Chef Rob | Cooking in the Ashram part III
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Cooking in the Ashram part III

Cooking in the Ashram part III

I managed to shake off the horrible cloud that had just arrived over my head and just cracked on. The two Swedish girls were ploughing through the cabbage and we didn’t really have any large containers to put it in. I grabbed a couple of clean bin bags and lined some cardboard boxes. It was the best we could do. It wasn’t long before we had several bags of chopped spring cabbage.

‘Will it be enough?’ asked one of the Swedish girls.

After running out of Chai this morning I really didn’t want to take the chance.

‘Nah do another 2 cases’

Fair play, they carried on chopping. I grabbed a huge pan and put it on the stove to heat up. Onions in sweating off for the start of what was going to be the curried Dahl. I’d been putting it off for ages but now I really had to work out how to wash all of that cabbage. I checked the water drums one by one but they were all empty again. I looked up at Farouk and off he went to get some more.

Amy agreed to wash out another huge pan (bless her) which I planned to use to wash the cabbage in when Farouk got back. I was relieved that Amy agreed so readily to wash the pan because that involved a lot of scrubbing in the back of house area. I don’t mind cleaning anything but I was really struggling with the smell in back of house. It consisted of a net stretched over a pallet. I was assured that underneath there was some sort of a soak away but I really wasn’t going to investigate. At the end of each day someone had to shake all the food debris off the net somewhere away from the kitchen. I managed to dodge that job too.

IMAG1050Farouk returned with some water and I filled the clean pan and started washing the cabbage. I went back over to the onions and added in some chopped garlic and ginger. As I’m doing it the Kurd who’d given first aid to Dave’s thumb earlier on started looking at me with a really troubled look on his face. I could tell by looking at him that he hadn’t slept in days. He also seemed to have really bad back pain. I’d heard one of the volunteers pleading with him to go and get some sleep. Whatever was bothering him wasn’t his lack of sleep or back pain.

Communication was an issue. He didn’t speak much English, and I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. He kept pointing at the pan that I was using to start off my dahl. I looked around and realised I was using the biggest pot. He started pointing at the bag of rice next to us and it dawned on me that this must be the guy that Lizzie had said would cook the rice. I understood I was using his rice pan and he knew he needed the biggest pan. We managed to get another pan washed and I decanted my onions and then the Kurdish guy seemed relieved. I carried on with the dahl, washing the cabbage, and trying to keep the kitchen reasonably clean and tidy. ‘Clean and tidy’ in the Ashram was a standard far removed from what I was used to.

It was at that point that a couple of women came in with 3 kids. I’m not sure why they had come into the Ashram but I was horrified to see young kids existing in this hell hole. I instantly feared for their safety and being a father myself it was a bit tough to deal with. I guessed their ages to be 10, 6 and 2. I told the Swedish girls we had enough cabbage now and managed to get a bit of a system going washing it and re-bagging it ready to saute later on ‘a la minute’ during service.

The Swedes were straight over to the kids. They started playing games and singing the alphabet song. There was an air of calm about the place and I carried on with my dahl and cabbage washing.

I found several bags of lentils and pulses in the store. Mainly brown lentils, red lentils and a few yellow split peas. After cooking a generous few handfuls of garam masala, I added some turmeric, cumin and ground coriander that I found. It was smelling good. I filled half the pan with water and some tinned tomatoes and threw in the split peas.

The kurd had started his rice and then managed to get himself a bit comfortable whilst he waited patiently for it to cook. He looked dreadful and by now I had also started to encourage him to get some sleep but he wasn’t handing the rice cooking over to anyone. I just carried on with the other bits.

After a while I decided the split peas had cooked a bit so in went the brown lentils. Lots of them! I really didn’t want to run out. They started swelling and it became obvious that I’d put way too many in. I grabbed another pan, split the contents, more water, more tinned tomato, and all was good again. Now I was on course with two huge pans of dahl. I got a little buzz thinking, ‘no ones going to starve tonight!’

Rob in CalaisIt wasn’t long before Tom Dave and Waleed returned from the distribution centre. I was pleased to see them back and to hear that no one had crashed my van. We were all rubbish at driving on the wrong side of the road.

As soon as Tom walked in I saw his face hit the floor. He came over to me and said, ‘I can’t believe there’s kids here. It’s bad enough for the guys but women and children? Nah that’s not right at all. They need to be away from this place.’

I totally knew where he was coming from. He was a dad too and one of the things I’d already learned about him was that he has a very close relationship with his kids. Tom Dave and Waleed started telling me of their adventures and we all carried on just tidying up and getting ready for evening service at 4pm.

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