Author: Laurie Vaquer

Memories from Cuba, from the West to the East Memories from Cuba, from the West to the East
Last month, I flew to Cuba for a 2-week trip with my dad. I was in France just before for a wedding and I was going to Los Angeles for another wedding (I turned 30 this year, so weddings are in the air among my friends I guess), Cuba was pretty much on my way. I was thrilled to find out there was a direct flight between Havana and Los Angeles (thank you to President Obama and Alaska Airlines), I even got a great deal and only paid $130 for the flight, it feels amazing to find a cheap (and direct) flight when you travel often and don’t have an unlimited budget.

The trip: crossing the island

We arrived in Havana and rented a car from there. We drove toward the west side of the island (called el Oriente) and we spent 10 days visiting a few places on the way: Santa Clara, Camaguey, Bayamo, Santiago.

La Sierra Maestra
La Sierra Maestra

Near Bayamo, we stopped in a small village in the mountains (la Sierra Maestra) and this was my favourite part of the trip, the landscapes were just amazing, so green and well preserved.

In Bayamo, we visited a museum inside a beautiful colonial house where Carlos Manuel de Cespedes was born in 1819, such a beautiful house!

The kitchen — Inside la Casa Cespedes in Bayamo
The kitchen — Inside la Casa Cespedes in Bayamo

The food in Cuba is not exceptional, you usually find the same menu from one restaurant to the next, I was a bit tired of the food after 2 weeks. But there are exceptions! The seafood is usually your best choice and the best lobster you can have is in Santa Clara, in a hostel called Florida Centre. They are excellent and worth a stop (and even another one on your way back).

One of my favourite things in Cuba is the architecture. You see beautiful buildings, streets and patios. On the island, Havana is the best place to wander around in the old city, do not hesitate to stop when something catches your eye, tourists are very welcome to have a look and take pictures. I felt very safe there.

Patio in Havana
Patio in Havana

The destination: Baracoa

1000 km later, at the very end of the road, we reached our destination, Baracoa.

View from hotel El Castillo
View from hotel El Castillo

It is said that Baracoa was visited by Admiral Christopher Columbus on November 27, 1492 and that he was struck by the beauty of this side of the island. (Source: Wikipedia)

Baracoa is quite isolated from the rest of the island and hard to reach since a single mountain road goes there. This makes it even more interesting. We stayed in a beautiful hotel called El Castillo, with an open view of the bay.

The Yumuri river, near baracoa
The Yumuri river, near baracoa

In October of 2016, hurricane Matthew hit Cuba and reduced much of Baracoa to rubble, whipping up giant waves that demolished cement buildings and winds that tore off roofs, but there’s one thing it didn’t do: take lives, thanks to a rigorous evacuation scheme. (Source: Reuters)

“If we had stayed here, this would have killed us,” said Aristides Hernandez, 76, who abandoned his first-story apartment overlooking the sea for a friend’s house inland. (Source: Reuters)

The consequences of the hurricane are still visible today as people are still rebuilding their homes. One night, we were looking for a place to eat and had heard of a vegetarian restaurant by the ocean, and we were surprised to enter the home of an incredible man, Aristides Smith Rodriguez.

Aristides cooking in his house
Aristides cooking in his house

What makes Aristides incredible? Firstly, his grit. He’s rebuilding this house on his own since it was destroyed by the hurricane last year. Secondly, his cuisine is one of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had! This felt amazing since I was used to eating the same food all the time in the other parts of the island and it is very hard to find a vegetarian option apart from some sides.

Growing food in garden
Growing food in garden

He has a small garden but he makes the most of every inch by growing plants he uses in his cooking. When you eat there, you feel good, surrounded by the uplifting spirit of the host. Aristides is also a photographer and he shows in his house a few pictures of Baracoa back in the day. We ate very well, the food was very diverse and we could feel the ingredients were fresh and natural. This is absolutely a must-do if you go to Baracoa! Here is a page with all the info about this place.

Vegetarian buffet in a beautiful setting
Vegetarian buffet in a beautiful setting
I went to Belgrade to see a friend and ended up having a Serbian Cooking Experience I went to Belgrade to see a friend and ended up having a Serbian Cooking Experience

Last month, my travels brought me to Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia. I travelled here from France to meet a friend I had met while I was living in Kinshasa, Aurélia. Since I was in France and it’s a quite a short trip, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet up with her again! What’s more, destinations where you know someone are always so much fun, the perfect excuse to travel (if I ever needed one).

View from the Belgrade fortress
View from the Belgrade fortress

I only stayed there for 4 days but I managed to spend quality time with my friend and visit some key places in the city, shaped by two rivers, the Danube and the Sava.

On my first day, we booked a bike tour of the city but we were quite disappointed with the tour. It was supposed to be 4 hours but lasted 2 hours, with no explanation to why and they still asked for the full price! This can happen anywhere in the world unfortunately. I left a bad review on Google Maps and they offered to reimburse half the price. I wish they had offered this without having to leave a bad review, but oh well, they tried!

