Saturday June 8, 2019 By: Fatma Lotfi
In patriarchal societies, women have been occasionally urged by men to stay in the kitchen, with arguments that they are incapable of competing with them in the labor market, and thus they should focus on what they know best, cooking. Challenging such mentalities, and amid harsh economic conditions, some women chose to transform their cooking talents from daily housewives’ chores to a profession that generates income.
There is a growing demand for readymade food, whether by working women who have no time to stay hours in the kitchen to cook, or even those who lack the talent to create perfect dishes. But with the health effects of fast food and the high prices of trusted restaurants, access to healthy and hygienic homemade meals was not a privilege to many. That was before more women with culinary talents are trying their luck to transform this gift to become their main source of income, or a supplemental income, in addition to their current jobs. Some even chose to leave their main careers to start a new one, Homemade Cooking.
With the high expenses of running a business, not to mention finding an affordable place to rent, many women start their home projects and rely on social media and a large network to spread the word among friends and acquaintances. However, for such businesses to grow, they patience and long working hours, sometimes inside closed kitchens with poor ventilation and amid high temperatures in summers.
The Only Thing I do Right
Three years ago, Suma Hussein, abandoned her career in media and started her own homemade cooking project. “I used to cook for the people I love, but I did not think that cooking will be a profession someday,” said the talented cook to Daily News Egypt.
Hussein, 33, a divorced single mother, graduated from the Faculty of Mass Communication, Cairo University, and worked for a while in the media field as a producer. “It [starting the business] was not even my idea. My friends encouraged me to try my chance as a cook, and the feedback was satisfying,” Hussein recalled.
In addition to her talent, Hussein chose this job because she did not want to leave her home, her safe place. Work and the social life that came with it exhausted her and as she was also going through depression, cooking from home was a satisfactory choice. It also gave her more time to spend with her daughter, Malak.
With the support from her friends, she took the first step and created a Facebook Page with the name “Basta Kitchen.” Hussein’s friends helped her create a logo and started branding her project. “I kept cooking with my friends until we created a menu and then we began,” Hussein stated.
During the first months, orders were confined to friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances. It took three months for Hussein to receive her first order from customers she didn’t know. “With each positive feedback, I become happier and more confident,” Hussein narrated. Hussein excelled in various homemade dishes, particularly pasta with special recipes and sauces and stuffed grape leaves. She also prepares desserts. “When I cook, I feel I am dancing, I forget anything that upsets me, even if food orders are cancelled or I get no money. Cooking really makes me alive,” Hussein declared.
Hussein moved to Aswan more than a year ago, to start a homemade cooking restaurant there. She rented a house and a small shop in a mall to sell homemade food, but she faced some difficulties. “I stayed there for over a year, but my project failed because of the patriarchal environment. People gossiped about women who left Cairo to live alone in Aswan. They said I am Christian because I do not wear a headscarf, and they stopped buying my food. I could not stand this so I went back home,” Hussein recalled.
But even in Cairo, she faces other challenges. “I often receive calls from men I don’t know who invite me to cook for them and their friends. It happens a lot and I always politely decline as I am not sure of their intentions,” Hussein said, adding that she sometimes accepts offers to prepare banquets for special occasions from people she knows and trusts.
After three years in the business, Hussein revealed that on good days she could earn from EGP 8,000 to EGP12,000. But there are many months when work slows down. “My former colleagues were surprised when they knew that I left the media field to cook. They said, ‘beautiful ladies do not stay in the kitchen,’” Hussein noted. “But the reactions from my close friends were different, supportive and considerate. I tried to be a good wife, I am struggling to be a good mother, but I’m very confident when I cook, I never fail or miss something. Cooking is the only thing I do right,” Hussein concluded.
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