Chef Kezang’s private kitchen in Lanjuphaka, Thimphu, is busy these days, as a group of 12 students are learning to cook vegetable items.

Wearing black aprons, the students walk into the kitchen like professional chefs. They learn to maintain hygiene in the kitchen besides ways to chop vegetables into various shapes. They also learn to handle knives and ways to steam.

The trainers, chef Kezang and his two helpers, say that using the right sauce is the main ingredient.

By noon, the business is done. Seven to 10 items are displayed on a table in the dining room attached to the kitchen and students and trainers help themselves. The food is also offered to guests to taste and provide feedback.

Meanwhile, the participants are high school students from the capital and few from schools outside Thimphu.

A group called ‘Duedro Rangwang Zhidey Tshogchung (DRZT)’, which has about 3,700 volunteers from across the country since its inception in 2015, is organizing the program.

The training for the second batch started on Monday. The first batch of another 12 students completed their training last week.

The DRTZ members say they intend to train the third and last batch of students next week.

The coordinators and the volunteers of the DRZT involved in the training say that their objective is to keep the students engaged during their winter vacation.

They said that in the Bhutanese context, there are only a few pure vegetarian dishes like emadatsi, while others are prepared to complement with meat or egg. “There is a dearth of ideas to cook vegetable items in varieties and styles in a healthy manner.”

A member of the group, KD Tshering, who is a retired civil servant, said Bhutanese are accustomed to the notion since childhood that consuming meat is healthier over vegetables. “It’s crucial we change our behavioural pattern.”

Volunteers said that though their intention is to encourage people to go vegetarian, it was totally an individual choice. “We’re not compelling anyone to quit meat. What is crucial is conveying the message, which might impact some people positively,” KD Tshering said.

Members of the DRZT also say the advocacy initiative was purely on the religious and moral ground.

DRZT arranges ingredients and chef Kezang contributes as a resource person. All sets of utensils are also used for his kitchen.

Chef Kezang said the students are trained on the basic ethics of cooking.

Meanwhile, participants say that the training helped them to spend their vacation meaningfully and promote vegetarianism to their family members and schoolmates.

A class 12 student of Motithang Higher Secondary School, Deki Dema, 18, said that the training taught them the importance of eating vegetables over meat. “We are going to implement it at home first and then in the school and the communities gradually.”

Tshering Namgyal