What’s it like to be a home chef, to share your dishes with fellow Maastricht residents? Observant visited a Russian and an Indian student who present their creations on the online platform HomeHandi.
Looking at her kitchen, you can’t help but wonder how she manages. Russian Katya Kupriyanova may be tall, but this doesn’t stop her from baking in the tiny kitchen hidden in a corner of her attic studio. She pours some milk into a small saucepan; the first step in making a cream to finish off her layered cake, which resembles the French mille-feuille. “This cake is very popular in Russia. We call it a Napoleon.” Not to glorify Napoleon, apparently, but to commemorate his retreat from Russia in 1812. Having suffered enormous losses, the Frenchman eventually decided to withdraw his invading army. “A hundred years after his departure, the Russians celebrated with a cake of one hundred layers.”
A hundred layers? On her black worktop she has created a mini version, with twelve layers of thin puff pastry. Even this, as she explains, takes quite a lot of work. “You have to place each layer in the oven for seven minutes. If I’m not too busy, I don’t mind. My sister, who also loves to cook but doesn’t have the time with four kids, begs me to make one whenever I’m at home.”
A student of International Business at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, she occasionally returns to her home in the Russian province of Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania. It was there that she inherited her passion for cooking from her mother and grandmother.
Kupriyanova makes her cakes for HomeHandi, an online platform that mediates between cooks who want to sell their dishes and gastronomes who order the homemade, international food. Unlike other cooks, who sell their lunch or dinner dishes on a daily basis, she bakes her cakes whenever HomeHandi asks her to help cater a local event. “It’s a great concept. It gives me the opportunity to make some money and I don’t have to go anywhere. I heard it’s even in the running for a Maastricht Award [an initiative of the municipality of Maastricht and other organisations to recognise local entrepreneurs –Ed.].”
It was her boyfriend who came across HomeHandi and presented his Italian specialties to the platform some time ago. “They came over to taste his pasta and to do a hygiene check – if you have long hair, for example, you to have to wear it up – and asked if he could also bake a cake. I said: ‘A cake? I can!’”
The milk is almost boiling. She removes the pan from the hob, which sits atop an electric oven, a compact, multi-function device. “My kitchen is so small that I’m happy with this one; the oven works perfectly.”
She covers every layer of pastry with cream, and finishes it off with pastry crumbs on top. Kupriyanova sells her specialty, which serves ten to fifteen people, for about twenty euros. “It can be more expensive depending on the decoration, for example if you want strawberries on top.” The ingredients – butter, eggs and flour – are not expensive, she says, but it does take three or four hours to make.
Before putting this mini version into the fridge to help it set, she does a quick taste test. “Wow, I’m very happy with this one. I think it’s one of my best. It has a rich flavour and a great sweet texture.” This one, unfortunately, is not for sale.
“My mum is very proud”
It was her own search for good Indian food that led Shilpi Tayal, who finished her master’s in Public Health last week, to HomeHandi. “Some days, you just want to sit down and eat. I missed the food from home but couldn’t find many options in Maastricht.”
So when she finished her internship and was in the mood for cooking again, she decided to do it herself. “I’m passionate about cooking and introducing people to Indian cuisine. Although I do adjust my recipes to Dutch tastes and go mild on the spices. Actually, I’ve got so used to it myself that when I’m back in India I find the food too hot. My mum was in shock.”
Tayal starts cooking around 16.00 every day. “Indian food takes a long time to cook, especially the curries.” Two hours later the orders from HomeHandi come through. “On average three to four per night, but once I had twenty plates to fill. Luckily my roommate, who is also from India, could lend me a hand.” At 18.30 a delivery guy picks up the finished dishes to take them to the customers. “I’m so tired after that, and then I have to do my own cooking – usually from the leftovers – and the cleaning-up. But it’s very rewarding when people leave positive comments about the food on HomeHandi’s website. And it’s also nice pocket money. I earn about 40 to 50 euros a day with something I love doing.”
In her small kitchen (“My mum would hate it, but for me it’s big enough”) Tayal starts chopping onions and boiling potatoes for her aloo tikki – mildly spiced potato and cornflower pancakes with onions that you dip in chutney and yoghurt. It’s a favourite among her regular customers. “I change my menu every week, to keep people interested. One time I left the aloo tikki off and they immediately started protesting.”
Most of the recipes are her mother’s, she explains as she puts the pressure cooker – “my old roommate didn’t know what it was, jumped when it started blowing off steam, but that’s what it’s supposed to do” – on the hob. “At first I followed her recipes very strictly, but now I’m experimenting more and more. I also use recipes from the internet and adjust them to my taste. Sometimes I can’t get my hands on a certain ingredient. It’s hard to find Indian spices here. When friends from India visit, I get them to bring spices over for me or I order them online.”
With the potatoes cooked, Tayal can start making the batter. “This is the hardest part”, she laughs as she makes small balls of the dough. “I want pretty round patties and they need to be the same size.” That’s the difference between cooking for friends or for customers – the food has to taste more or less the same every time. HomeHandi also came to check on her kitchen before she was able to cook for them. “We have to keep to the hygiene code restaurants use, so they came and checked that my kitchen is clean, my ingredients aren’t past their expiration date and I dispose of waste properly. Then they tasted my samples and liked them so I was good to go.”
The aloo tikki are ready to go in the pan. “I only shallow-fry them, so they don’t get too oily. Indian food can be like that.” Her mum is very proud of her, she says smiling. “After getting over the first surprise, anyway; I never cook at home. Now she wants to taste my food.” Laughing: “I’m a bit nervous about that.”
Wendy Degens and Cleo Freriks