Matilda Riby-Williams, or Tilly, as she’s known, is hovering over a steaming pot of onion and tomato puree, seasoning it with her favorite spices: garlic, ginger, Goya Adobo and Ghanaian cayenne pepper.
A small crew of onlookers watch through teary eyes—courtesy of the three large onions—while Tilly explains the recipe she is using to make doro wat, a traditional Ethiopian tomato chicken stew.
It’s a scene that her daughter, Kuukua Yomekpe, has witnessed likely many times.
This city’s ethnic food scene offers some of Columbus’s best eats, and Yomekpe, is part of that world. She owns Asempe Kitchen found in the Hills Market in Downtown Columbus, where she creates Ghanaian food. But Yomekpe and Riby-Williams take their cuisine beyond the restaurant, bringing it into everyday people’s kitchens, and they aren’t the only ones.
In the past few years, a wave of groups working to teach folks around Columbus different ways to cook has emerged, providing opportunities for people to expand their culinary repertoire and learn about other cultures in the process.
Here are five organizations hoping to spice up kitchens across the city:
Create Your Curry
Bidisha Nag first started teaching Indian cooking classes as a way to get to know her neighbors after moving here in 2016. She likes to teach—she has a PhD in human and cultural geography—but she prefers cooking over lecturing to unenthused undergrads.
At first, her classes consisted of just a few people, but as interest started to grow, she realized she needed to establish a business. Hence, Create Your Curry, born in January 2017.
“My cooking classes are a combination of cooking as well as some cultural geography and how people eat differently in different parts of India,” Nag said. “I want people to not have fear about cooking something unknown.”
Nag uses ingredients available at the local grocery store and just a few spices to create one rice item and one healthy entree, like chicken tikka masala or palak paneer. Her classes, which run around $40, typically have a maximum of 12 people, which she says allows for a hands-on and personalized experience.
Retro Dinner Diva
Moms and dads know how hectic life can be. Splitting time between soccer games and dance classes and birthday parties and drama club can make getting dinner on the table every night seem like a daunting task.
But Chief Dinner Diva Stephanie Eakins wants to help. Her company, Retro Dinner Diva, specializes in family-size, freezer-friendly and oven-ready food. She has a delivery service, and every few weeks she hosts workshops and freezer meal parties for people who want to learn how to prep and cook similar meals—pastas, chicken pot pies, casseroles and stews—themselves.
“I have a niche and it’s comfort food,” Eakins said, adding that in the beginning, she was getting requests for different diets that were stretching her thin and out of her realm of expertise. “I finally was like, you know you can’t please everyone. This is your niche, and this is what I’m good at, and this is what I’m going to do.”
Her freezer meal parties usually cost around $189, but participants walk away with eight family-size meals. Other courses, like her Instapot classes, are $35.
1400 Food Lab
Formerly The Commissary, 1400 Food Lab is the place that centers and connects many of these organizations. As a food incubator, it provides space and resources for small food business in Columbus. Create Your Curry, Better Plate and Retro Dinner Diva all use the commercial kitchens for classes, but 1400 Food Lab also helps organize a wide range of courses for the public.
Karen Chrestay, the Food Lab’s general manager, said some of the most popular classes they’ve hosted, unexpectedly, were the butchery classes. They’ve done knife fundamentals and croissant making, and Chrestay said she’s looking forward to the vegan series coming up this spring. 1400 Food Lab classes vary in price, and registration is required.
The class Riby-Williams was teaching was organized by Better Plate Community Columbus, a group founded in 2017 that encourages cross-cultural exchange through food-related community events. Some classes it offers, such as Tilly’s Ethiopian cooking session, are in home kitchens and typically host around seven people, while others in larger commercial kitchens can accommodate more.
“Food is very different and yet the same across cultures,” Amanda Warner, co-founder of Better Plate, said. “It’s something interesting for people … to think about the commonalities and differences.”
Better Plate has hosted cooking classes from many corners of the world. They’ve covered Syrian, Ghanaian, Russian, Indian and now Ethiopian. Registration is required, and classes typically cost $35.
Society of Ohio
The Turkish American Society of Ohio hosts cooking classes on the third Saturday of every month. Organized by and run for women, the classes offer not only a taste of authentic Turkish food, but also the opportunity to share and learn about each other.
“It’s not just about teaching people how to cook,” said TASO Cooking Class Coordinator Hamide Kusan. “It’s about sharing culture.”
February’s class featured Turkish chicken soup, güveç yemeği, babaganus and bride’s cake. The women chatted about cooking tips, like how they had discovered that one Turkish teacup equals half a cup in the U.S., and how using vanilla powder, rather than vanilla extract, was important because some Turkish women don’t drink alcohol. Later, after everyone had eaten, the conversation turned to Turkish politics. It seemed like this wasn’t out of the ordinary, especially since many of the American women who came to the class had already been involved with TASO for months or even years, though they had plenty of seats around the table for those who want to join in. An RSVP is required for TASO cooking classes, and each session costs $20.