In the streets of Belgrade

Spotted while walking by the Sava river
Spotted while walking by the Sava river

If you ever go to Belgrade, you cannot miss the political vibe around the city who suffered many wars. The headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Defence, were hit by NATO forces in 1999 and the ruins are still there 18 years later, that’s quite a strong statement! The blogger Michael Turtle devoted an article to this topic, you can read it here.

“Belgrade is still scarred and many parts of the city seem today as though they have just been hit. Physically — and maybe psychologically — the recovery continues. ” Michael Turtle

Belgrade street art
Belgrade street art

While walking around, I couldn’t help but notice some great street art pieces expressing strong feelings. Some were also expressing the Serbians’ passion for football. I love street art and I cannot imagine a city without this form of expression.

In some Belgrade neighbourhoods, the building’s facades are quite damaged (time and pollution mainly) and very grey. As a consequence, the street art pieces give the city a brighter look.

The Cooking Experience

For my last day in Belgrade, I booked a cooking experience with Vladimir and I had a great time! This is exactly the kind of experience I love having while travelling: we visited Vladimir’s old neighbourhood, where he grew up and where his parents still live, and we had a great time cooking in a beautiful kitchen he built in his parents’ garden, how cool is that?

In the garden — This is a not kale
In the garden — This is a not kale

We first went on a quick market tour in the neighbourhood and stopped for some breakfast borek, baked filled pastries from the Balkans.

Then, we started walking in this pretty neighbourhood called Zemun, on our way to Vladimir’s parents house, and enjoyed the great vibes of its narrow streets. We also walked by the oldest building in Zemun, which used to be a tavern.

When we arrived at his parents’ house, I was astonished by the place and the remarkable restoring work Vladimir accomplished to make the most of the house garage and garden, such a pretty place, even better with the sun shining that day. We were also accompanied by Bug, a cute little dog.

Putting the dumplings inside the breadcrumbs
Putting the dumplings inside the breadcrumbs

We cooked the following dishes:

  • Shopska Salad/ Serbian salad
  • Ćevapčići / Serbian meat balls
  • Plum dumplings

As you can see, Serbian is not easy to read nor pronounce, but it was a pleasure to cook those dishes with such good company. The experience is really hands-on which I love and the location is perfect.

You can book this experience on www.takemecooking.com, a must-do if you ever go to Belgrade.

Feel free to check out our other destinations as well!

Time to eat, bon appetit!
Time to eat, bon appetit!
Become a host, it’s easier than you think Become a host, it’s easier than you think
Are you thinking of becoming a host but don’t think you are a good fit?

You’ve never studied cooking, so you think you can’t host a cooking experience?

Read this before making a decision.

The profile of our hosts is very different from one to another, but they all share a passion for cooking along with certain qualities.

Shared qualities

Togetherness

They enjoy having people over and hosting makes sense since they already do it with their friends and family. Their humanist values make a real difference in a traveller’s experience.

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” Mother Teresa

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash
Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

Tolerance

When hosting, you will welcome guests from various countries who might have different views and opinions. You might not share their views, but acting with tolerance and with an open mind can build bridges like you’d never imagine. The multi-cultural side of these experiences is the best part, in my opinion.

“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”Joseph Fort Newton

Willing to give a bit of yourself

When cooking for someone, you offer a little bit of yourself by sharing your identity, your values, in the choice of the dishes. Also, cooking is risky as it exposes the cook to the guest’s judgement.

Every time you cook, you are willing to take this risk, because you feel it’s worth it.

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” Kahlil Gibran

Their background

Here I’m going to focus on a few of our hosts so you can see the variety of experiences that led them to being hosts.

Saul, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Saul is a former economist born in Argentina from a German-Dutch father and a Russian- Austrian mother. Skilled in Psychology and Osteopathy, he has always loved cooking and travelled a lot around the world. Ten years ago, he decided to fully devote himself to teaching cooking and founded his company called El Arte de Amasar.

Sahra, Zanzibar

Sahra is an environmentalist and community development worker in Zanzibar. She works with local NGOs to help her community and hosts wonderful cooking experiences on the side. She uses locally grown spices and fresh ingredients in her cooking. You can read more about my experience with Sahra here.

Franco and Francisco, Argentina

Franco and Fran are 2 Argentine friends passionate about cooking. Franco studies cooking in Buenos Aires. Fran works at a Surfing and Travel company. They have been cooking together for a while and hosted their first Take Me Cooking experience in September 2017. It was a great moment, as you can see in this short video.

Me at an event in Buenos Aires
Me at an event in Buenos Aires
 

Where to host

I often hear about people that would love to host but they don’t have a suitable place for guests. The location is obviously important and I’ve had the pleasure to join experiences held in beautiful houses, but I don’t think this is the most important part. If you’re a passionate cook and a great host, if you use delicious fresh ingredients, the guests will have a wonderful experience, wherever they are.

What’s more, be sure that you’ve explored all the options. Have you asked friends or family members if you can use their kitchen occasionally? You can also consider a partnership with a restaurant in your neighbourhood. Anything is possible!

