Arab Times: Can you tell
us a little about yourself and how TheLongtable began?
Filiz Turec: I am from
Turkey and this is my fourth year in Kuwait. For my first three years here, I
didn't do much, I just enjoyed the country as an expat wife. Then, after
a point, I felt compelled to do something. So I started TheLongtable and this
is its sophomore year.
AT: Where did the idea for
TheLongtable come from?
FT: I used to organize
similar cooking classes back in Turkey but there we didn't have any many nationalities
participating. The cooking classes were either given by me or my partner. I've
introduced the same concept here in Kuwait where we always cook a menu together
like a family, in one pot, and when the meal is prepared, we sit, partake in it
and socialize with each other. It's a great way to enjoy what you just cooked –
share food and make new friends.
In Kuwait, since there are so
many nationalities living and working here, I thought that instead of me
instructing each session, I could include a different chef and menu each time.
This has brought in much more life and energy.
We started holding these classes
in one house, but soon outgrew it. I hadn't expected there to be so much
demand. We had to conduct the classes more frequently so had to find suitable
venues for that. I then started to do it in a cafe. Most venues find
TheLongtable very interesting because I bring with me 20 people with loads of
We have a cooking class platform,
but we change locations, chefs and teachers. We have a theme and menu for each
class, that we not only learn to cook, but also talk about as a subject.
I love inspiring, connecting and sharing. That is the whole idea. I want to
inspire people to be creative and I want to connect people with each other.
This is my job; I love to share and I care about what I share. Food is just the
instrument I use.
AT: How have people
responded to your idea?
FT: Kuwaitis love the
idea. I think TheLongtable offers a refreshing opportunity to be involved in
the production of your food and learn about new cuisines and food cultures.
When you produce and prepare something yourself, it is more special.
AT: How is TheLongtable
different from other cooking classes?
FT: Instead of focusing
solely on the recipes or techniques, we look broadly at the theme to the day.
It is not only what we cook, but the conversations we have about food that is
important. We have a menu that we have to focus and finish preparing in two and
a half hours because all the participants get very hungry by the end of the
Each time I create a new concept.
For example, if I'm hosting a session at the Be Cafe, I cannot do hamburgers,
the focus is healthy eating. So at each new location, I look at what concept
matches it best.
We've conducted Indian cooking
classes at 12 Chutneys, the ambience was great and everything was colorful. We
talked about India, we dressed up and took photos. So it is not just cooking
class and it is not a formal cooking class. We don't have stations. Instead, we
cook like a family in one pot. But of course, when you have separate elements
like chapattis, each one makes their own. But if it is a curry, each one
doesn't make their own, but contributes in the preparation.
As you're cutting vegetables, you
start to become friends with the person next to you. It is very similar to how
children develop friendships through play. When you do something together, it
helps to break the ice and start a conversation. I love that my workshops help
break the ice between people. So after two hours in close quarters, you become
friends, when you sit to eat, you exchange numbers and ideas. So TheLongtable
is not only about cooking, it is a platform to meet new people and start
I also want to mention that at
TheLongtable, we have two categories of classes, one with professional chefs
and another with home cooks. Anyone who dares to cook a whole menu in two and a
half hours is welcome to be a chef at TheLongtable. It is not me who always
chooses the chef, rather plenty of chefs have approached me with their
If you are a home cook, you are
only allowed to do your own country's cuisine or concept. You are not allowed
to do a different cuisine because you do not bring that culinary culture. But
professional chefs have no such limitations and are allowed to teach any
It is very enriching for me to
present and learn about other culinary cultures. This makes organizing the
events worthwhile. Each event is different from the other, it is very
spontaneous. Each chef has their own style of cooking, teaching and handling
things. In each class, we work as a team. So if something burns, it is
because they all didn't watch for it, it's not only the chef who is on the
lookout. Everyone is responsible for what we cook.
AT: Do you remember how
your first ever class in Kuwait went?
FT: I recall that at
first, it was hard to explain to others what I wanted from the platform so I
began myself. I was the chef for the first three cooking classes. The theme was
Aegean food class because I come from Izmir in Turkey which is close to the
AT: How many classes have
you conducted so far?
FT: I think we've done
over 150 so far, with 20 participants per class.
AT: Can you tell us more
about who typically participates in TheLongtable?
FT: About 70-80 percent of
our participants are young Kuwaitis between the ages of 25-35. I was really
surprised by this at first and I just love them. They are so open-minded and
nice. The other 20-30 percent are expats. I love that TheLongtable gives Kuwaitis
and expats a place to mix because they are seldom in the same circle. Here,
they have an opportunity to meet each other and know each culture better. They
ask each other questions. It is like a diwaniya, where we cook and eat.
AT: Do men attend the classes
FT: Yes, we have classes
for women and as well as mixed sessions, and we've had plenty of male
participants there. Interestingly, the vegan cooking class always has a lot of
AT: What happens behind
the scenes and on the day of a cooking class?
