Friday, 24 February 2017


"Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture." Mark Kurlansky

The door opens, the bell tinkles, the wooden floors creak, and it is once again time to enjoy the delectable atmosphere of food and camaraderie that is any cooking class at The Passionate Cook's Essentials. Lisa Hutchinson, the owner, has created the unique opportunity to enhance one's cooking skills and expand one's recipe collection, all while enjoying the company of others genuinely interested in delicious, made-from-scratch food. Classes are limited to twelve students, a class size intimate enough to allow for questions, conversation and plenty of laughter.  Quite simply, I love these classes which have afforded me the privilege of meeting many like-minded residents and which have taken me to Italy, France, Morocco, Spain, Newfoundland, India, and even Mongolia without ever leaving Uxbridge.

Last night I enjoyed the privilege of being transported to pre-civil war Syria. Cecilia, fromager for The Passionate Cook Essentials, has worked closely with one of Uxbridge's refugee Syrian families to learn more about their delicious cuisine and to teach us more about the food, culture and customs of Syria. Food, she reminded us, is a universal language.

It is easy to forget that even under Bashar al-Assad and before the disasterous civil war, Syrians had lives and homes like us. Part of the Lavant 'fertile crescent', Syria was once the bread basket of the Middle East; their food culture is ancient. "Bread and salt between us." We learned that the Syrian culture is one that emphasizes the importance of family, hospitality and generosity. To cook is to be home and to commune over a meal with family and friends.

Interspersed with cooking demonstrations for shamandar (beet dip), lamb kofta in tahini sauce, vermicelli rice, Syrian salad, and m'hallabiya and while savouring these tasty dishes, Cecelia offered us a far more intimate insight into what life was like in Syria and how our refugee families are handling what she referred to as "their soft landing in the warmth of Uxbridge".

Of the many cooking classes, I have enjoyed at The Passionate Cook Essentials, this class offered to me, so much more than food and on so many levels. Not only did I enjoy the chance to taste and learn to prepare the cuisine of another culture, but it brought home many truths.

Food is indeed a universal language. How eager this Syrian family has been to share and teach Cecelia about their food and culture. Her relationship with the family has quickly developed into one of friend.

The class illustrated for me how much has been lost in the Syrian war, how the bread basket of the Middle East has been wiped out and how, due to an uncertain future, an ancient food culture and way of life may disappear.

How alone some of our refugees must feel. How they must miss the aromas and activity of their markets, their language, their neighbourhoods and their friends and family either left behind or now dead.

Mostly, listening to Cecelia reminded me that treating our refugees with interest in their culture and respect for what they have lost will go a long way to promoting a peaceful transition, trust and understanding.

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