A tin of olive oil, cubes of cheese and a bottle of tomato sauce are scattered across a cooking platform as 17-year-olds Ranjeet Kalia and Siddhant Modi try to make a pizza.
They are at a cooking class in Juhu, conducted by home chef Sonjuhi Malhotra and designed specifically for youngsters headed abroad for further study.
Malhotra has been conducting these classes for 10 years, usually between April and August, just before the academic year begins in most European, American and south-east Asian institutes. Kalia and Modi, for instance, are headed to Singapore in August, for a four-year bachelor’s degree course in engineering.
This year, they are part of a batch of 15 students — up from 10 in Malhotra’s class last year.
Across the city, cooking teachers are seeing similar increases in demand for these classes — with the average rise in interest ranging from 20% to 50%. Malhotra attributes this increased interest to two factors — rising foreign currency rates, and an increased awareness of the importance of healthy eating.
Kalia, for instance, is struggling with the pizza because he knows he may not be able to afford to order it in very often in Singapore. In two four-hour sessions with Malhotra, he will also learn how to make pasta, while his vegetarian friend, Modi, will get classes in simple Indian food such as dal and sabzi.
Relatively informal, the duration and syllabus for these classes is flexible and can be customised on demand for ‘groups’ as small as two.
Since most of the students have spent very little time in a kitchen, they usually begin with a few sessions in recognising pulses and spices, storing produce, cutting vegetables and operating basic appliances such as pressure cookers, mixer-grinders and microwaves. The classes then moves on to actual cooking, usually simple fare such as dal, rice, roti, sabzis, pizza, pasta, idli and dosa.
“I have added chaat [Indian snacks] to my syllabus,” says Padma Joshi, who has been conducting such classes at King’s Circle for 15 years and coached 400 students last year. “I have found that the one thing students miss the most when they are away from Mumbai is chaat.”
So, in her six-day class, students learn how to make tea, coffee, dals, vegetables, salads, chutneys — and sev puri, pani puri and bhel puri.
As demand rises, even cooking teachers who did not offer these courses are introducing special, pre-August modules for students headed abroad. Like Hetal Mehta, a Kandivli home chef who has been conducting cooking classes for five years and, this April, will hold her first basic class for students.
“For the past two years, I have been getting one or two inquiries from students headed abroad,” says Mehta. “This year, I received 12 inquiries, so I decided to take it up.”
For business manager Neha Baval, 30, the cooking class she took in 2005, before she moved to the US to study, helped her save and eat healthily.
“Before I joined Padma Joshi’s class, I couldn’t cook to save my life,” she says. “But after the intensive six-day course, I could whip up a healthy meal in 30 minutes. I was even hosting dinner parties in the US, cooking for all my friends.”
Stories such as Baval’s have convinced Juhu resident Miloni Shah, 20, headed to London in September to study international management, to sign up too. “I know I am going to miss home a lot,” she says. “I want to ensure that I don’t miss the food too.”