My story

My name is Vayu Maini Rekdal. Here is my story.

Stockholm 2000

Remembering my first dish

A late evening I December.

This was the first day I was going to make dinner by myself. I refused to. Why should I cook, I thought. At the time I did not know much about the art of cooking by myself and it was so convenient to have a mom that delivered nice food day after day.

My mom was just so reliable when it came to food. Other than eating her food, I had sometimes been assisting her in the kitchen. Also, from an early age, I had organized dinner parties – inviting guests and making very detailed menus and interesting setups. But today I had reached a completely new level of cooking – cooking all by myself. After some complaining my mom finally agreed to be my assistant and therefore take on the role I had felt so confident in some times before.

I did not really know what to cook that day, but finally I decided to fry some capsicum(yellow, red and green – I loved the colors) and serve it with pasta. First of all, I poured tons of olive oil in the pan. Then I put the pasta in the boiling water and the poorly cut capsicum in the oil-covered pan. When I considered the capsicum done, It was time to add salt – something I knew that you should always have in food, no matter what. The salt poured and poured until I had emptied half or the jar. Now the dinner was ready to serve, I thought.

No.. Of course, oh, the pasta!

I poured the pasta in the colander. Even though it looked more like porridge than pasta I was sure it was done in the right way.

Time to eat!

I can still remember the taste of oily disgusting and insanely salty capsicum served with the overcooked pasta, everything together becoming a mishmash of the colors of yellow, red, green and the taste of salt, porridge and oil. It makes me feel sick when I think of it.

Naturally I was sad after that dinner. I felt I was a worthless chef and embarrassed by offering such a disgusting meal to such a brilliant chef as my mother.

But all she said after that meal was: “Wooooow Vayu, this is soooo lovely.”

Yeah right!

Today that is probably the best thing someone has said to me.

From failure comes success

Despite my failure, I started to cook more often. My mom was never doing the work for me, in stead she was always by my side, assisting, inspiring and encouraging me in the kitchen. I made progress, even though just adding less oil and not overcooking the pasta would be considered progress compared to my first dish.

Growing up with a single mom from when I was seven, really colored me. I admire her for raising me in that particular way. Not only did she teach me about the food itself, a big emphasis was on the table as a social gathering point. The dinner table has always been the place for discussions, debates and love. The best thing someone ever has given me is the knowledge within in food. No doubts about that.

Eventually I became very good for my age and started to join my mom in her hobby cooking. I assisted her during cookery workshops (one of the clients were the modern museum of art in Stockholm) and was in magazines – among others – ELLE ala carte.

My brave mom took me and my sister on trips to different parts of the world. From this, I got inspired and came in touch with different kinds of food (although the food at home was very exotic). These trips all around the world and my Cuban-Kenyan-Norwegian-Indian heritage made me encounter all strange kinds of food: From illegally fished Cuban style fish in La Habana and Malaysian farmers and fishers cooking for their children in the Malaysian countryside, to Swedish surstromming and tasteless Norwegian fish balls.

But the biggest knowledge, I think I maybe have gotten from spending every summer at our organic family farm Hoel in Norway, where I learned a lot about the importance of the close relationship between nature and cooking. When everybody refused to, my uncles and aunts where the ones that always took me on adventures and my curiosity slowly got bigger just as my knowledge. Going into the forest looking for chanterelles, harvesting vegetables and strawberries, fishing and cooking traditional food at the mountain farm Grudalen, gave me immense knowledge of how to cook in line with nature, the passion farmers put into the food and also an excellent eye for distinguishing good ingredients.

Cooking becomes a part of my life

Finally I started to cook several times a week, not allowing mom to cook. I cooked different kinds of food, but specialized in “crossover food”, where the Asian influences are the most obvious ones. My kitchen was the place where I constantly was reinventing and blending flavors and cuisines. For example, adding coconut to the traditional Norwegian pancakes and cilantro, chili and garlic to the usually tasteless Norwegian fish balls. As a kid without a TV, cooking was what I spent time with. When my friends invited me over for video-games and movies, I invited them over for dinner parties and cooking. When other kids wanted to have birthday parties at Mc.Donalds, everything I wanted was Mom’s tasty Indian lentil soup Dahl or her chickpea stew Chole. When my friends played with Barbie, I was reading Marcus Samuelsson’s book “Street food” looking for inspiration.

Time passed so quickly and suddenly cooking was a natural part of my everyday life – A part of my life for which I am very grateful. Today cooking a way for me to relax and get away from whatever kind of stress is bothering me. It is also a way for me to deliver feelings and creativity.

In the spirit of my mother

The idea of holding cookery workshops for young people arose in early August 2009. After I had been holding some workshops for grownups with my mom, I realized I really liked it. At the same time, I was surprised that hardly anyone of my friends and people I knew of, knew how to cook. The biggest lack of knowledge I found among students and children. Naturally, in a society as ours, people do not have time to teach their children how to cook. Since not many parents have the time, I wanted to teach kids how to cook, just in the same way as my mom once taught me. Then, they can pass it on to the next generation and so on. If we start with the younger generation, the next generation will follow and we will change society.

One day in the summer of 2009, I was contacted by a mom who had been looking around for cookery workshops for her 14 year old son and his seven friends. The only thing she found was what they learned in school. I was shocked, but she was right. Her needs and my experience fitted like the duck in the water.

Together with my unbelievably competent classmates Joanna Ederyd, Veronica Fredriksson and Bim Palmquist we held 15 cooking classes. It was a complete success! The parents and the children were so thankful. I got to hear things such as “this is the best thing I have ever let my son do” and “This is the highlight of my week”.

Fresh off the boat from Stockholm…I came to this city and got more inspired then ever. Whether it is the crowded streets and markets of Chinatown, the delicacies of little Italy or the Indian areas in Queens, I realized this city has something to offer for everybody.

What it all comes down to is that I have learned so much just by being curious. When my mom first opened the door to the exciting world of cooking, realizing I made progress at the same time as I kept up my curiosity, did everything for me. All that actually is required is an interest in food and an open attitude towards new tastes. But most of all someone who assists encourages and inspires you. That I know for sure.

That first dish – the disgusting mix – in combination with my passion, took me all the way to New York. It gave me a job as a cook at Marcus Samuelsson’s (my biggest inspiration) new flagship restaurant Red Rooster Harlem. It gave me the job as a cooking tutor for a kid. But most of all it gave me the possibility to pursue my passion and do the thing I like best in life: educating young people in cooking.

Vayu Maini Rekdal


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