FT: I do everything from
organizing the event and publicizing it, to making tickets available on the
website Eventat. First, it is all like a puzzle. When a venue wants to
work with me, they approach me. I check the place to see what possibilities their
facilities afford and to get a better idea of their concept. Then I think about
which chef can best fit into the concept. I then publicize the event, and
collaborate with partners.
Once the tickets are sold and the
day is approaching, we shop for the ingredients and supplies. We organize pots
and pans as required, the different tools a particular dish or menu may need.
On the day of, we go organize all the food on the table and make sure
everything is ready. It needs a lot of organization.
The classes typically start at 2
pm. I usually head to the venue 2-3 hours earlier, to set up the table and
everything else. The chef also comes two hours before the start of the class,
we set up and we wait. After two and a half hours of cooking and one hour of eating,
we clean up!
AT: What support team do
you work with?
FT: There is a lot of work
to do but I don't have a big team. I don't have any staff, any help I get is
event based. I collaborate with my friends and chefs, to see if anyone is
interested in helping me out.
AT: In what ways has
TheLongtable grown and evolved since it first started?
FT: We are now supported
by and collaborate with different organizations. Boubyan Bank sponsored classes
for its customers. We've collaborated with travel companies and cooked
overseas. With Oxadventure, we traveled to Morocco to cook and distribute one
thousand meals as a charitable endeavor. I will also be organizing overseas
cooking classes and culinary tours in collaboration with other companies.
AT: Is there a basic skill
level requirement to participate in the class?
FT: We have had
participants from all skill levels. We've also had chefs attend as well as
young girls who can't hold a knife. Since TheLongtable isn't like a kitchen
academy, there is no skill requirement. There are however, plenty who come in
and expect a more formal class but at the end tell the experience was better
that they had expected. TheLongtable is not a classroom, there is no pressure.
If you don't want to cut onions, you can find something else to do. If you
don't want to do anything at all, you can just watch. So there are no rules or
compulsions. If you just want to stir, that's fine. If you want to do
everything alone, you can do that more. If they want to learn something, I can
teach. If not, they can just observe. Participants leave more light after the
class because of this.
AT: What have you observed
to be the big trends in food in Kuwait?
FT: Nowadays, I feel that
there is a preference for healthier fare. This is my style also. I myself eat
healthy and more vegetarian food. I would call myself a flexitarian. So,
healthy eating is prevalent.
I think health eating isn't only
about choosing the better ingredients but also putting your energy into the
food. I had one teacher who used to always tell me that if you don't put your
energy in the food, you shouldn't eat it. Only if you help in the cooking,
should you partake in it.
Here in Kuwait you can find a
number of beautiful restaurants. I don't want to be rude, but for me, each plate
looks more or less the same because there is no soul in it. When I cook for
myself, I feel more healthy because a part of you has gone into making it. When
you cook, you know exactly what is inside. Maybe that is why TheLongtable is
I am very happy that healthy food
is gaining popularity here and I would love to collaborate with health
institutes to conduct cooking classes with them.
AT: How has social media
impacted what you do?
FT: The impact of social
media has been crucial to the success of TheLongtable. I don't think I could've
done this otherwise. I'm very lucky because the first cooking class I held, I
had a Facebook Event posting which got picked up by another active social media
page that informs people about ongoing events. If not for that initial feature
and exposure, I would not have been successful.
Today, it is all about social
media in Kuwait and in the world. Everybody is now on Instagram and stays
updated with our events there. Without social media, it would've been very difficult
to promote and publicize our events.
AT: What is your personal
philosophy about food?
FT: I believe this –
whatever you eat, you become. If you eat healthy and take good care of your
body, you will thrive and have good energy. As a result, I don't eat
fried foods but I am not fully against it. I do hold Mexican cooking classes
that have a lot of deep fried dishes. But I don't prefer heavy food, I believe
in keeping a balance.
AT: Is veganism on the
rise in Kuwait?
FT: Veganism is growing in
Kuwait and I think it will find a balance in time. The main issue with veganism
is that it takes a lot of preparation. That is the main difficulty. You can eat
a lot of food and have all the nutrients you need but it requires prior
preparation and determination. I have a lot of respect for those who choose to
be vegan. Unfortunately, my lifestyle doesn't fit with the vegan lifestyle in
terms of the work required to sustain it. But if I had someone prepare my
meals for me and feed me vegan food every day, I can be vegan. But to cook it,
it is a lot more effort. Many of us don't have that much time left over after
work and family commitments to invest in this.
AT: What is your hope for
FT: I am confident that
TheLongtable will continue to grow. I am sure of it. I would like to take it to
other countries in the region – Bahrain, UAE, Oman. I would love for the idea
to spread in other places.
I am keen to develop another
platform – TheLongtalk which features online live conversations which are
knowledge sharing sessions in subjects different from food and cooking.
There are plenty of very educated and knowledgeable women who move to Kuwait
with their husbands and families. I would love to give them a platform to share
their area of expertise. But it would be open to all people who have knowledge
For more information on
TheLongtable, visit @thelongtablekw on Instagram or contact 95566496.
By Cinatra Alvares
Photos courtesy of TheLongtable