Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chef Kate

I taught my first cooking class ever to the ladies I work with at MAFF. It's a little scary to know that I'm in a country where my cooking skills are superior to most of the locals... I'm not a good cook! When I showed up to work on Monday I thought they would've forgotten completely that I was going to do a cooking class, but they were all prepared - they'd bought all the ingredients I asked for and even had the boys go out to the bush plot to get lots of veggies. Although they'd bought ketchup instead of tomato sauce - I was teaching how to make homemade pizza. I did the demonstration for one pizza, and we cut up green peppers and tomatoes for toppings. Then they brought out a big can of corned beef and asked if we could put that on the pizza as well, so I spooned on little chunks of the meat onto my veggie pizza. And of course they made fun of how little meat I put on the pizza.

I thought we'd just do the one demonstration and then I'd give them copies of the recipe, but they started mixing up more pizza dough. On the second pizza they scooped on almost the whole can of corned beef, Tongans really like their meat! Then before I knew it we were on our 6th pizza, each of the ladies taking turns making their own pizzas and each of them takes 1/2 hour to bake! I guess because we had so much supplies to cook with, and they were hungry they just kept making more and more pizzas to share with the rest of the staff and to take home. I don't think I've seen this kind of baking marathon besides my mom baking Christmas cookies! This is how Tongans cook though - they make A LOT of food, it would be shameful to them to not have enough food for everyone. At least it showed they were interested in my class and liked the recipe.

While we they were cooking I typed up the recipe for pizza and had my women-in-development counterpart, Ilaise, translate the recipe to Tongan. My boss at MAFF also brought up a point I hadn't thought about - many of the local women can't afford a lot of the ingredients like milk, tomato sauce, and cheese because they're expensive. So he said for any recipes I should think of substitutes that could be used. So in my pizza recipe the substitute for milk is water or coconut milk, substitute real mashed tomatoes for tomato sauce, and as an alternative you could make pizza with no cheese, just the toppings. So I'll have to keep this in mind for future classes and try to stick to simpler recipes. I'm hoping to start more cooking classes now with womens' groups in the villages, with healthy recipes. The diet here is so bad, such a large percentage of people end up with diabetes. All they eat are root crops and meat, rarely any vegetables. And their cooking is pretty monotonous, very much the same it's been for hundreds of years. They like trying new things but just don't know how to cook them and don't have much for seasoning here. In fact most of them don't know what spices and herbs are, if I try to explain basil or oregeno they don't really understand. In Tongan you can say "faka-ifo" which means to make the food taste good. Last week one of the neighbor boys was hanging out in our house, I had some spices out on the counter so I showed them to him and had him smell them. He then proceeded to smell every single one of our spices/herbs, amazed by them. Of course he liked cinnamon the best since it smelled like candy.

So hopefully I'll start more cooking classes/nutrition now with MAFF, and I'll work with my counterpart to translate more recipes and ingredient substitutions to Tongan. I never would have thought I'd be teaching cooking classes!


Brittany said...

You're teaching cooking classes as part of your Peace Corps assignment!?! I have been looking into the Peace Corps, which is why I've been reading your blog. But oh man, teaching cooking classes abroad could be my calling.

Kate and Brett said...

The nice thing about volunteering with Peace Corps is that you can make your service whatever you want it to be once you get to your community, you have the freedom to start up programs you think are needed. Many volunteers have started up exercise programs, gardening, or movie nights as fundraisers, etc. BUT these are secondary projects, and much of your time would still be needed in whatever your primary job is - which most likely wouldn't be cooking. Good luck!