Cooking and teaching are two essential skills needed when conducting a holistic cooking class. Vanessa Gomes speaks to Poonam Shashi Singh from Poonam Spice Kitchen on her journey to becoming a cooking teacher and how she educates expats on Indian cooking.
Relocating from your home country to a foreign one is not an easy feat, especially when it involves leaving behind an established corporate career. This was the case for Poonam Shashi Singh, who worked at top Indian banks for nearly 10 years, before moving to Singapore and subsequently, Johor Bahru.
“I had to leave my job as the vice-president of the equity market with Bank of Rajasthan because I moved to Singapore as my husband was offered a job there, but that was when I really got into cooking,” Poonam explained.
“It was really difficult to leave my job and be a housewife when I was expecting my second son, and the transition from being a corporate professional to a homemaker is not as easy as one imagines. However, this was before I started taking a serious interest in cooking.”
Cooking was how Poonam kept herself occupied, especially when she started experimenting with different recipes during her adapting period. Born in Assam, located in the Northeast of India, Poonam inherited her cooking skills from her mother and grandmother who were both excellent cooks and taught her different recipes.
“I never imagined that I will be so passionate about cooking one day. I love cooking and exploring different recipes and cuisines, and this has also become a way for me to make new friends,” she said.
The mother of two moved to Singapore in 2012 and lived there for about a year before moving to Johor Bahru, where she has lived until today. Wanting to share her food and cooking skills, Poonam loved hosting lunches and dinners for her friends, and during those times, they would often ask her to teach them.
She said, “At the beginning it was just for fun with my friends in Singapore. After I moved to Johor Bahru, I thought of giving cooking classes a try but at that time I charged RM25 per pax for the class! Looking back after all these years, I never thought I would end up conducting cooking lessons but it was my friends who always appreciated my cooking and encouraged me to seriously consider it. Now, I have been conducting cooking classes for nearly four years on authentic Indian culinary.”
In most Asian homes, cooking is something that is done with the family, and Poonam is no exception as her two sons have also shown interest in the kitchen and are keen to learn.
“I have two boys, the older one is 16 and the younger one is 8. Both of them love to cook and they can cook pretty well. The little one has also dubbed himself as a ‘MasterChef’ in cooking scrambles eggs!”
While many may deem Indian cooking as a challenge and be apprehensive to try, Poonam believes otherwise and that is exactly the purpose of her cooking classes – simplifying and providing an understanding to Indian cooking and flavours that are deemed as complex. Not only does she conduct classes, she has come up with a range of products that people can use in the kitchen to make Indian cooking easier, including bottles of masala, chutneys, pickles, and granolas, to name a few. Her products are made using organic ingredients and can be ordered on her website or her Facebook page, Poonam Spice Kitchen.
“As always people think Indian cooking is too much hard work, but it actually isn’t. The way I teach the expat community to cook is the easier way to do a dish, without using several spices. Also, my own invention of All-in-One Masala is one that people can use for various curries.”
She also offers her services as a personal chef for small dinner parties and catering for larger crowds, however, Poonam’s ultimate dream is to own her own restaurant one day. Her classes can be done in groups or individually, priced at RM120 and RM300 respectively.
For more information on Poonam Spice Kitchen, her services, and classes, visit her website at poonamspicekitchen.com.
*This originally appeared in The Expat July 2018.