Where to host
Where to host

Set clear expectations

Setting clear expectations when you describe your experience is crucial, people will book after reading it and they will have strong expectations for the experience. For instance, someone looking for a full hands-on cooking experience would be disappointed if they only cook a little. The page for your experience is also where you give the location. Some people might be looking for a relaxed setting, they would be happy to cook on the floor of an open kitchen like I did in Zanzibar (my favourite experience until now!).


Did this article give you some ideas about a cooking experience you’d love to host? Get in touch with us and visit our website, it would be great to have you on board!

One Weekend Out of Time One Weekend Out of Time

Last weekend I went to a short yoga retreat organized by a friend of mine, Alice. I met Alice 5 years ago when I was studying in Paris and we’ve kept in touch since. She recently moved to Montpellier in the South of France which is 45 minutes away from my home town, so I can visit her every time I’m home. I’ve been living abroad for 4 and a half years and keeping in touch with my friends is not always the easiest but meeting them again feels awesome every time.

I felt even luckier that I happened to be home around that weekend because this is absolutely the kind of getaway experience I love.

First, I love yoga and have been practising at home for most mornings with this app (I absolutely recommend it, great algorithm and great music). But this experience was not just about yoga.

The theme was “let it go” and upon our arrival Friday night, we each had a cute box on our bed with our name on it and some paper inside. The idea was to put within it anything we felt we wanted to let go of for those 2 days. I wished I could have put my phone in there since I noticed that I’ve been quite an addict lately. But my phone is also my watch, alarm clock, and camera, so I didn’t put it in the box but I left it in flight mode for the weekend instead. However, I used the sheet of paper to express what I felt I needed to let go for those 2 days and my phone was definitely in that list for me!

The yoga room for the weekend — pic by Adé
The yoga room for the weekend — pic by Adé

On Friday night, once everyone had arrived (we were a group of 12 women), Alice gave a Yin Yoga class just before dinner. Alice is an amazing yoga teacher and Yin Yoga is a great way to start a relaxing night. After the class, we had a vegetarian dinner, home-made by Alice and Virginie, her partner at the organization called Earth, Wind and Yoga. The food for the weekend followed for the most part a raw food diet. I am not use to eating raw food but it was an interesting discovery.

The location was also a fantastic discovery. We stayed in a cute lodge with a beautiful name: the House of Legends. The building used to be a farm that has recently been completely renovated. Close to the picturesque village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, the lodge is surrounded by woods.

After dinner, some of us went to enjoy the “Magic Cauldron”, a natural Jacuzzi outside, by the house. There is undeniably magic in the air in this rural lodge!

Saturday morning started quite early with one hour class of Ashtanga Yoga with Alice, another type of yoga which helped our body wake up and start off this day with positive energy. After a small breakfast, we had some free time to enjoy some disconnected and relaxed moments.

The surprise falafels cooking station — pic by me
The surprise falafels cooking station — pic by me

The next activity was by far my favourite since we had the pleasure to cook a few dishes ourselves for lunch! We made different groups to cook the few recipes that Alice and Virginie had selected for us. One of the teams, for example, oversaw the making of a pink mousse, made with tofu and beetroots. As for me, I teamed up with Adelaide and together we made surprise falafels, a trompe-l’oeil recipe that would look like falafels but was a mix of pumpkin seeds, dried tomatoes, coriander, parsley, onion, garlic and lemon juice. We made small balls with the mixture, like falafels and we rolled them in sesame seeds. No need of cooking for those healthy surprise falafels, it was ready to be served.

The art of making surprise falafels — pic by me
The art of making surprise falafels — pic by me

After eating our team-cooked lunch, we had some free time that was followed by some acting and improv activity held by Jessica who was also one of the guests for the weekend. This endeavour, as well as the cooking, was a great opportunity to get to know each other in a fun way.

The Brunch table — pic by me
The Brunch table — pic by me

Sunday morning, we had one last yoga class that was followed by a delicious brunch and, finally, we went for a hike in the area and stopped in the gorgeous village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert.

After describing everything we did for the weekend, I realise that we actually did a lot! The fact that everything was done on-site and how fun it was meant I had a great relaxing time and I can’t wait to join them for one of their next getaways.

The Perfect Thursday Barbecue The Perfect Thursday Barbecue

On a Thursday morning a few weeks ago, I was invited to meet Frank from the Buenos Aires Asado Adventure at his house in the heart of Palermo, which is actually, a stunning renovated warehouse. Upon entering, I felt like I was rediscovering this neighbourhood I have already known so well, as it is famous for its shops, cafes and busy nightlife. But, Palermo is much more than that. It is also a place where you find beautiful houses like Frank’s. And one of the best ways to enter them is by joining such an event.

The heart of the house is a warehouse that used to be an artist’s studio. And, you can really imagine this place being the perfect place to create sculptures. It is also an incredible space for the unique experience I had that day.

The back patio where lunch was served
The back patio where lunch was served

One after another, the guests had arrived, an international group from France, Brazil, the USA and Argentina. Being late is quite usual here in Buenos Aires, but to everyone’s surprise, the latest people to arrive were the guests from the US! They made a joke about it as soon as they joined us, which made us all laugh. What a good start for a reunion with new old friends!

