Ph.D. Professor Trades Lectures for Cultural Cooking Classes
Dr. Bidisha Nag’s Indian cooking classes started off as a way to build a network in Columbus. A Ph.D. in cultural geography, she moved to Ohio looking for work after teaching classes at the University of Nebraska and Rutgers University.
Nag was born in India, and whenever she would meet locals, they would rave about Indian food or ask her how to make Indian dishes. She says that is what gave her the idea to start small cooking classes out of her home.
“Since my background is in cultural geography, I actually combine cooking and cultural information,” she says. “When I was teaching in the university, it was undergrad students, it was not necessary that they were interested … They had to take the class to fulfill their requirement. So that is very different than when I’m teaching over here. People have [actual] interest in knowing.”
Nag posted an open cooking class on the neighborhood social network Nextdoor, and overnight had over 20 people signed up.
This led to Nag holding classes a few times a week, meanwhile creating a Facebook page, getting business cards with a newly registered name. Nag calls the business “Create Your Curry” because “there’s no such thing as authentic food.”
She says, “I tell my students, ‘It’s your curry you’re creating.’”
Three or four months in, she got a call from 1400 Food Lab’s operations manager Karen Chrestay to teach Indian cooking. Now, she rents space as a member and hosts pop-ups at the center.
Two years later, and Nag has fully immersed herself in Columbus’ foodie culture.
She’s been invited to teach chefs at Ohio State University and The Seasoned Farmhouse, and is now part of an organization called Better Plate Community, which holds monthly cooking classes led by immigrants or refugees.
The local food scene has even inspired new relationships, as Nag says many of her students have become her close friends — including a former health inspector who leads a small group called Worldly Meals and tours ethnic restaurants around the city.
Nag admits she actually doesn’t like cooking all that much — so you won’t find her opening a restaurant or catering business. Teaching is really the part that she likes.
And she is no longer looking for work in higher education. Create Your Curry has become her full-time teaching gig.
“I enjoy this a lot more — and it’s smaller. I was teaching 100-student lectures. That is so not interactive,” she says. “But this is so much more interactive.”