Food and cooking are a massive part of my life. It has been for many years. I love to learn about food, cook, and eat. Living an expat life brings a certain depth to my passions and for the last few years I have been living out some of my Anthony Bourdain fantasies, RIP my friend.
A New Journey
In Malaysia I began teaching cooking classes. Many families had domestic helpers (mostly from the Philippines). These ladies were expected to help with children, cleaning, and cooking meals. Usually they were asked to cook Western food they knew little about. This created a lot of tension between helpers and the families they worked for. If there is one thing I know about food it is that people are very particular about what they like and dislike. Meals on the table not well received caused disappointment for some families and in the helpers, who felt discouraged and unsupported. This could also be magnified depending on the kindness of the employer.
My cooking classes were geared towards teaching the basics of Western cuisine. We worked a lot on stretching sauces for multiple meals, organization, and technique. These classes gave me a lot of energy. I love to cook, help others, and leave someone feeling empowered. It was also a lot of fun. We laughed, tried new foods, worked together, and most importantly collaborated as equals.
One of my goals here was to create a safe space where everyone could be themselves and relax. This is very similar to how I run my classroom. We would always start a session around the table and took turns talking about our “soul food”, or food the meant something to us. This would turn into stories and some footing to get to know each other.
As soon as these ladies realized I was on their side and really there to help them make their lives easier, things would open up. They understood I wasn’t there to report on their performance but to really help them. It was important to me to show them empathy and to understand where they were coming from in their particular situation. Many of these women had a hard life that was often very lonely.
A New Reality
These sessions also gave me some insight into how stuffy and demanding people can become when they are living overseas. In Malaysia, having a domestic helper is actually affordable and a reality, something that would never have happened back home. I vowed then to always aspire to be the opposite of that stuffiness, to connect with others, and to make an effort to explore relationships with those that didn’t look like me or have any closeness to the place where I had come from or the way I was raised.
A Mixed Bag
As time moved on I began teaching classes to expats and locals of all types. I even taught a few classes to high school seniors who needed to prepare for life at the University. Ironically enough, they were raised with domestic helpers and didn’t even know how to cook an egg. These were really fun times for me and I truly got a lot out of these cooking lessons. I look forward to starting again here in my current location. But, at the moment, I am focused on the restaurant I have started in my home. More about this later…
5 thoughts on “The Power of Food”
So inspiring reading about your cooking classes, Ben. What a wonderful gift you have, all the more rich for sharing it. Many people can cook but not many see it as a way to connect deeply with others.
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We knew you would love to cook when Rhio bought you a cookbook for Christmas when you were nine years old and you were thrilled. What nine-year-old boy would be so happy to get a cookbook for Christmas? Only one who had the love of food and cooking in his heart and soul. Love you Bud.
If you are able to find the time, I know someone who is interested in taking a basics course!
Thank you, I will be in touch!
Brilliant! I’m sure the ladies adored you once they got to know you! What a fun idea!! I’m, restaurant in your home? Hmmm…lol way to go with the flow buddy!