“Eat local, but go global.”
It's Vayu Maini Rekdal’s motto, but it could just as easily be his biography.
At 19, the freshman and aspiring chef has traveled the world, started his own small business and worked under renown New York chef and Top Chef Masters winner Marcus Samuelsson.
Now, the Stockholm native is bringing his international take on local cooking to the kitchens of Northfield.
From Norway to Northfield
Rekdal has Norwegian heritage and grew up spending every summer on a family farm in rural Norway, so it’s not surprising that he’s chosen Northfield as his home away from home.
“When I visited, I just fell in love with the place,” said Rekdal.
In his first term at Carleton, Rekdal started “Firebellies,” a cooking club centered on understanding different cultures through the universal language of food. One term into its creation, the club already has 40 members, due in part to Rekdal’s strong leadership.
“He’ll be able to have a directive as to what he wants to cook and then get everyone involved in it,” said Henri Sandifer, a Carleton student who has participated in Firebellies events.
Events include dinner parties and a competition called “Top Chef Dining Hall,” where students attempt to create delectable dishes made from ingredients available in Carleton’s dining halls.
But Rekdal has his sights set higher than cafeteria competitions.
“Essentially, what we have to do if we really want to make a change in society is to educate the next generation in healthy and sustainable cooking and make cooking a part of their lives,” said Rekdal.
Rekdal is already working to educate Northfield’s next generation. He teaches free cooking classes for Growing Up Healthy, a local nonprofit dedicated to increasing community connections for marginalized families with children under 5 years of age.
International food, international chef
Rekdal’s interest in teaching is nothing new.
At age 16, fueled by frustration with what he considered a sub-par high school home economics program, he founded a cooking company called MatRätt with two friends. The trio taught cooking classes to their peers.
“I really, really, really enjoyed teaching people how to cook and sharing my knowledge,” said Rekdal.
Despite his lack of professional training, Rekdal was quite knowledgeable about cooking, having been raised in a family united by food.
“I was always surrounded by cooking,” said Rekdal.
Rekdal has Indian, Kenyan, Cuban and Norwegian heritage. He explained that all of these diverse cultures share a love of food. From an early age, Rekdal's mother encouraged his enthusiasm for cooking.
His passion for local eating also began with his family, on those summers in rural Norway, where he would spend days picking mushrooms and going fishing, literally living off the land.
After high school, Rekdal left his Scandinavian roots behind and spent a gap year working in New York City. During his time in New York, Rekdal started YoungNYChefs. Half blog, half entrepreneurial endeavor, Rekdal curated a website with recipes while holding cooking classes at colleges across the East Coast.
It was during his time in New York that Rekdal got his first taste of the restaurant world. He was hired as a prep cook for Marcus Samuelsson, an acquaintance of his father’s, at Samuelsson’s restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem. Under Samuelsson, Rekdal gained technical expertise.
While working at Red Rooster Harlem, Rekdal made a major discovery about himself as a chef.
“I think the most important insight I got there in that kitchen was that my true passion is not cooking for other people,” said Rekdal. “It’s cooking with other people.”
Cooking with Northfield
Firebellies and the Growing Up Healthy classes are only the beginning of what Rekdal hopes to accomplish in the Northfield community.
He is currently applying for a Northfield Healthy Community Initiative grant to start a cooking project with Northfield youth, which would cultivate empowerment and inspiration through cooking. Rekdal is also in talks with about potentially teaching cooking classes. He is in the process of launching a Northfield branch of YoungNYChefs as well.
In March, Rekdal will speak at where he will discuss sustainable cooking and the importance of intergenerational culinary education.
Rekdal has a full plate, to be sure. But who could complain when everything he’s serving up is locally grown, internationally flavored and, undoubtedly, delicious?