The talk show

Then, we sat on the comfy couches, and Frank asked us a few questions that we all get to know each other better.

The extraordinary space and the fact that we were sitting in nice couches made us feel like guests in a talk show, and it was a lovely feeling!

The next step is lighting up the fire for the barbecue with the charcoal in the parrilla (the grill). Frank uses an interesting method to do so, with newspaper and an empty bottle of (Argentinian) wine.

The neighbourhood tour and wine tasting

Once the charcoal is lit, it’s time to go for a walk in the neighbourhood for a vast programme: street art, history, urban planning, shopping and wine tasting!

Buenos Aires has a great collection of street art, which makes walking in the streets a beautiful everyday discovery. However, Frank knows where to look and he brought us to some of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever seen. And I go to Palermo quite often.

Along the way, he also gave us interesting historic indications that explain how Palermo became the fashionable neighbourhood it is today. Want to know more? Don’t ask me, book an experience with Frank!

Frank in front of my favourite street art piece I discovered that day
Frank in front of my favourite street art piece I discovered that day

We also had a chance to stop by a few local shops. My favourite stop was the wine bar, set in a stunning house with a cute patio. We even had the opportunity to try different Argentinian wine, such lovely way to end this all-inclusive tour.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the food!

Fernandito and picadas (appetizer)
Fernandito and picadas (appetizer)

As soon as we were back from the tour, we followed Frank to the open kitchen to finish preparing two salads we were going to eat: potato and egg salad, and spinach, mango, and caramelized pecans for the second one. All this food made us quite hungry and luckily some appetizers were waiting for us in the living room (yay!): dried and aged artisan salami, pickles, and some cheese with a fernandito (the most local drink you can find, made with Fernet, an Italian liquor).

Later, we moved to the back patio where Max, the asador (grill-master) was busy cooking the meat. We began the feast with provoleta, grilled provolone cheese with herbs and pepper before eating some amazing pork and beef pieces, perfectly cooked. I really enjoyed the meat, very tasty. The salads were also a complete wonder for lunch!

The grill
The grill

The dessert served by Frank included typical Argentine speciality, cheese and fruit followed by a round of mate, one of Argentina’s favourite non-alcoholic drinks.

I recommend this experience if you are new in Buenos Aires or just visiting, as it is a fantastic for all the senses. Soon, you will soon be able to book it on www.takemecooking.com.

The mate traditions
The mate traditions
The Unexpected Connection between Cooking, Tango and Therapy The Unexpected Connection between Cooking, Tango and Therapy

…not necessarily in that order!

Buenos Aires wander— Photo by Henrique Félix on Unsplash
Buenos Aires wander— Photo by Henrique Félix on Unsplash

Therapy is a big part of life in Argentina. The country has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world. I did not know that before I moved here and I was pleased to discover this feature of Argentina since I think mental health is often undervalued. Here in Buenos Aires, going to therapy is a common thing to do.

One might wonder what made this cultural exception occur in Latin America. Up to Mariano Plotkin, Argentina experienced a cultural boom after dictatorial President Juan Perón was overthrown in 1955. “That opened a moment of fast cultural modernization in Argentina,” says Plotkin. “There was a big reception of anything coming from Europe. Psychoanalysis was seen by many as an emancipatory doctrine.” This trend means it’s perfectly acceptable to re-arrange work meetings around a therapy appointment, which would be quite unusual where I come from or in most countries.

For Graciela Bar de Jones, who was interviewed by CCTV, this cultural exception comes from immigration. She has observed that countries where immigration has formed a big part, psychoanalysis tends to be more popular than in countries with strong roots. In 1910 7 of 10 inhabitants in Argentina were immigrants.

“We are near our feelings as a culture and we are used to share our feelings more easily than other cultures” Graciela Bar de Jones

Individual therapy is not the only means for anyone in Argentina to get to talk about anything in a friendly environment. In Buenos Aires, there are several other events you can attend, like symposiums and talks in cafes (cafes are widely spread all over the city). There are also several group meetings that are like group therapy. They are a place where anyone can go to talk about anything, but the most important part of these meetings is to listen, since hearing people’s stories can shed light on something happening in your life. It’s a moment when one takes time to think about themselves and their experiences, without the distraction of smartphones or television. Some of these meetings are free and open to anyone. I really enjoy going to some of the weekly meetings organized by BabelPsi, a community focusing on psychotherapy and the study of intercultural experiences and migration. They are a safe place where you can meet inspiring people that are not judging you in any way.

Sofa — Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash
Sofa — Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

I can think of another example illustrating the huge presence of psychology in Argentina: psycho-tango, a movement that experiences the marriage of psychoanalysis and the deep, emotionally-charged dance of tango. People tend to associate Argentina with tango and a lot of foreigners come to Buenos Aires to dance tango and what they might get out of the practice is more than the dance itself, but a better understanding of themselves.

