1. Travel

Nimmy Paul's Cooking School in Kochi, India

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

Nimmy Paul's Cooking School in Kochi, India

Nimmy Paul teaches students how to cook with fresh herbs.

Photo by Alison Stein Wellner
On a leafy street in the city of Kochi in India is the home and personal kitchen of Nimmy Paul. This is also one of the best cooking schools in the world, according to Gourmet magazine.

Chef Nimmy Paul is a member of Kochi’s Syrian-Christian community, and grew up carefully watching her mother and grandmother transform local ingredients into delicious, highly flavored but not-too-fiery delicacies.

Plan Your Trip

Cooking skills required: Beginner to advanced.
Classes available: There’s no formal class schedule; classes are designed to suit students. Some classes are demonstration only, while others are participatory. Request your preference when booking.
Class size: Individuals and groups are accommodated, but smaller groups are recommended, since the small kitchen and single cooking station would make it hard for everyone to participate.
Class length: Classes that are centered around one meal last approximately three hours. Full day programs and longer are also available.
Meals: You’ll eat what you prepare, or observe being prepared, at the Pauls’ dining room table.
Cost: Prices vary. Cooking demonstration plus a meal generally start at $30; a full-day program starts at $100.
Location: Variamparambil, Chakalakal Road. In Kochi, Kerala, India.
Phone: +91 484-2314293
E-mail: pauljune30@yahoo.com or nimmypaul@vsnl.net
Website: www.nimmypaul.com

The Instructor

Nimmy Paul is the only teacher at her school. She started out as a local caterer and cooking teacher. In the late 1990s, when Kochi experienced a foreign tourism boom, she began to offer cooking demonstrations in her home. The late R.W. Apple Jr., a celebrated New York Times food and travel writer, happened on Nimmy Paul’s classes, and was so taken with her that he recommended her for the 2004 Worlds of Flavor, an international conference organized by the Culinary Institute of America. Her home-based cooking school has since garnered international attention, and is now considered a must-stop for foodies passing through Kerala. Nimmy Paul is cordial and welcoming, but takes cooking very seriously, so be prepared for an intense experience. You’ll also meet Nimmy’s husband and business partner, V.J. Paul, who, following the local custom, is known simply as “Paul.” The two have a loving but bickering dynamic, rather like India’s own version of The Honeymooners.

The Town of Kochi

There are certainly lots for a chef to work with here, as Kochi is a coastal town, with a bounty of fresh seafood. It’s also the largest city in the state of Kerala, which is both India’s rice bowl, and its coconut grove. In fact, the very name Kerala means “land of coconuts” in the local language. Coconut fruit, milk and oil feature heavily in the cuisine. There are also many spices harvested nearby, especially black pepper, cloves and coriander, all of which Paul incorporates into her cooking. And while India’s dominant religion and cuisine is Hindu, which means that a great deal of Indian food is vegetarian and beef is strictly off-limits, Syrian-Christians are allowed to eat meat, including beef. So Nimmy Paul’s school gives you a rare opportunity to apply Indian cooking techniques to that ingredient.

The Facilities

Classes are conducted in Nimmy Paul’s home kitchen, which is spotless and cozy, although on the small side. She may take you out to her backyard to show you where she grows some of her own produce, particularly mangoes.

What You’ll Learn

The basics of traditional Syrian-Christian Keralan cuisine, which is not easy to find, much less learn to prepare, outside of India. This will certainly include the preparation of palappam, an impossibly thin and lacy rice pancake, served with meen molee, fish prepared in coconut milk with a masala (or spice mix) made of coriander, black peppercorn, cumin, turmeric and garlic. Another oft-taught dish is a slightly different version of the pancake called kallapam, which is made with grated coconut and served with spicy meats, such as a coriander chicken curry. You’ll learn how to use local traditional cooking equipment, such as the mun chatti, a cooking pot made from clay, as well as the proper way to serve your dishes. For instance, the meen molee is plated on a delicate piece of banana leaf. You can also learn to prepare sadya, an entire meal served on a whole banana leaf, which you are meant to eat with your fingers.

What You’ll Take Home

Students receive a hand-bound book of 22 recipes.

Optional Add-Ons

Upon request, the Pauls occasionally take their guests on a tour of the local vegetable and spice market. They can also create longer program, including a stay in their extra bedroom. The rates for a home stay, including meals and cooking classes, are approximately $130 a night.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.