The food miles are short – but the memories go back a long way. That thought struck me suddenly when I was driving through Edinburgh with a back seat full of cakes so beautifully made by a young man far from home. It was a good time to remember what the World Kitchen is all about.
There have been moments during the last few weeks when it was easy to forget. Ordering food, planning menus and booking tables – our team of five keen but amateur cooks have gained new insight into just how much careful management it must take to run a restaurant.
But that’s not the main point of the World Kitchen. It was Martyna who reminded me why we are doing it.
“I know these cakes very well,” she said as she helped me carry three beautiful hand-made cakes out to the car. “My grandmother always made them for us.” Martyna Kamecka is the sister of Daniel who runs Cafe Kleofas with Wojtek in Gorgie Road. Once again they have contributed their delicious cakes towards a venture which aims to spread multicultural understanding through nothing more complicated than cooking and eating together.
The idea is simple enough. Food is something everyone needs – and almost all of us enjoy eating it (not counting the tragedies of famine and deprivation). But it is also highly personal. As I drove home in a car full of the comforting scent of apple and vanilla I realised I was carrying a link to East Poland, to the family home where grandmother Maryjanna cooked cakes made with the apples she picked in her garden.
I think every member of the World Kitchen has a food story that goes back through generations: every meal has an aroma that can evoke memories of all kinds. Many of the stories cross continents and somehow grandmothers are a recurring theme.
Meena is making green chutney from granny’s secret recipe which was never written down. Mridu’s vegetarian recipes are infused with fond memories of her ,nana. Celia’s Irish wheaten bread comes Granny Barron in Belfast but maybe traced back to Cavan – the recipe is a happy estimate of what ‘a handful of this’ and a ‘pinch of that’ means in terms of grams and fluid ounces. Alice’s fish curry is served with maize meal ‘porridge’ a staple of family meals across much of Africa – and now, growing up in Edinburgh, Alice’s young children may well carry that tradition on to the next generation.
So the World Kitchen in Leith is very much about learning from each other’s cultural traditions. But it is also about honouring the food on our plate: how it grows, where it comes from and – perhaps most of all – the effort, skill and love that goes into the making of it.
No time for any more of this. I do have a little more cooking to do.