United Kingdom (London)
For aspiring chefs without a Caribbean friend on hand to reveal the secrets of the most authentic Creole cuisine or a Lebanese pal to explain how to cook the very best hummus, now there is Diaspo, an initiative to bring home the most delicious flavours from around the world. At first glance, the concept is simple – online cooking classes taught by the generation that knows best: older adults with decades of experience in the kitchen.
This is not another YouTube tutorial: those taking part in a class can interact directly with the teacher, who will answer learners’ questions as they go and will repeat a step if there are any doubts. As Harish Malhi, the founder of Diaspo, explains: “The reason we have small groups for the classes is so that you can ask questions: you don’t just learn the steps of the recipe, you’re also learning about the teacher’s life – and through that casual conversation you can develop more of a relationship.” As well as getting to grips with the ingredients and techniques, the teacher-chefs share tricks, anecdotes and stories related to the dishes.
The cooking classes are the most visible part of the project, but there is a whole philosophy behind it. Harish, who is British Punjabi and based in the UK, didn’t want to forget the food he ate in his childhood. For families descended from immigrants, food can be a vital link to their homeland and their memories, but discovering or holding onto that knowledge isn’t always easy. Sometimes older family members have passed away or live on the other side of the world, and younger generations aren’t always interested in learning old recipes. Harish’s idea was to create a community network to connect across the generations, and recover a part of their legacy together starting with food. For many cultures, food is particularly important because it’s a way to show love and care.
Harish sees many benefits from connecting people in this way: “I grew up with my grandad who is now 93 and continues to work for a few hours every day: so I’ve seen how important having purpose, engagement and continued connection is to that generation.”
“My culture holds older adults in really high esteem and I wanted to create something that offered the beauty and benefits of intergenerational connection”, Harish Malhi.
Among Diaspo’s teachers, sharing their expertise in traditional recipes from their home countries, is Sunita, 60, born in Punjab, who has been cooking dishes from northern India, such as tandoori chicken or chicken pakora (Indian fritters) with Masala chai, from a very young age. Another teacher, Karim, is 63 years old, born in Libya and raised in Italy. He loves sharing his knowledge, the history of the dish and his personal connection to each recipe, whether it’s macaroni with pesto, couscous or risotto ai funghi porcini misti. Christiane, from Martinique, teaches how to cook her Colombo Poulet, a well-known chicken curry for the whole family, and Facia, born in Lebanon, explains how to prepare hummus and Baba ghanoush, among other dishes.
Via the Diaspo website users can choose between different recipes and teachers. Classes are available individually or as a pack – and there are gift cards for foodie friends. The emphasis is on classes that are fun, appropriate to all knowledge levels and enthusiastically taught by experienced cooks with a clear passion for food.
“We know the people who do our classes love to perfect a particular dish, and to learn it from someone who really knows,” explains Harish. “Also all our teachers attend a class from another teacher as part of our onboarding process for them, so they have the opportunity to share and learn from each other too.”
It shows that many of them have been cooking these dishes for 30 years at home and now want to share their talents and culinary wisdom with the wider world. The learners are global too: 30% of the audience are from outside the UK and include regular participants from the US, Australia and Canada. After signing up for a class, learners get a link to join the live Zoom session plus a list of all the ingredients and utensils needed. Recently cook-along classes for kids have been added after Harish received multiple requests for family sessions. Harish explains: “Cooking with kids builds a positive relationship with food, offers a way to connect with their own cultures or broaden their horizons and has many intergenerational benefits. Unfortunately some kids don’t have older adults in their lives, and Diaspo can help ensure kids reap the benefits of the knowledge, culture and wisdom from those who have lived it.”
AtlasAction: Check out the next sessions – including sessions for cooking with kids – and register on the website in under a minute. The referral program offers a free class to you and a friend when your friend signs up.
Journalist and blogger, he has worked as an editor for several travel, nature and science magazines for the last 20 years.
Harish Malhi, founder