Wearing an apron over a classy black dress, a potato masher in one hand, three knives in the other, Alia El-Askalany, or Lulu as she calls herself, welcomes three strangers into her kitchen, inside a cozy house in Zamalek. A few steps away from the piano and a few colorful cushions, she hovers over the three women as they chop tomatoes, peel onions and mash potatoes.
El-Askalany, 30, has been teaching cooking classes out of her home since March, a few months after she quit her marketing job at an international restaurant chain. She decided to conduct the classes in her home as an attempt to minimize the costs of launching her business, “Lulu’s kitchen.” The decision did not only help her start her business with less money, but also made her classes unique and non-commercial, she said.
“I thought of going to people’s houses first,” said El-Askalany, who studied culinary arts in London. “But since Cairo’s traffic is not friendly, it’s better to do it here.”
El-Askalany hosts cooking classes and workshops for kids, women, men and couples. The cozy atmosphere of her house creates a sense of intimacy around the participants eventually building a community, she said.
El-Askalani depends mainly on her personal network to find clients. But she has also established partnerships with other culinary institutions, such as the Egyptian Chef Association, which organized a workshop at Lulu’s Kitchen early in June.
“I couldn’t have done it without their support,” she said. “It has been a nice ride – bumpy, but nice.”
Over the past few years, Egyptians started developing an eye for quality food rather than focusing on eating as an action ofsocialisation, El-Askalany said, creating a market for cooking classes.
“People want to try new things, so the sky is the limit,” she said.
In her Ramadan cooking course, El-Askalany offered two sessions: savory and dessert recipes. She offered her participants an opportunity to try cooking recipes that would be convenient for Ramadan; easy, quick and light for the summer.
The recipes included ginger-marinated stir-fry beef with cashews and green onions, mashed potatoes with cheese, bacon and chives, and a basbousa-based cheese cake with cherries. El-Askalany helped her participants as they prepared the dishes, giving them tips about basic skills like knifing and mashing. When one participant teared up while chopping onions, El-Askalani laughed and suggested that chewing a gum to keep the mouth open might minimize irritation.
One participant, Shahira El-Kady, a 26-year-old diplomat, said she has lived by herself for four years and has always had trouble with cooking.
“I tried downloading online recipes but they never work,” she said.
She was happy to get tips and try easy recipes that she can cook for herself after work without having to call her mother for help, she said.
Over the month of Ramadan, El-Askalany is planning a series of classes where participants can come, cook and go back home with their Iftar meal.
“It will be fun and will save them the effort of cooking at home,” she said.