Monday, October 27, 2008

Cookin’ at Ilê Ayé-

I was not sure what the nature of their Culinary Program was like. Last month during my interview with Vovo, the director of Ilê Ayé, he had suggested that I come observe it. I packed that away with my things to do when I am staying in Salvador. I guessed that it might be a vocationally based program, training the prep crew and ancillary employees as opposed to developing a cadre of cooks and chefs. Other than the fact that it was community based for Liberdade residents, how did it compare with the intensive program at Senac? I had been impressed with how comprehensive and affordable Senac’s program was.

Recently, several people including Beto at Pariaso had spoken well of it. I decided to do it before I left for Cachoeira. There were two sessions per day, 8:00-12:00 and 1:00-5:00. I decided to go on Tuesday after my morning errands. I would shoot to get there as close to one o’clock as possible. I arrived at 1:30 PM and asked for Gelson, one of Vovo’s assistants. He informed me that the teacher needed more warning, even if I was just observing. And he needed to reconfirm my authority to observe with Vovo. “How about tomorrow? 9:30?” “Sim, está bom, Escotch.” “Então, até amanha!” Kind of a bummer, but ok.

I was mixed into Gelton’s Welcome to Ilê Ayé Tour Group, until the culinary administrator, Elizete; Vovo’s Sister in Law could be located. The culinary classroom was appropriately clinical, all white tile and stainless steel, white smocks and hairnets. I learned that in addition to a Culinary Teacher they also had a Nutritionist on site.

Students first learned some general history of the development of man as a species, leading up to his alimentation. The course covered all aspects of cooking, not just Baian foods. Decoration and visual display of prepared foods was also stressed. I heard that aesthetics were important to, since we eat with our eyes. I knew that banquet service was an integral aspect of both home and professional kitchens. I guessed that banquet work was probably a key avenue to employment.

The term was twenty weeks, twenty hours per week, no more than 20 students per class, between 17-24 years old. Students were selected from the community, bright young lights, recommended by teachers, church leaders and community organizations. Tuition was free if you were accepted. During my brief orientation to the program, Elizete said, that If three students stick with it, graduate and find work, then she is happy. We agreed that regardless of the outcome, the discipline, continuity, effort and knowledge involved with culinary education would inform their lives and career choices.
Today’s class prepared a whole baked fish, Amarella. It was accompanied by Rice, Molho de Pimenta, Farofa and salad. I guessed that the Nutritionist tried to inject some healthy alternatives to the popular fried foods and rich meats inherent in the local cuisine. While the fish was cooking part of the class began to prep tomorrow’s lesson. They simmered a whole octopus and cleaned shrimp for the seafood Mariscada and cut okra for Caruru.

The gender ratio of the group was 2 young men: 17 young women. I asked Elizete about this skew, since I already knew that women had a real glass ceiling in the local food scene. Truthfully, one boy was a pretty boy and scared of his shadow, while the other might not have been breathing.

She acknowledged that finding employment was tough for women, really hard for all students. But, the boys would find work. The girls often worked for small Mom & Pop operations, started their own cottage businesses or became better home cooks. I asked her if she was familiar with the Incubator project in the center of the state that gave intensive and comprehensive training to women in Candy Making with local fruits, allowing them to come away with a home based business. She knew of it, but it was one dimensional. She trained for all phases of culinary work.
I shut my mouth, gratefully took the plate I was offered and sat down at her desk to have lunch with her. The meal was good. Elizete asked me to say a few words to the students regarding what I had observed. I thanked them, asked briefly about their motivations to study cooking and applauded their efforts.

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