In what used to be a bread factory in Vienna’s 10th district, a social initiative called Community Cooking is going down which sees a bunch of strangers from all kinds of backgrounds get together, cook up a storm and sit down for dinner like a family.
It’s been happening since January 2015 in the 10th district’s event venue/social space/art and cultural hub, the Anker Brotfabrik. We decided to visit as the name contained two of the things we love most: community (the more the merrier!) and cooking (our heart beats for good food!).
The kitchen is bright and airy, with shelves stacked high with all kinds of dried foods, pots and pans. Ladels hang neatly in a row above the kitchen sink. Slowly people start to trickle in the door, and slip into aprons.
We are all the Sous Chefs to the omnipresent force that is Stella, the so-called neighborhood chef of the day. She leads the class with gusto, often stirring pots with one hand and giving instructions with the other. Each week a different dish is cooked, while this time around Stella is to teaching us how to make dishes from the Georgian kitchen.
It’s certainly true, that the best ingredients of a home cooked meal has less to do with the food, and more to do with the people who make it. The group just seems to gel from the beginning, with the regular attendees helping the new-comers, like us, out. A warm, comfortable feeling that only a family can usually garner fills the room.
The Colombian and a Turkish lady, both in their 50s, are making a Lobio (Georgian green bean stew) helped by a Philippine man in his forties who chops veggies.
Meanwhile, we’re assigned the task of making the Tschekmeruli (chicken thighs in a white, garlicky sauce). We spend a lot of time dodging the spitting hot oil from the pan, and being super attentive as to not burn the chicken legs. Meanwhile, an Austrian girl makes a fluffy honey cake for dessert.
The atmosphere becomes festive when Stella turns on the radio and Enrique Iglesias bursts out of it, which prompts her to do a little dance involving an efficient wiggle of her butt, before she returns to conducting the orchestra of the kitchen.
Angela Huber, the Project manager for Community Cooking, tells us that its symbolic that the Caritas-led project is held in the Anker Brotfabrik. “In the past, the bread factory used to be an integral part of Favoriten’s community. It was where a large number of the inhabitants worked, and their lives revolved around it.”
In a way, the Anker Brotfabrik, even if completely transformed, tries to serve the same purpose today: bring people from the area together where they can coexist and find a common space to socialise.
The smell of the kitchen slowly becomes painfully delicious and our stomachs start protesting with a growl. Our manners stay intact, however we come close to picking bits and pieces of the delicious smelling food straight out of the pots. And just before we want to complain to the Colombian lady in our most childlike, whiny voice, “weeeee’re hungry!” Stella tastes the different dishes, adjusts, throws a pile of garlic in, before approving all them and declaring that dinner is ready to be served.
The night ends with some 12 people eating together, talking about the food, and tapping into personal stories of traveling and arriving. The salt is passed around in about five languages that night, and like the spices of the Georgian dishes blend harmoniously together, so do the conversations of the people who cooked them.