Tango dancer — Source unknown
Tango dancer — Source unknown

“Tango is a truth drug. It lays bare your problems and your complexes, but also the strengths you hide from others so as not to vex them. It shows what a couple can be for each other, how they can listen to each other. People who only want to listen to themselves will hate tango.” Nina George

A few weeks ago, while I was researching the internet about the latest cooking trends, I came upon another movement called kitchen-therapy — a new way to understand cooking, where culinary performance and the final result are set aside in the service of creativity and personal growth. This is a form of art therapy that uses cooking as the means of communication and expression.

I had the opportunity to talk to Emmanuelle Turquet a few weeks ago, she runs a workshop in Paris called Cuisine-Therapy. There are a few similarities between Cuisine Therapy and Take Me Cooking. Take Me Cooking is a platform connecting travelling food enthusiasts and local passionate cooks through hands-on cooking experiences. I think cooking with local people is a way to meet them, like cooking is a go-between in order to attain personal growth for Emmanuelle’s Art Therapy in the kitchen. Another similarity is the fact that people don’t need to have cooking skills before the workshop, since we are not asking them to cook the fanciest meal, but just to contribute and express emotions through the cooking, whether it is to better understand themselves in the case of Kitchen-Therapy or to express gratitude to the host of a Take Me Cooking experience.

Cuisine-Therapy workshop
Cuisine-Therapy workshop

When I asked for Emmanuelle’s opinion about Take Me Cooking, she said that the concept had potential since it helps to connect people around food. The kitchen is known to be the one room where secrets and tips are exchanged, so what better place to really meet people and learn about their culture.

In her workshops, “people that had never met before share contact details and sometimes keep in touch because they have shared a unique moment together.” She added, “the kitchen is an environment conducive to building strong relationships.”

I also asked her what features she believed hosts and guests should have. Here’s her answer: “The host should be somehow generous and able to give a bit of himself, without wanting anything in return. The guests should be able to receive what is given to them (the food and the invitation to the host’s kitchen) and consider the efforts made by the hosts and be thankful. A typical guest should be curious, able to listen and keen to discover more about the host and his culture and traditions.”

“We are friends only after we’ve shared a meal” Jean Tremolieres

I must say that I agree with this quote by the French nutrition specialist. My best friends all have in common with me a sincere love of food.

Meal shared — A nice picnic I enjoyed with fellow travellers last week during a trek with lamas in Northern Argentina
Meal shared — A nice picnic I enjoyed with fellow travellers last week during a trek with lamas in Northern Argentina

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5 Steps to Start Your Home Cooking Class Today 5 Steps to Start Your Home Cooking Class Today

Cooking is beautiful, therapeutic, healthy and even better when shared. That is why I’ve created www.takemecooking.com, so that people can meet through the wonderful activity that is cooking.

I wish more people shared their cooking, which is why I’m going to detail in this article a few tips to start sharing yourself and your cuisine right now.

These tips answer 5 questions:

  1. How to tell your story in the kitchen?
  2. Where does the magic happen?
  3. How to make your class look good?
  4. What price for your class?
  5. How to make sure your activity is legal?

Creating a cooking class might be something you’ve been thinking of. If you love cooking and want to share your recipes and culture, you can apply these few steps to create a side hustle or a main activity.

Be sure of one thing: I would be your first client without hesitation!

You might think that there is already a wide variety of cooking classes offered everywhere, but I’m not so sure there is. Most of the market for cooking classes today is designed for the local market, not for travellers.

What’s more, when you travel, you are either given many choice and don’t know which one is best, or you have no choice at all. Take Me Cooking is designed to list a wide variety of experiences so that anyone can find the one thing they are looking for when it comes to cooking experiences, anywhere.

You can be a part of it.

“Remember, inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is much better” Chris Guillebeau

1. How to tell your story in the kitchen?

Storytelling is powerful.

Storytelling is powerful
Storytelling is powerful

When our minds listen to a personal story, we are immediately transported to the scene. It is also proven that stories that use visual supplements are even more powerful. When you show a recipe to someone, you don’t need a PowerPoint presentation, you can use the food as a medium and refer to it in your personal experiences.

You can tell the story of a recipe that was only cooked for special occasions in your family and describe how the smell of a dish coming from the oven used to remind you of such times. This aide is even better than PowerPoint presentations, since you can use the smell and the touch to share those memories with your audience and create a beautiful atmosphere.

The food you cook tells a story and I could not say it in a better way than Liza de Guia in this amazing talk. In her own special way, Liza “brings people together through the lens of food, through real stories, that’s magic”.

What is your personal history and how does it relate to your cuisine? Have you always lived here or did your family come from another culture? How is this visible in your cooking?

2. Where does the magic happen?

…in the kitchen of course!

Do you have a kitchen you can use to host a class? It doesn’t have to be big — it’s all about optimization. You might want to start by only hosting parties of 2 or 3 persons, and that’s perfectly fine! You can arrange for the available space. For instance, one person can use the dining table to chop onions while someone else chops carrots in the kitchen. In my experience, most homes can have more than one cook at a time, so don’t let your small apartment discourage you.

The kitchen
The kitchen

You also have other options, like hosting at your parents’ house or a friend’s. I’m sure they’d be happy to help.

