A home-maker’s passion to serve her family delicious delicacies helped her start cooking classes as a professional. A year later, Irfana Ali is teaching young girls how to cook traditional cuisine with a twist. Saima Bhat reports
It was her desire to see her family members wear satisfying smiles on their faces after having food that made her to perfect her cooking skills. Irfana Ali, 39, a home-maker from Rainawari in Srinagar, after deliberating for years started Creative Expressions – a specialized cooking course for would-be-brides and young girls who wish to perfect their culinary skills.
Her motto is simple: if you want to see your family happy, serve them good food. “I always wanted to pass on my cooking skills to young girls. In 2008 I started giving shape to my passion but the idea got stranded because of summer unrest,” remembers Irfana.
Then in January 2013, Irfana with the help of her two sisters: Rakshanda Ali, 36, and Beenish Ali, 26, started cooking classes from her kitchen with just three students. “We placed ads in local newspapers but the response was lukewarm. But that did not deter us and we started it anyways,” says Irfana. “We are soon planning to shift to a three room building near our house.”
The aroma inside Irfana’s kitchen can transport a visitor to the finest food courts in Kashmir in a jiffy. But what sets her recipes apart is the exclusive traditional Kashmiri taste.
Knowing the fact that Kashmiris have started eating-out and enjoy different cuisines Irfana wants to entice their taste buds with her recipes.
Irfana says that the best thing about her cooking is that she does not use too much of oil, butter, salt, sugar or strong spices. “I use curd or add some spices like ginger, garlic because of health issues we face in Kashmir,” says Irfana who started cooking since she was in 9th Standard.
Initial lukewarm response has not dented trio-sisters spirits but they rue the fact that only a few girls are interested in cooking or embroidery that too only as a hobby.
“Even if my venture is just one year old, I am satisfied with the response of my students. Mostly my students were girls who are getting married soon and wanted to learn cooking quickly,” says Irfana, a mother of three kids.
While referring to her eldest daughter who is in 12th standard, Irfana says, this generation doesn’t have time to learn things like cooking or embroidery.
Recalling her childhood days, Irfana says she never learnt cooking or embroidery from anybody, it came on its own. “My younger sisters used to have those embroidery projects in their school but I learnt and practiced while they used to leave their projects incomplete. I used to complete those projects of thread work and other embroideries.”
But the journey was not always as easy as it seems today for Irfana who was married at the age of 19. Recalling a get-together with her school friends, Irfana says she felt awkward when her friends said, ‘being the topper of our class you achieved nothing’.
But Irfana is content with what she is doing. “I wish to tell them that I am satisfied with what I choose. I preferred my family over a career. Now when my children are grown up I have started my studies again.”
Irfana completed her graduation in 1998 and is currently pursuing masters in English from IGNOU.
Ask Irfana about her cooking skills and her face lights up. “I can prepare Harrisa in just one hour’s time which otherwise needs overnight professionals’ supervision,” claims Irfana. “I always prefer to bake cakes and even Naans in a pressure cooker.”
Besides mastering traditional Kashmiri cuisine completely Irfana claims to have invented a number of new recipes that complement local taste buds.
Irfana is a regular blogger as well wherein she writes poetry in Urdu and English. She chose English as her master’s subject because she is planning to publish a book of her poems and a masters degree will add credibility to her name, she says.
With all three sisters involved in the project Irfana feels that it will take more time before they start making money out of it. “Kashmiris have money but we don’t want to spend. We want to extract maximum out of minimum which is not always possible,” says Rakshanda who is planning to introduce embroidery classes from the next session.
Initially, Creative Expressions had the proper fee structure for students who wanted to learn cooking. But Irfana restructured the fee to make it more convenient and attractive for students. She now charges on per recipe basis.
For this year, the sister trio is planning to go for proper advertising of their classes, before winters, in schools and colleges so that they can attract more students.
“I guess to conduct these classes would not have been possible without my husband’s support who is a businessman, and my in-laws, otherwise I earn minimal amount from these classes. But it gives me satisfaction, which is worth millions for me. A job would have never given me the satisfaction I have today,” says Irfana.