On one of the south walls of Moberly Arts Centre, fittingly only a few feet away from the entrance to the kitchen, hangs a portrait of Mohinder Sidhu. Turned towards the camera, her right arm is cut off by the edges of the frame but it is not hard to imagine the stove, the pot and the mouth-watering food that likely makes up the rest of the scene. In fact, when I ask to take a picture of Mohinder in the kitchen, she poses herself in a way almost identical to the portrait photo: arm outstretched over a pot of palak paneer with the same kind, patient smile.
The text that accompanies Mohinder’s portrait testifies to her dedication to community. Sidhu is the recipient of a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contributions which include a community kitchen program to teach community members to cook intercultural food and delivering sixteen six week cycles of the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Food Skills for Families, a program designed to teach families affected by diabetes how to cook healthy meals. Today Mohinder is cooking as part of Mantı, Börek, Baklava, Vancouver-based artist Derya Akay’s Field House project.
The kitchen is bustling: onions are being chopped, spices ground for chai, pots being tended by one, two or three people at the same time. A seemingly never-ending wave of dishes keeps coming out of the kitchen: palak paneer, butter chicken, dahl, a mixed green salad with fennel, pudding, naan, the list goes on.
As with all of Akay’s events, before we dig in, we acknowledge the work of Mohinder and the many women who have contributed to today’s meal. Indeed, the labour, the time, the energy and the wisdom that goes into this food is the life force of our community.