If you feel more comfortable hosting in a professional environment, some spaces are available for rent by the hour. Check out this one in Brooklyn, or this one in Dublin, or this last one in Melbourne. You can also find lists of kitchens in the UK and in the US. The possibilities are endless!

3. How to make your class look good?

A picture is worth a thousand words

This expression is particularly true for food and for people, so it’s worth it to make the effort to work on your pictures.

Even just using your phone, you can make good pictures by following these few tips.

  • Try multiple angles, and don’t be afraid to show the details of the food by getting very close
  • Do not use the flash, and try to use as much external lighting as possible
  • Have something in the background; it can really make the food pop out in the picture
  • Use mobile apps. Check out this Quora post that gives some ideas
  • If you are interested in photography, go further by taking an online class. Here is a list of free online courses
  • Ask a friend to help you with the process. You’ll need someone to take a picture of you any ways!
  • You can also find freelance photographers who make things look great. You might even find photography students willing to help for cheaper than professionals.
Photographs of food
Photographs of food

4. What price for your experience?

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Warren Buffett

There are 2 approaches to pricing.

The first one is cost-plus pricing. You must determine the break-even price by calculating all the costs involved, including groceries, containers (in case people take away some leftovers). You might need to invest in some equipment (aprons, cutting boards, knives…) in the beginning, but try to invest as little as possible in the beginning. Then you should set a margin that will be used to repay your investment and pay for your hard work!

The second approach is value-based, and it’s about coming up with a price that your customers are willing to pay.

You can look around at other cooking classes in your area to get an idea. You can also experiment and set a price that you can change later.

5. How to make sure your activity is legal?

Of course, you want your activity to be legal and ensure you pay the taxes for this new activity right way.

First, in case you should apply a certain VAT, make sure that the price of the cooking class includes it.

In terms of local taxes, make sure you know about all the local regulations pertaining to hosting cooking events. Ask local businesses around you if they can tell you what they know, and you can also ask a question on Quora — someone will be able to help you for sure.

The laws vary widely in different regions, but with a little research and help, you’ll quickly figure it out.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and then allows you to learn something new.” Barack Obama

Call To Action

Now, give all this some thought and get in touch with me to list your class on our platform! I can also answer any questions you might have after reading this.

The Occasional Alternative The Occasional Alternative

This title comes from Grace Paley’s poem called The Poet’s Occasional Alternative. It starts like this:

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead

This is a beautiful illustration of how cooking (baking here for Grace) is everywhere and occasionally invites itself in literature. I’ve been reading and listening a lot about this unexpected connection between food and books. This topic is particularly fascinating to me since these are two of the things I like doing most.

When I was a little girl, there was this small library in my primary school and I spent most of my free time there. At home, I had a pile of books on my bedside table and I used to read one chapter of one book before going to the next one, and so on. I particularly liked books about book lovers, like Matilda by Roald Dahl that I had the pleasure to see on stage in London a few months ago (great show!).

I won’t be talking here about cookbooks only, although some cookbooks are literature pieces, like Nigel Slater’s. Maybe you could comment with your favourite cookbooks and why it’s an absolute pleasure for you to read them. My focus here will be how cooking invites itself into non-fiction literature.

Cooking and literature
Cooking and literature

Just like in movies and on those eating broadcasts from South Korea (online videos where you can watch people eat alone), we like to watch people eat as a distraction from our –sometimes boring — reality. When the critic eats a slice of pizza in this scene from the movie Mystic Pizza, you want to have a slice of the same pizza. The food-porn trend on Instagram and other social media is also related to our appeal to food and watching people eat, as a way of staring all we like, without feeling rude. Food porn is like watching lavish dishes circulate to other tables in a restaurant, or nosily looking in someone else’s refrigerator or shopping basket.

But when you read about someone eating in a book, you get much more information than what you get in movie scenes: you learn how the eater feels. For example, Flaubert wrote that Madame Bovary “felt a thrill go through her as she tasted the coldness” of iced champagne in her mouth. Another amazing example for anyone who likes oysters and wine is this extract of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to feel happy and to make plans.

The sea

“Food grounds a book in a physical reality that you can smell and taste, or it can further a magical setting.” Cara Nicoletti

Maybe because it’s part of everyday life, books all mention food at some point, whereas taking a big role in a story or as part of the bigger picture. Books make you travel in time through the different eating habits of their heroes. What’s more, world literature allows you to travel to countries you’ve never visited and smell the food as if you were there.

I am currently reading a Mexican novel called Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (it has been adapted into a movie too). The novel follows the story of a young girl named Tita, who longs for her lover, Pedro, but can never have him because of her mother’s upholding of the family tradition: the youngest daughter cannot marry, but instead must take care of her mother until she dies. Tita is only able to express herself when she cooks.

Expression through cooking
Expression through cooking

It is fascinating how cooking takes a big part in this book. Each chapter begins with a new recipe and each dish is connected to an event in the protagonist’s life. Cooking instructions are then smartly integrated in the story or even included in dialogues between characters. The main character’s life is pretty much tied to cooking since she’s spent all her childhood in the kitchen. Her emotions are also related to what she cooks and they even become infused into her cooking, unintentionally affecting the people around her through her food. Tita also has her own favourite recipe, the Christmas Rolls, that plays the role of comfort food, bringing some happiness to a bad day. Who doesn’t have cravings for some special food when feeling down?

