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What's cooking?

The desire for variety, to experiment or even impress guests makes many housewives turn to short-term cookery courses

Pic. by T.A. Hafeez

RADHIKA HAS a party coming up next month and wants it to be special. Some exotic food would add a dash of interest she thinks. She settles on Mexican, which she believes will impress the guests. But there is not much time and she can hardly experiment by trying out recipes from a book.

So what does she do? Radhika enrols for a one-week course on Mexican cuisine. By the time the date for her party comes around, she is a dab hand at making enchiladas, burritos and tortillas. She suppresses a smile when one of her guests ask: "How many years ago did you learn to cook Mexican?"

Radhika belongs to a growing breed of housewives who are turning to short-term culinary courses in the city. They can range from one-day to one month and they offer to teach a staggering variety of cuisines from all over the world. Thai, Mexican, Burmese, Lebanese - you name it, the chances are that somebody somewhere in the city is offering it.

Housewives seem attracted to these courses for a variety of reasons. For some women such as Radhika they offer a challenge - an opportunity to hone their cooking skills and widen the range of dishes they can conjure up in the kitchen. Some take such courses because they are bored. And yet others enrol just to surprise their families. "My husband and children like to eat something new every day and so such courses help me keep up with their changing needs."

For a few housewives, however, the motivation for taking up such courses is not altogether altruistic. They nurture ambitions of starting their own catering businesses and believe that the tips and live demonstrations offered by such short-term courses will help them on their way. A few of those already in the catering business use these courses to improve their skills and offer their customers a wider choice of dishes. For instance, Padmashri Naik of Padmashri foods was catering desserts on a small scale before she attended a couple of short-term courses in baking and advance baking too. Today, she has a full-fledged business for desserts and bakery products.

Short-term courses are not so much the preserve of recognised culinary institutes. Rather, they are largely conducted by enterprising women who have made a business out of the growing interest for learning different cuisines.

The Culinary institute run by Chandri Bhatt is an exception. It offers a variety of short-term courses on such things as desserts, chocolate making, south Indian cuisine, advanced baking (recently) and low calorie cooking. Says Bhatt: "There is a growing awareness about low cal foods among Indian women." National Panasonic, the Japanese multinational that manufactures a wide range of white goods, conducts a four-day course (spread over four weeks) on dishes one can make with a rice cooker. Says Suchitra, a student of the institute: "The main advantage about such courses is simple. Watching one live demonstration is much more effective that reading a hundred recipe books."

Suneetha Lalvani, who resides in Chetpet, conducts one-day sessions every Saturday on different kinds cuisines: Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, etc. Lalvani's classes are attended by plenty of young housewives and a few others who aspire to enter the catering business. Struck by the interest being showed in exotic cuisines, she is considering starting courses in Greek and Mongolian cooking! In Thiruvanmiyur, Chitra Puri offers cookery classes in Burmese, Indonesian and Thai food. "People come from all over the city," she says. "Even for one-day courses, we have students coming from Anna Nagar. She says that housewives who want to learn an assortment of cuisines in a jiffy to entertain at home are part of her audience. In Santhome, the Cultural Academy is planning to offer courses that groom young women aspiring to be rounded homemakers. The plan is to focus on short-term courses for desserts and microwave cooking. "We already have crash courses in chocolate making and a few desserts and are planning to introduce short-term courses for chocolate cake baking," says Maria, the principal of the Cultural Academy.

Sometimes, the focus of the short-term course is the gadget and not the cuisine. Jayashree Rajamani, who lives in Thiruvanmiyur, takes microwave cookery lessons for those who want to use the gadget. She says the courses are particularly popular with students who are planning to go abroad and with housewives who are keen on exploring the various uses a microwave can be put to.

Similarly, Mallika Badrinath, who has written a variety of cookbooks, organises one-day sessions of microwave cookery classes once every three months. "The idea is to help people handle the gadget properly," she says.

Chellam Gopalakrishnan at New Avadi Road, has been organising a number of short-term cookery courses. She teaches Thai, Mexican, Indonesian, Indian as well as dessert and ice-cream-making. She occasionally, organises demonstrations on low-calorie cooking. "I don't advertise and people who come here do so by word of mouth."

The reasons for signing up may vary. Some are driven by the desire to experiment. Others to further their already existing catering business. For yet others such as Radhika, the motive could be something as simple as impressing the guests at a party. What they have in common is the belief - never mind what the gourmets say - is that there can be short cuts to becoming a good cook.

MALAVIKA LAKSHMAN

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