Borough Park is known for a few things: Hasidic families leisurely walking the streets on Saturdays, some of the best kosher food in the city, and now (at least for me) immersive Uzbeki cooking classes taught by immigrant Damira Inatullaeva. After spending six hours learning how to make dumplings, stews, and salads alongside four other students in her apartment, we feasted on our homemade meal while her husband, Sahib, demonstrated his deep historical knowledge of Uzbekistan.
Inatullaeva is one of 11 cooking instructors who make up The League of Kitchens, a consortium of immigrant women who introduce New Yorkers to recipes from their countries of origin in their own homes. Founder Lisa Gross noticed there were very few opportunities for immigrants and nonimmigrants to connect in meaningful ways. Connections were generally limited to everyday interactions: the guys who work at your local bodega, your waiter, or the folks at your dry cleaner.
In 2014, Gross launched her series after interviewing more than 150 candidates, leaving her with a selection of six instructors. Her criteria was simple, but not necessarily easy: being great cooks with exceptional knowledge of their culinary traditions is a given, but being warm hosts who are comfortable with telling their story is vital.
In its third year, The League of Kitchens is experiencing somewhat of a spike with the recent anti-immigrant rhetoric in the White House. After the current election, holiday sales increased and several gift certificate messages referenced the current national mood. For Gross, recognizing and celebrating the contribution of immigrants is a critical part of each course. The hosts are true experts, whereas their stories as immigrants are so often related to drudge work at best. “This is not just a cool experience, but [also] feels politically and socially meaningful,” Gross said.
Why You Should Go: You’ve already sautéed your way though our favorite cooking classes in the city, but rarely do you get the opportunity to learn international culinary specialties from the people who’ve lived in these countries most of their lives. The organization also partnered up with Atlas Obscura for walking tours with global flair (and fare). I’m already thinking about diving into Bay Ridge’s Lebanon at the end of May.
Founder Linda Gross swears by these food markets and authentic restaurants.