipes: Many families don't actually have written recipe books that document their finest dishes. The specific techniques for these dishes are passed down like an culinary oral history. Unfortunately, that makes it all too easy for a dish to get lost or simply forgotten. The Fix: They have elegantly solved this problem by committing all of their recipes to writing. Some of those recipes are even online and with video directions.
If you think this all sounds as awesome as we do, consider getting in touch with them and letting them know Phoenix deserves a little Culture Kitchen of its own. Or better yet, maybe one of the Valley's fine food entrepreneurs could make this happen for us.