“Cooking is not a science but an art, mistakes are okay, messes are fine — the pleasure is in the creating and the sharing of the result.” Lori Pollan

Cooking and books are both about creating and sharing. Nigel Slater is a British Chef who has his own definition of cooking. Like the character of Tita in Like Water for Chocolate, he tends to put the art of cooking close to personal emotions and he attaches food to special moments in time:

A crab sandwich by the sea on a June afternoon; … hot sausages and a chunk of roast pumpkin on a frost-sparkling night in November. These are meals whose success relies not on the expertise of the cook but on the more basic premise that this is food of the moment — something eaten at a time when it is most appropriate.

Nigel Slater’s recipes are dictated as much by his mood as by what is in season. The textures, colours and tastes are inextricably linked to his emotional experience. This makes his cookbooks very interesting and pleasing to read.

Mortar and pestle

I think cooking is a great way of experiencing life like our favourite characters in books and movies.

Would you like to cook like Tita in Like Water for Chocolate or like Emma in Jane Austen’s book?

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5 Reasons Why I’ve Been Cooking More and Why You Should Too 5 Reasons Why I’ve Been Cooking More and Why You Should Too

For my second article here, I wanted to point out what kind of benefits cooking can bring to our everyday life. I really think it can inspire good things, and this has proven true for me.

Could cooking be part of the solution to a mindful, happier life?

Food is part of our identity

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The choices we make in what we eat tend to say something about us. For example, becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is usually not just a diet dictated by taste, but a commitment to a cause, whether personal, ecological or ethical. And once someone makes this decision, people tend to identify this diet with a community of people who follow the same diet and go to the same restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

Food plays a crucial role in our identity as part of a community. It’s fascinating to see how some groups of migrants tend to retain food habits through generations when language or other cultural expressions are forgotten.

Between 1870 and 1920, millions of Italians migrated to the US and brought their regional cooking differences with them. They soon found out they were living amongst immigrants from all different regions of Italy. Their culinary influences began to blend together and adapt to the American diet. Little by little, the revolution of Italian-American cuisine was born, bringing together those cultures and adapting some of the most popular Italian recipes.

Cooking inspires mindfulness in our everyday life

Cooking is one of those daily creative activities that allows us to escape from a stressful life. When you cook without thinking too much about your problems, it becomes a wonderful occasion to be present, mindful and aware.

I know many people who have trouble finding the motivation to cook for themselves, and I can understand: cooking for one is not as much fun as cooking for your family and friends!

But sometimes, when you don’t feel like going out and your friends are busy, it can be so rewarding to just cook and think of nothing other than what you are doing and how delicious it will taste later (even if it’s not that good, you will usually appreciate it anyway). This feeling is even more accurate when you repeat a recipe you’ve made multiple times before: you make everything without following a recipe, enjoying every moment.

Cooking can also make you feel better when you are in a bad place. John Whaite, the baker who won “The Great British Bake Off” in 2012, later said that baking had helped him deal with his manic depression.

Source: unsplash.com (thanks Andy Chilton)
Source: unsplash.com (thanks Andy Chilton)

Cooking is good for our body

Cooking is not only good for the mind, but it can also do good for the body, both short and long term.

Michael Pollan, the American journalist and author, says home cooking has been in decline since the 1960s. And he thinks it is no coincidence that as rates of home cooking declined, rates of obesity rose.

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” Michael Pollan

Nowadays, we tend to rely on corporations that transform the food we buy in the supermarket. These corporations use vast amounts of salt, fat, and sugar, which can prove very addictive when layered properly. But when you cook a meal from scratch, you are given every opportunity to eat less salt, fat, and sugar, and you end up knowing exactly what’s on your plate and going into your body.

Cooking is a way to connect with others

Cooking on your own is awesome (I’m a fan if you’ve haven’t noticed). Baking is also one of my favorite pastimes. What’s great about baking is that you can give a piece oh what you are baking to those around you (flatmates, colleagues, friends, family), and it also makes the kitchen smell great!

But cooking can also be a fun activity to do with others. You can cook with your best friend and share recipes and skills, divide tasks, and, of course, eat afterward. You can also cook with strangers! It may sound weird, but this is on my to-do list every time I travel. I think it is a great way to connect with local people, because you really learn how to use those ingredients you see in the markets and streets. You also get the opportunity to talk with passionate cooks who each have a personal story to share.

Source: unsplash.com (thanks Joshua Newton)
Source: unsplash.com (thanks Joshua Newton)

Cooking helps you spend less

Depending on what you buy and where you go, the money you spend to buy groceries is nothing compared to the amount you could spend eating out or buying packaged meals.

There’s been a reversal in food patterns in the US for the last few years. We now tend to spend more on food at restaurants than on groceries in supermarkets. One article states that the amount spent on food outside the home has risen from about 26% in 1970 to 43% in 2012.

What’s more, cooking helps you attain qualities like confidence, creativity, good planning and organizational skills, and much more.

