Cooking in Mother's kitchen
Nine o'clock in the morning.
Entering the heart of
the "Cuisine Solaire" or Solar Kitchen, the scene is one of intense
activity. Steam boilers emit gusts of steam, groups of people cut
vegetables at long tables, someone stirs a large drum of milk, another
watches pieces of eggplant being fried, women with small trolleys ferry
food products from place to place, a pasta machine extrudes long strings
day at Solar Kitchen starts early. By 7.15 a.m. the first workers
come to prepare the working space. At 7.30 the preparation of
the lunch meals, which have to be ready by 10.30 a.m. for transport
to the schools, Kindergarten and the Pour Tous outlet, starts.
Then it is time to fill the tiffins (a set of shallow metal food
containers which fit into each other), which will be collected
from 12 o'clock onwards, and to prepare the lunch to be served
in the Solar Kitchen Dining Hall. At 12.15 there is already a
queue of hungry Aurovilians and visitors.
The anchoring rocks in this
pandemonium are Andrea and Angelika. Their heads wrapped in cloth like
the others, they decide on the day's food variety, supervise the
cooking, handle the incoming food products, organize the cleanliness and
strict hygiene inside the kitchen and dining room, and generally deal
with the hundred and one small or major problems of the day. They head
the team of 45 people which prepares the food, providing 900 lunches a
day - 410 for the schools and Pour Tous, 130 in tiffins, the rest to be
served in the Dining Hall. Since December 2000 it also provides a tiffin
service for dinner to 70 people.
Apart from the cooking area,
activities in other work-related spaces like the machinery section, the
dining hall flower arrangement, the caretaker house, the booking and
accounts section are simultaneously going on. Altogether 60 people are
working at the Solar Kitchen of which 31 are Aurovilians from 7
different nationalities and 29 employees from the surrounding villages.
The Solar Kitchen is one of
Auroville's success stories. But there have, of course, been plenty of
teething troubles. For example, only a month ago Gilles heaved a sigh of
relief as the solar bowl finally started to generate steam - until now
diesel had been used. Also in the kitchen itself the work and the
organization had to develop. "In the beginning there were no
guidelines, no cookbooks, just a huge amount of things waiting to get
organized," says Andrea. "So we started to concentrate on the few
indications the Mother had given about the preparation of food, like 'cooking
must be done in silence and harmony' and 'no quarrels'. During the
last two years the team became well structured which is necessary for
good teamwork." "Every new member to the overall team challenges us
to find his/her appropriate place inside the whole picture," adds
The kitchen huge popularity
brings its own problems. "The kitchen was designed to prepare a
maximum of 1000 meals," says Andrea "but I think nobody imagined
that, just two years after its completion, it would be serving 900 meals
per day consisting of 6 to 10 items each! The Mother envisaged several
kitchens in Auroville serving the different needs of the people, but for
the moment we are the only community kitchen open to all Aurovilians,
Newcomers and their guests. We prepare food for children from the age of
3 years onwards and for adults. As they all come from different
cultures, our task is not easy. As a consequence, we serve on most
weekdays two different meals, Indian and Continental, plus two salads
for those relying on raw food. But in spite of the choice we cannot
serve everyone's needs."
"With the 900 meals we are
at the limit of our capacities," says Angelika. "The kitchen area
proper is already crowded, yet we still lack some essential equipment
like an oven and a dish- washer. Also our storage capacity is absolutely
insufficient. Every square meter of our cold storage room is being used
and our dry good storeroom is simply overflowing." The dining hall,
where on average 350 people come to have lunch every day, is also too
small. Some people have stopped eating there because they felt the space
was too crowded and too noisy. As there is only one serving counter,
people sometimes have to wait a long time in the queue, part of it
outside the midday sun.
"The kitchen recently
increased the contribution requested by 20%, or from Rs 500 to Rs 600 a
month. For 26 lunches/month this comes to Rs 23 per meal. The
contribution does not include a reserve for building expansion or major
repairs," says Ilse, who together with Claudine organizes the
financial aspects of the kitchen.. "But not everyone pays the new
rate. The Central Fund, which pays for the nutrition for the Auroville
schools (380 meals in all) contributes only Rs 500 a month for each
child and teacher. And the additional subsidy the Central Fund pays for
those who take part in the 'Nutrition for Auroville' scheme is
equally limited to this Rs 500 a month." explains Ilse. Under this
scheme all the Aurovilians who cannot pay at all or only a part of the
contribution requested, can have subsidized lunches in the Solar
Kitchen, the Central Fund covering the remaining amount,"
"At present our monthly
budget is approximately Rs 400,000. Nearly half of that comes from
school nutrition, about Rs 80,000 from the 'Nutrition for Auroville'
scheme and the rest from individuals and guests. We would really
appreciate it if the Central Fund could pay us the full amount for
school nutrition and the nutrition scheme," says Ilse. "At present
our running expenditure is only just secured. And the kitchen already
has a deficit of Rs 500,000, as a building extension to house the gas
bottles could, for reasons of safety, no longer be postponed. We lack
money for expansion, and expansion will be very necessary in the near
Organic? Oh yes!
One way of providing healthy
meals is to use organic food products coming from the Auroville farms.
"The farms are getting better organized and are more in number. There
is a good cooperation," says Angelika, "and we prefer Auroville
products. First because in Mother's vision, the city of dawn should
ideally provide itself all the basic needs for its citizens, and the
most basic need is food. Another reason is that we try to avoid
artificial chemicals in the food, which is nearly impossible with
conventionally grown products like the vegetables from Pondicherry.
Lastly, we should not forget the subtle 'qualities' inside the
Auroville area because of the Mother's concentrated Presence, which we
can also experience in the plants we eat."
"Whenever Auroville Farms
cannot supply us with needed produce we are open to other organic
sources as well," adds Andrea.. "Here, AuroAnnam is of help for us.
For example, they provide us with rice from the Hare Krishna Farm in
Bangalore and a choice of organic spices. Other high quality goods, like
pulses, are also offered to us but generally they are too expensive for
the Solar Kitchen's budget."
The effort of the kitchen to
use organic food is evident from in the figures. During the last
financial year, an average of 35 % of the food expenditure was used to
purchase organic produce. The non-organic foodstuffs came mainly from
Challenges abound in the
Solar Kitchen. Are Angelika and Andrea personally affected? "Definitely,"
says Angelika, "Now and then we have sleepless nights when we try to
solve certain problems, for example problems of harmony and
communication between team members. Nonetheless I am happy to work here.
For me the Solar Kitchen is Mother's Kitchen." "I love to work
here," corroborates Andrea. "It is a means to grow, a super chance
to progress, to learn to work together in a harmonious atmosphere."