A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Eat around the world: The ISN cooking club. Interview with gourmet chef Mason Carney

One thing that really characterises my student lifestyle here in Leiden is the tradition of meeting up with a bunch of people to make dinner together. At my previous Uni, I would meet friends every so often for dinner as well, but it never really become a thing. In my first semester in Leiden, however, I had dinner with lots of people almost every day. Why is that, I wondered? Obviously, in an international environment cooking is an event which is a lot more exciting. Not only do you get to know people from all over the world, but you also learn about their cooking behaviour, traditions and recipes — seems more appealing than watching my German friends making Bratwurst and Sauerkraut.

The ISN Cooking Club meets up twice a month in the Plexus Kitchen under a specific theme and is the perfect opportunity for all cooking and eating fans to meet new people and to cook, chat and eat together.

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Recently, the cooking club has started to explode: almost 70 people participated in the last few events. To fill all those hungry bellies, a huge amount of food has to be carried to the Plexus Kitchen and a wise selection of recipes has to be chosen. I looked behind the curtains and asked cooking club organizer Mason Carney about his secret strategies.


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– Cooking club chef Mason Carney makes sure everything is all right –

“When and how did the idea of the cooking club start?”
This is actually a bit of a mystery, even to me. I can only imagine that the Cooking Club has been around for a long time, people love food after all. I only know about organizers from the two previous years, so it has existed for at least that long! Organizers and board members change each year so I think that Cooking Club early history shall remain a mystery.

“How do you get your ideas for the themes and recipes? What do you have to consider in your choice? And which were your favourite ones?”
Themes are often suggested by members of the Cooking Club, and many times great ideas for themes come up in casual conversations with friends about food. At the beginning of the academic year, in September, I asked people to write down ideas for themes so I refer to that sheet often for inspiration. We haven’t even used a quarter of the ideas on the sheet and new ideas are coming in all the time! Once the theme is chosen, recipes come from either surfing for delicious ideas on the internet or suggestions from members. Usually most of the recipes are found online, but if people are enthusiastic about the theme then sometimes I receive personal suggestions for dishes or specific recipes. If the theme is ethnic and pertains to one country, I try to find people I know in Leiden from that country or region and ask if they have recommendations. When preparing the recipe list its always necessary to have vegetarian dishes, as quite a few vegetarians attend the Cooking Club. At times there are even trickier dietary requirements, like gluten-free or nut allergies, that must be taken into account when making the menu. Out of the recent Cooking Club events during my time as organizer, I had a lot of fun with the Maki & Sake where everyone made their own sushi rolls. It was certainly the largest Cooking Club event and complete madness, but it was nice to see the event bring so many people together to ponder over the mechanics of rolling nori and have a good time. That night serves as a reminder that I could never be a full time cook, it’s way too busy! But it’s great to have that kind of energy at a Cooking Club event now and then.

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– The sushi event – the biggest event of the cooking club so far –

“What does the organization for such an event include? Who is doing the food shopping?”
From the organizational side, a theme must be chosen, a menu created, there is shopping for the ingredients, and then kitchen preparation on the day of the event. I try to complete the theme and menu part about one week before the event. Shopping usually takes place on a Wednesday because of the street market in Leiden, and events are on Thursday evenings, mainly because that is the most convenient night for me. Occasionally a member of the Cooking Club will join me for shopping, but if not then I do the shopping myself. It’s actually quite relaxing with some music through the headphones and just strolling around the market and supermarkets for a few hours in the afternoon. The first shopping stop is the street market, then supermarkets like Aldi and Hoogvliet for everything else. For some ethnic themes it’s necessary to find specialty food stores, like Slagerij Mabroek for a Lebanese night, for example. One of the main concerns of each Cooking Club is to finish on time and leave the Plexus kitchen at an appropriate hour. Technically 11pm is when they lock the iron gates near the ISN Common Room. Often we are not eating until 9pm at the Cooking Club, so getting everything cleaned and put away before 11pm can be a difficult mission!

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 – cooking –

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– queuing –

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– enjoying –

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– desserting –

Where do you get the cooking equipment from? How does the funding of the cooking club work?
The Cooking Club is a combination of self-funding and ISN funding. It is an official ISN club, after all, so for funding for new equipment comes through ISN. Usually for the events, I will buy ingredients and collect money from everyone at the end. Profits go toward a reduced fee at the next event or toward new equipment. If there is no profit, then any money that I do not make back is reimbursed by ISN.

Could you reveal some ideas for future events?
Future ideas that could happen soon include a meze/tapas & funky fruit evening, a cooking through the ages theme, and I would like to try to coordinate one or two events with other student organizations in Leiden, like the Catena student society.


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Fancy joining the cooking club? Check the facebook group for new events:

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This entry was posted on April 28, 2013 by in Culture, ISN, Katharina, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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