Longtable a short course on social and cultural integration
just like family … all in one pot
With our increasing preoccupation with food and fascination with documenting our dinner plates, it is no surprise that cooking classes have become a trendy activity to color in empty weekends. With the abundance of food content now readily available at a click, people are becoming more aware of the role it plays in their life and the desire to take an active role in its preparation is increasingly on the menu.
Today, cooking classes do more than just acquaint you with the kitchen and improve your culinary skills, they are social outlets to meet with new people, avenues for corporations to hold team-building activities and a growing preference of activity for vacationers exploring a new city through food.
TheLongtable, started by Filiz Turec in Kuwait is a similar resource that explores a culinary theme while building cultural awareness among its participants. In this conversation with the Arab Times, Filiz tells us more.
Arab Times: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how TheLongtable began?
Filiz Turec: I am from Turkey and this is my fourth year in Kuwait. For my first three years here, I didn’t do much, I just enjoyed the country as an expat wife. Then, after a point, I felt compelled to do something. So I started TheLongtable and this is its sophomore year.
AT: Where did the idea for TheLongtable come from?
FT: I used to organize similar cooking classes back in Turkey but there we didn’t have any many nationalities participating. The cooking classes were either given by me or my partner. I’ve introduced the same concept here in Kuwait where we always cook a menu together like a family, in one pot, and when the meal is prepared, we sit, partake in it and socialize with each other. It’s a great way to enjoy what you just cooked – share food and make new friends.
In Kuwait, since there are so many nationalities living and working here, I thought that instead of me instructing each session, I could include a different chef and menu each time. This has brought in much more life and energy.
We started holding these classes in one house, but soon outgrew it. I hadn’t expected there to be so much demand. We had to conduct the classes more frequently so had to find suitable venues for that. I then started to do it in a cafe. Most venues find TheLongtable very interesting because I bring with me 20 people with loads of energy.
We have a cooking class platform, but we change locations, chefs and teachers. We have a theme and menu for each class, that we not only learn to cook, but also talk about as a subject. I love inspiring, connecting and sharing. That is the whole idea. I want to inspire people to be creative and I want to connect people with each other. This is my job; I love to share and I care about what I share. Food is just the instrument I use.
AT: How have people responded to your idea?
FT: Kuwaitis love the idea. I think TheLongtable offers a refreshing opportunity to be involved in the production of your food and learn about new cuisines and food cultures. When you produce and prepare something yourself, it is more special.
AT: How is TheLongtable different from other cooking classes?
FT: Instead of focusing solely on the recipes or techniques, we look broadly at the theme to the day. It is not only what we cook, but the conversations we have about food that is important. We have a menu that we have to focus and finish preparing in two and a half hours because all the participants get very hungry by the end of the cook.
Each time I create a new concept. For example, if I’m hosting a session at the Be Cafe, I cannot do hamburgers, the focus is healthy eating. So at each new location, I look at what concept matches it best.
We’ve conducted Indian cooking classes at 12 Chutneys, the ambience was great and everything was colorful. We talked about India, we dressed up and took photos. So it is not just cooking class and it is not a formal cooking class. We don’t have stations. Instead, we cook like a family in one pot. But of course, when you have separate elements like chapattis, each one makes their own. But if it is a curry, each one doesn’t make their own, but contributes in the preparation.
As you’re cutting vegetables, you start to become friends with the person next to you. It is very similar to how children develop friendships through play. When you do something together, it helps to break the ice and start a conversation. I love that my workshops help break the ice between people. So after two hours in close quarters, you become friends, when you sit to eat, you exchange numbers and ideas. So TheLongtable is not only about cooking, it is a platform to meet new people and start conversations.
I also want to mention that at TheLongtable, we have two categories of classes, one with professional chefs and another with home cooks. Anyone who dares to cook a whole menu in two and a half hours is welcome to be a chef at TheLongtable. It is not me who always chooses the chef, rather plenty of chefs have approached me with their ideas.
If you are a home cook, you are only allowed to do your own country’s cuisine or concept. You are not allowed to do a different cuisine because you do not bring that culinary culture. But professional chefs have no such limitations and are allowed to teach any cuisine.
It is very enriching for me to present and learn about other culinary cultures. This makes organizing the events worthwhile. Each event is different from the other, it is very spontaneous. Each chef has their own style of cooking, teaching and handling things. In each class, we work as a team. So if something burns, it is because they all didn’t watch for it, it’s not only the chef who is on the lookout. Everyone is responsible for what we cook.
AT: Do you remember how your first ever class in Kuwait went?
FT: I recall that at first, it was hard to explain to others what I wanted from the platform so I began myself. I was the chef for the first three cooking classes. The theme was Aegean food class because I come from Izmir in Turkey which is close to the Aegean sea.
AT: How many classes have you conducted so far?
FT: I think we’ve done over 150 so far, with 20 participants per class.
AT: Can you tell us more about who typically participates in TheLongtable?
FT: About 70-80 percent of our participants are young Kuwaitis between the ages of 25-35. I was really surprised by this at first and I just love them. They are so open-minded and nice. The other 20-30 percent are expats. I love that TheLongtable gives Kuwaitis and expats a place to mix because they are seldom in the same circle. Here, they have an opportunity to meet each other and know each culture better. They ask each other questions. It is like a diwaniya, where we cook and eat.
