The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) is a Malayalam feature film written and directed by Jeo Baby. I remember watching the film in suspended animation. The movie takes us through the life of the protagonist who spends most of her waking hours cooking, cleaning and serving meals on a loop. However, with its very powerful visuals, it stirs up uncomfortable feelings.
The kitchen, for years now, has been considered to be a woman’s domain, which the men seldom enter. In many households, men take great pride in announcing how inept they are at even making themselves a decent cup of tea.
Medha Rajeev Gokhale (61)—an Indian film actor, director, writer and homemaker, based in Pune—has been changing this problematic notion, one man at a time.
Besides all the hats that she dons, for over 16 years now, Medha has been running a no-frills cooking class specifically for men. When she’s not busy shooting for a film or a commercial, one can find her surrounded by steel utensils, a variety of spices and men of all age groups in her home kitchen. At these classes, Medha teaches men the art of cooking with great dexterity.
Speaking to The Better India, Medha says, “We have been conditioned to believe that only women can cook, even though some of the best chefs are men. The desire to see men cook a meal in their own kitchen and understand what it takes to whip up a meal is what pushed me to start these classes was back in 2005.”
Medha is easy to talk to and she ensures that each attendee is made to feel comfortable in her classes. Having trained over 1,200 men over the last 16 years, Medha has some interesting stories to share about the men who attend her classes.
She says that the group is almost always a mix of different kinds of people — young boys who are on their way abroad to study, widowers who now want to be able to fend for themselves and even men who are foodies and are interested in learning to cook.
Speaking about her first class, she recalls, “This was the pre-social media era and I remember I was shooting and put up a banner just outside the shoot area inviting men to come learn cooking. Honestly, I had not expected much of a crowd but was surprised to have over 15 men join me for that first batch I conducted. Thereafter, it was just word-of-mouth advertising that helped the classes grow.”
In that first batch, Medha says that there was a 16-year-old and a 76-year-old, both equally enthusiastic to learn from her. “Cooking is an essential life skill that must be taught to both genders. Given that we all eat food, why do we continue to feel that cooking is something that only women should do?”
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There is a lot of thought that Medha puts into her classes. She says that one batch is for four days in which one learns how to make breakfast, lunch, dinner and even a sweet dish. “I start from the very basics – how to light the stove,” she says, laughing. “You will be surprised how many men are clueless even about that, to begin with.”
During the class, Medha teaches the participants how to pick the right vegetables, how to cut them, depending on what dish is being made and the basics of tempering. She says, “There are things that perhaps come naturally to us women since we have been cooking for a long time. I ensure my students that even those small details are taught in my classes. Things like — how to make the perfect round roti, how to store the vegetables after cutting it and once done how to leave the kitchen spick and span.”
One of the biggest complaints women have against men cooking is how untidy the kitchen is left after they attempt to make a meal.
To solve that problem, Medha says, that cleaning up after a meal is one of the important parts of her course. “Along with all this, I also give them tips on using vegetable and fruit peels to keep their skin glowing. Why should only women look after their skin and feel good?” she asks, rhetorically.
“I remember this one student who wanted to learn cooking to be able to able support his pregnant wife. They were expecting twins and he was very concerned about the amount of work she would have once the twins arrived,” says Medha. Such men who come to learn cooking are the ones that are the most endearing students, she adds.
From a High Court judge to doctors, Medha has had students from different walks of life.
Remembering another interesting student, she says, “This one very popular builder from the city came to me wanting to learn how to cook and present it to his wife on her birthday. On her birthday, he asked the entire staff in the house to take take a holiday and he cooked all three meals for her. He had decided that after giving her jewellery and gifts all these years, he wanted to do something different. Cooking for her seemed like a novel birthday gift idea to him.”
The four-day course is designed for men to learn cooking, but Medha says that it is so much more than just cooking and food. “I seem to make a connection with every student I teach. We speak and share [feelings]. While the men are learning to cook, I have had so many women thanking me for doing this. It’s lovely to be able to break the notion that cooking is only for women,” she concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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