Part 2 – Introduction
Finally the day of the 1st cooking class for 2009 arrived. I woke up at 3am to ensure that I attended the mangal aroti at the temple. I knew Kurma prabhu would be there as well and I haven’t seen him over a year now. I was nervous. Would everything go well? Have I forgotten anything?
I arrived at the temple compound at about 4am and he was already there, chanting away. We greeted each other and I think he was happy to see me at the temple, ready to get purified in the morning. He said that we would have to leave for the venue at 5am, so that he has enough time to prepare before the guests starts to arrive at 9:30am. Saying this, he took a seat near the deity room and continued his chanting. I went inside and the hall was already full.
After a 30 minute attendance at mangal aroti, we went to the 4-wd which we had rented for the occasion and began to load the vegetables and other materials for the 2 days of cooking. Through the efforts of Brahma Kunda and Srikanth prabhu, I was able to avail the services of Jignesh prabhu for the 2 days. He would be our driver and shopping assistant to Chef Kurma. Once the car was filled to its capacity, we realized that perhaps we should have gone for a slightly larger car. Anyways, we all got in and drove to the venue about 15 kms away. Around this time, I was introduced to Nitai prabhu, Chef Kurma’s young son. He was very sleepy and decided to complete his sleep as much as possible in the car.
We drove through an empty Melbourne city. Posters advertised people to be cool and get drunk for better social life. Other billboards encouraged people to be bold and wear better under garments. Other’s reminded citizens to enjoy a BBQ sizzle at a trendy restaurant. We could see men and women walking along the roadside after a heavy Friday night partying. Empty trams snailed away on its tracks. 7-11 stores shone brightly. The air was cool. City looked clear. The car was quiet except for Kurma prabhu’s chanting.
Once at the venue, somewhere around 6am, we started to assemble the place. Kurma prabhu seemed to be pleased with Cafe Lifeskills. It was neither large nor small. Just perfect. We realized that we were short of a table and few chairs for the final lunch. And also found that we were short of a tub of yogurt and morning breakfast. A quick drive to the local supermarket by Jignesh prabhu solved that issue. Nitai was back in the car sleeping. Jignesh prabhu was ordered to complete his chanting rounds before the 2 hr trip to Bendigo. And I assigned myself to getting the camera ready, the guest’s name badges and just watching the chef move around the cafe preparing for the class. So far so good. In a few hours, guests will turn up.
About 4 people from the above group had already attended his class last year. They now belong to his fan club. Many of them regularly cooked his recipes and experimented on guests at home. And each time, they were labeled as fine chefs ! On the far left, with spectacles, seated is Jignesh prabhu.
On day 2, we had a smooth start. Weather was good. The venue, Cafe Flavours was very impressive. We had everything. Then we realized that we needed some extra stoves ! Guests would arrive at 9:30am. The class would start at 10am. But the local hardware store would open only at 10am on a Sunday ! Anyways, although we missed the first part of Kurma’s talk before his class, we arrived at the venue with 2 camping stoves and a happy Nitai, who seemed very refreshed after running around the shopping centre looking for stoves. The above group like the previous one was accompanied by the cafe chefs as well who participated because they were looking for more ideas for their customers. One of the customers had her mother pay the class fee as a birthday gift. Another wanted to better the poories they usually make at home. All kinds. Many motivations. All good.
Kurma prabhu starts his cooking class after a detailed introduction into the world of cooking. But before the cooking, is the ritual of taking the group photo. Probably, this is the best time when people loosen up a bit, plenty of laughter’s going around as they arrange themselves and their hair. Next to the chef is his son, Nitai, learning the trade from his father. More than dad and son, they seemed to be best mates. Nitai is very observant, silent, slightly naughty, very shy and yet makes friends easily. I have a strange feeling that as he grows up, he will be extremely popular with one and all. And soon he might take his passion for cooking from his dad and photography from me 😉
After cheese making and feasting, the 3rd most popular session with the guests is the “History” session. During this time, Kurma prabhu takes us through India, Latin Americas, Greece, Africa and Middle East. He tells us that the rice dish “pilaf” is known in many other cultures in the world as well as pulao, pilav, pilau and polao. The guests came to know of Vedic cooking and the Persian influence. He surprised the guests with facts and figures. People couldn’t believe that there can be a diet without onion and garlic. Some heard “astafoetida” for the first time. Many didn’t know that potato, a cherished item in many of modern India’s cuisine, was not actually native to India. From the website later, I learnt that Peru could have been the actual birth place of this vegetable. 99% of today’s cultivated potatoes are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to South-Central Chile. We also learnt of the presence of paneer (cottage cheese) in many other cultures which aroused the interests of some greek students who exclaimed, “My grandma used to make them by hanging the coagulated milk from a tree!”.
My favourite part of Kurma prabhu’s introductory talk is one about himself. Shyly, he tells one and all about his early interest in food, his meeting with the Hare Krishna’s, his days in the kitchen at Gopal’s restaurant and his foray into writing and home programs. The history related to Hare Krishna’s have interested me very much over the years. And to hear it straight from someone who’s been there and done it, inspires me a lot. The curiosity, the mission, the achievements. Something we would be trying out with food very soon.