AT: Do men attend the classes too?
FT: Yes, we have classes for women and as well as mixed sessions, and we’ve had plenty of male participants there. Interestingly, the vegan cooking class always has a lot of men.
AT: What happens behind the scenes and on the day of a cooking class?
FT: I do everything from organizing the event and publicizing it, to making tickets available on the website Eventat. First, it is all like a puzzle. When a venue wants to work with me, they approach me. I check the place to see what possibilities their facilities afford and to get a better idea of their concept. Then I think about which chef can best fit into the concept. I then publicize the event, and collaborate with partners.
Once the tickets are sold and the day is approaching, we shop for the ingredients and supplies. We organize pots and pans as required, the different tools a particular dish or menu may need. On the day of, we go organize all the food on the table and make sure everything is ready. It needs a lot of organization.
The classes typically start at 2 pm. I usually head to the venue 2-3 hours earlier, to set up the table and everything else. The chef also comes two hours before the start of the class, we set up and we wait. After two and a half hours of cooking and one hour of eating, we clean up!
AT: What support team do you work with?
FT: There is a lot of work to do but I don’t have a big team. I don’t have any staff, any help I get is event based. I collaborate with my friends and chefs, to see if anyone is interested in helping me out.
AT: In what ways has TheLongtable grown and evolved since it first started?
FT: We are now supported by and collaborate with different organizations. Boubyan Bank sponsored classes for its customers. We’ve collaborated with travel companies and cooked overseas. With Oxadventure, we traveled to Morocco to cook and distribute one thousand meals as a charitable endeavor. I will also be organizing overseas cooking classes and culinary tours in collaboration with other companies.
AT: Is there a basic skill level requirement to participate in the class?
FT: We have had participants from all skill levels. We’ve also had chefs attend as well as young girls who can’t hold a knife. Since TheLongtable isn’t like a kitchen academy, there is no skill requirement. There are however, plenty who come in and expect a more formal class but at the end tell the experience was better that they had expected. TheLongtable is not a classroom, there is no pressure. If you don’t want to cut onions, you can find something else to do. If you don’t want to do anything at all, you can just watch. So there are no rules or compulsions. If you just want to stir, that’s fine. If you want to do everything alone, you can do that more. If they want to learn something, I can teach. If not, they can just observe. Participants leave more light after the class because of this.
AT: What have you observed to be the big trends in food in Kuwait?
FT: Nowadays, I feel that there is a preference for healthier fare. This is my style also. I myself eat healthy and more vegetarian food. I would call myself a flexitarian. So, healthy eating is prevalent.
I think health eating isn’t only about choosing the better ingredients but also putting your energy into the food. I had one teacher who used to always tell me that if you don’t put your energy in the food, you shouldn’t eat it. Only if you help in the cooking, should you partake in it.
Here in Kuwait you can find a number of beautiful restaurants. I don’t want to be rude, but for me, each plate looks more or less the same because there is no soul in it. When I cook for myself, I feel more healthy because a part of you has gone into making it. When you cook, you know exactly what is inside. Maybe that is why TheLongtable is also growing.
I am very happy that healthy food is gaining popularity here and I would love to collaborate with health institutes to conduct cooking classes with them.
AT: How has social media impacted what you do?
FT: The impact of social media has been crucial to the success of TheLongtable. I don’t think I could’ve done this otherwise. I’m very lucky because the first cooking class I held, I had a Facebook Event posting which got picked up by another active social media page that informs people about ongoing events. If not for that initial feature and exposure, I would not have been successful.
Today, it is all about social media in Kuwait and in the world. Everybody is now on Instagram and stays updated with our events there. Without social media, it would’ve been very difficult to promote and publicize our events.
AT: What is your personal philosophy about food?
FT: I believe this – whatever you eat, you become. If you eat healthy and take good care of your body, you will thrive and have good energy. As a result, I don’t eat fried foods but I am not fully against it. I do hold Mexican cooking classes that have a lot of deep fried dishes. But I don’t prefer heavy food, I believe in keeping a balance.
AT: Is veganism on the rise in Kuwait?
FT: Veganism is growing in Kuwait and I think it will find a balance in time. The main issue with veganism is that it takes a lot of preparation. That is the main difficulty. You can eat a lot of food and have all the nutrients you need but it requires prior preparation and determination. I have a lot of respect for those who choose to be vegan. Unfortunately, my lifestyle doesn’t fit with the vegan lifestyle in terms of the work required to sustain it. But if I had someone prepare my meals for me and feed me vegan food every day, I can be vegan. But to cook it, it is a lot more effort. Many of us don’t have that much time left over after work and family commitments to invest in this.
AT: What is your hope for the future?
FT: I am confident that TheLongtable will continue to grow. I am sure of it. I would like to take it to other countries in the region – Bahrain, UAE, Oman. I would love for the idea to spread in other places.
I am keen to develop another platform – TheLongtalk which features online live conversations which are knowledge sharing sessions in subjects different from food and cooking. There are plenty of very educated and knowledgeable women who move to Kuwait with their husbands and families. I would love to give them a platform to share their area of expertise. But it would be open to all people who have knowledge to share.
For more information on TheLongtable, visit @thelongtablekw on Instagram or contact 95566496.
By Cinatra Alvares
Arab Times Staff
Photos courtesy of TheLongtable