Last week I went to Ahmedabad to volunteer in Seva Café. I was introduced to Seva Café almost a year ago during a training in my previous organisation. Since then I have wanted to come back here. Even though Ahmedabad is just a couple of hours away, it still took me almost a year to return.
It is difficult to explain Seva Café, one has to experience it – it’s an experiment in ‘Peer to Peer Generosity’ run by volunteers (and a small staff) from diverse backgrounds. At Seva Café, volunteers offer meals to strangers just like they would to guests at home. At the end of your meal there is no bill. The café runs on gift economy.
Even though I love cooking, I have never cooked for more than 15 people at a go. I wanted to see how it is in big kitchen and so I decided to volunteer for both food preparation and later in waiting, serving and cleaning dishes. It was an amazing experience! I realized the cooks in restaurants must have solid arm muscles because even mixing such quantities and holding such big pans (with food) was a task :D!
The day began with me making tea for everybody. Then Raghu bhai and Raju bhai decided on the menu for the day and we all got busy. Since I was a novice I was mainly peeling and chopping and passing things. Then Bhaskar bhai decided to teach me fried rice and red sauce for pasta. I was all excited! Yeah! I get to cook!
What followed is something I will always remember.
As soon as a picked up the pan; Bhaskar bhai asked me to look up and read:
“अतिथि देवो भव” [meaning ‘The Guest is God’].
- I said okay and I said it loud “अतिथि देवो भव”. He then said – don’t just say it; believe it. Believe it from your heart that the stranger you are cooking for today, is your guest; is like God. Cook like you would cook for God. Leave all the negative emotions that you may have aside; if you had a fight with someone earlier in the day and you are angry; throw that anger out. There is no place for it in this kitchen. Cook with a happy heart; cook with love and its only then that your food will be delicious. He said – there is no technique in cooking a great meal; the only essential ingredient is love. If while cooking you are thinking about any fight you had then those negative emotions are bound to travel to your food also.
The thought was so simple, yet so profound. It’s the reason why no restaurant can match mother’s food. Mom’s make food with love which a restaurant chef rarely remembers to add!