How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Want to cook your favorite ethnic cuisine? Have an immigrant teach you

Photo by syvwlch/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The makings of flan, September 2010

Here's a novel idea: With foodie interest in ethnic cuisines at an all-time high, why not bring together said foodies who want to learn how to cook with the people who know how to make these dishes best?

Jennifer Lopez (not the celebrity) and Abby Sturges, a pair of Stanford University design students, have launched a Bay Area cooking school called Culture Kitchen in which the teachers are immigrants trained in their own family kitchens, rather than professionally-trained chefs.

The idea came from the two women's study trips to Myanmar and Kenya, where they spent time in the kitchens of local women as they prepared meals, Fast Company reports. Lopez, who is Mexican American, also counts time around the dinner table with her immigrant parents as "some of her fondest memories of childhood," she writes on the Culture Kitchen SF website.

The intent of the cooking classes is to pass along more than a recipe. An upcoming class advertised is billed simply as a "Mexican cooking class with Patty," in which the instructor will teach participants to make a meal of chicken and potato flautas, green and red salsas, rice and agua de tamarindo. From the startup's website:

We at Culture Kitchen are cooking the way families have for generations, at “home” in the kitchen. Be one of the first people to experience this new kind of cooking experience for those who not only want to learn how to make authentic ethnic cuisine, but who also want to learn the personal story and culture behind the food.  In this special class, Patty will be sharing her family’s heritage and culture through the food that defines her family.

Other "chefs" who teach the classes come from places like Thailand, Vietnam, the Ukraine, Nicaragua and Colombia according to the website. Some of their recipes are posted on the site, including this one for a great-looking flan.

In a foodie world where some of the most famous chefs connected to ethnic cuisines hail from elsewhere, it's an interesting no-brainer of an approach. After all, someone taught Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless how to cook Mexican food.

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