“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” Julia Child

What are you waiting for?

Source: unsplash.com (Thanks Manu Camargo)
Source: unsplash.com (Thanks Manu Camargo)

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How I Travel and Cook Around the World How I Travel and Cook Around the World

I am a 30-year-old French woman currently living in Kinshasa, DRC, Africa. I haven’t always loved cooking but I do now, even if I still need a few years of practice to come close to Jamie Oliver. At the same time, I’ve always been interested in food as a hobby.

A few years ago, I don’t even remember when exactly, I got more into cooking in general. I attended a few cooking workshops in Paris and I also started to cook more at home and to read more and more about cooking.

Laurie Cooking
I have always loved traveling and I have been lucky enough to travel a lot. As a teenager, I’d go abroad for language lessons in London or surfing in Australia. Traveling is still a very big part of my life and I always take any opportunity (one weekend, one week, 10 days) to go on a new adventure.

When I started working, I decided to go abroad and worked for the French Embassy in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). I then joined a private Belgian company in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo). Living in Africa for 4 years has been a great experience because it has opened me up to other cultures. During that time, I visited 13 different African countries. I am sure I wouldn’t know half as much about Africa if I were still living in France.

Being an expat in Africa also has its downsides. Some things are more complicated than anywhere else: flights can be very expensive (due to lack of competition mostly), corruption is everywhere, you sometimes have to wait more than an hour for your order at a restaurant, and beer is sometimes all that is available at local bars (too bad I don’t like beer!).

But mostly, we live differently, we make friends easily, we speak different languages, we don’t go to the movies, but we eat out, we go camping on weekends and sometimes go on a boat to beautiful sandbanks long the Congo River.

Watermelon bike
A few weeks ago, we played a little game with my Swedish friend, Marten, and I lost. The game actually consisted in listing each country we had visited (airport connections didn’t count): his count was 47 countries while I had visited 33. Funny thing is that we didn’t have that many in common.

“We travel to change, not of place, but ideas.” Hippolyte Taine

From all of those amazing experiences in 33 countries and 5 continents, my favorite story was about cooking while traveling, in Zanzibar specifically.

For those who haven’t heard, Zanzibar is a beautiful island off the coast of Tanzania. It’s probably one of the best African getaways if you’re looking for beautiful beaches, transparent blue waters, and a cosmopolitan culture.

In the last few years, I visited Zanzibar three times and I’d go back anytime if I could. The second time was for New Year’s Eve of 2016, about one year ago. I was staying with friends in the capital city, Stone Town. One day, as I was wandering around the narrow streets and admiring some beautiful typical Zanzibar wooden doors, I thought of researching a way to cook while in the city. Asking Google about cooking in Stone Town, I obtained the contact details of a small cooking tour company, whom I emailed for information.

The day after, as agreed by email, I met someone at my hostel and we went directly to the market to buy all the ingredients for the recipes we were going to cook together (it was only the two of us): chicken, spices (grown on the Island), vegetables, sweet potatoes, coconut… The market tour itself was amazing, with all of those delicate and exotic flavors in the air (except in the butcher’s area).

Stone Town has a small city center, so we walked to a friend’s of my guide and we sat down on a mat on the floor of her patio. The patio was really a traditional open air kitchen, which is quite normal in some places in Africa, charcoal cooking being still widely used.

Cooking in Zanzibar
Cooking in Zanzibar

Then, she explained what we were going to cook: chicken pilau, spinach in coconut milk, and a sweet potato dessert. We made everything from scratch, even the coconut milk, using a traditional grater. While we were cooking, children from the neighborhood were observing us from the surrounding windows and eventually came closer to see what was going on.

This experience was truly astounding and unique. I felt lucky to have such an incredible time, one to one, with a woman from Zanzibar. Once the cooking was complete, we sat down in the living room and shared the food with the children and of course, it was delicious!

This trip to Zanzibar and especially that day taking a cooking class was life changing for me. That day, I truly understood the great potential of cooking while traveling.

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.” Bill Bryson

That is why, when I decided to visit Ethiopia in January 2017, I was determined to attend a cooking class in the capital, Addis Ababa. It made a lot of sense to me to learn more about Ethiopian cuisine as it had been one of my favorites ever since I had discovered a delicious Ethiopian restaurant a few years ago in Paris.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as I’d had hoped and I only managed to attend a food tour. The tour consisted of trying several restaurants with each having a different specialty: raw meat, fish, vegetarian, fresh fruit juice, and the traditional coffee ceremony. It was a very nice tour, but I would have loved to cook and taste instead of only tasting different dishes.

As an answer to these experiences in Zanzibar then Ethiopia, I decided to create a website that gives the opportunity to local chefs to share their culture through their cooking experience. I truly think this offers the inescapable and total authenticity that people are now looking for when they travel (including me!). It’s a way to truly connect with a destination and its culture, in addition to being a fantastic way to spend time.

The first destinations that will be covered on my website are Zanzibar and Ethiopia — after reading my story you can understand why — and I’m looking for partners in other parts of the world, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you want to become a host — or if you have any recommendations for an authentic cooking experience!