Come on a culinary adventure: we interview Paula Mohammed about In My Kitchen
Paula Mohammed’s family has enjoyed cooking together for generations, and that experience of being around the family table is what inspired her unique business. In My Kitchen invites guests to a local host’s kitchen where guests learn to cook and enjoy a meal together, all while learning about their host’s cultural background and sharing their own experiences.
Paula Mohammed, with permission. Photo credit: Helena McMurdo.
We recently talked to Paula about In My Kitchen, and she shared some of her favourite family recipes with us.
Better Together BC: Congratulations on celebrating your first anniversary! Can you tell us a little bit about In My Kitchen and how it works?
Paula Mohammed: "Sure! It’s a cooking class, but it’s almost as if you were travelling and you got invited into someone’s kitchen to cook with them. There’s an online registration, and if you go there you’ll see lots of information, including interviews with our hosts. People sign up for an experience on our website—and then within a few days guests receive a confirmation email with lots of details, including the location of where they’re going. You arrive at your host’s home, and we start off with a light snack and beverage, the host will talk a little bit where they’re from and share their stories. Then you get into the kitchen, and spent about two-and-a-half hours in the kitchen cooking up the menu. And then we try to allow an hour to sit down and share the meal together.
That’s how I grew up around our kitchen table in New Zealand and in Canada—my dad was from Pakistan and my mum’s from New Zealand with Maori background. Instead of going out for dinner, people would come to my house and both my parents would cook for them—but it was never this thing where you Instagrammed it—it was never labelled as “special”, it was just life, and it was how I grew up. [Before starting In My Kitchen], I thought: I want to do something that’s tied to how I felt in those moments, that love of cooking, and how I felt at those family dinners. How do I capture that and share it? And that’s how the idea of In My Kitchen came around."
BT: Can you tell us about some of the chefs you currently have hosting Experiences?
PM: "It’s hard to narrow it down to one, but I will! Naomi is a young In My Kitchen host and an ex-pro soccer player from Japan. She takes traditional Japanese flavours and shows you how to match them and pair them. It’s not a traditional Japanese culinary experience—it’s very innovative. She also does what we call “A Taste Of” experience. She does an Okonomiyaki experience for that—it’s like savory Japanese pancake or pizza, but it’s really not like either. She brings in flavour profiles that are not traditional but are so delicious—like mochi and cheese and bacon with corn in it. She puts out all the ingredients—from dried shrimps to tempura batter—and you make a couple with Naomi, and then you make your own with your own flavours that you’d like to try out. We’ve had a Youth Experience with that one and it was lots of fun because it’s like making pancakes and then adding whatever you want to it - what’s interesting is that the kids end up eating things that most adults have never tried."
BT: Why was it important to you to create Youth Experiences? What do kids learn from these experiences?
PM: "All of our experiences are actually family-friendly! We truly believe that a kitchen is made to bring families and people together. But now that our kids are getting a little bit older, I thought: I would love to be able to bring a group of youth together to connect over making these dishes and learning about these cultures—without adults around—and just let them have their own conversation develop and include that sit down part around the table. What I’m quite passionate about is that people need to keep sitting around the table. I think that’s something that’s missing, and as our lives get busier it’s the first thing to go—though I do feel like the pendulum’s swinging back the other way, especially with what Better Together BC is doing, encouraging people to come back together around the table.
At first I thought—what’s going to happen if we have ten 11-17 year olds here and they have nothing to say to each other? [Then] we did the culinary adventure with Melissa, who’s the Umbrian host. The youth made a chicken cutlet, a green salad, and fresh homemade pasta (tagliatelle). Melissa brought the big pasta board, one that was her grandfather’s—they rolled out pasta, and made a simple tomato sauce—and they made two crostatas (from Melissa’s Nonna’s recipe). Melissa has this vibrancy and passion, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re 17 or 70, she talks to everybody the same way and kids just love her. She talked about where Umbria was, showed them on a map, talked about her culture—without ever saying “OK, now we’re going to learn about this culture and make these recipes, and they’re healthy because…”—she wasn’t labelling everything. They just had this experience with Melissa, and got to hang out with her (they even had their photos taken with her) and then they made this awesome meal, and they sat down and didn’t stop talking. When the parents came to pick up the kids, they joined in and stayed to hang out. Then, I had a text the next day that one young woman came home from school and made the pasta and tomato sauce again. No big deal, just because she was hungry. I thought: Score! We did it! That’s the goal, that youth realize [cooking] is not a big deal, and that they can go home and make this."
Feeling hungry now? Paula shared her family recipes for her grandmother’s Saag (a curried spinach and broccoli dish) as well as her mum’s recipe for Pavlova (a popular meringue cake in Australia and New Zealand)—don’t miss the lovely stories that go along with them. Or, test out a recipe from the younger generation in Paula’s family—her son Frazer won a People’s Choice Award from the Hands-On Cook-Off with his Basil Pesto Pasta! If you’re interested in signing your family up for a culinary adventure, check out In My Kitchen’s schedule - they’ve just added a new youth culinary experience for September where youth can learn to make their own bento boxes, just in time for back to school!).