85 Green: Get to know Chef Zerka

Post by Kristin, Information Services Staff.

The 85Green: Cooking Series is a new collaboration with Collective Catering at The Underground Flavour Group. With monthly recipes designed for both individuals and families, we hope to build up food literacy in the community while exploring the intersection of food and culture. 

This month, Chef Zerka is our featured chef. Get to know her before you attend one of her programs! Register for a family-friendly program or a program created with adults in mind.

The part I enjoy most about being a part of UFG [Underground Flavour Group] is definitely the creativity that comes in and out of the company. Witnessing these incredible chefs do their thing, serving my community, endorsing our local economy….like I really hit the jackpot working here. UFG has amplified my voice, furthered my culinary skills, and continuously inspires me to become better..” – Chef Zerka

Portrait of Chef Zerka smiling outside.

How did you get into cooking?  

Growing up, it was part of my homelife. As I grew older, I realized we placed a value on it that wasn’t as typical as the western friends I grew up with. Food was the centerpiece of our upbringing; we were expected to contribute to the household. My mother and father have 7 children, so it was important to keep everyone organized, and fed. On days where Momma didn’t cook one of her incredible meals, we as the kids, would take turns cooking dinner or cleaning up afterwards. I would say by age 10-12, most of us were comfortable in the kitchen. 

What role did cooking/food play in your family or upbringing/childhood?  

In our culture, cooking is a way we show love. The dishes we ate growing up have been passed on from our lineage, who are indigenous to Pakistan. My momma grew up being the main cook for her family, cooking now for over 35 years. She grew up in Northern Pakistan, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, often abbreviated as KPK or KP. Now with 7 kids, over the years we all developed our own cooking skills with our own styles. Some of us adore cooking, and some of us adore making the setting, and we all enjoyed the eating! The dinner table is often where I laughed the most growing up. 

What’s your favourite cuisine or type of food to make?

I’m going to say anything that involves fire-cooking or cooking outdoors. It’s where I feel most connected to my ancestors and culture, understanding the flame and how it works is vital to me. Truly any cuisine where the method or an ingredient is highlighted and explored, that is my style of cuisine. 

Chef Zerka cooking outdoors on a grill.

Why did you select this particular recipe for the cooking demonstration this month?

I spent a lot of summers going to camp, as a camper and then as a staff member. That was where I further learned the value of nature and by default, ingredients. We were taught how to make a fire and bannock always ensued afterwards. We learned the traditional way, over a fire.

Do you have any favourite cookbooks, books, or authors that inspire you or your cooking?

Not necessarily favourite cooks growing up, but more like role models. I grew up idolizing people like Harriet Tubman + Malala Yousafzai, very different women from different timeframes. Both are so incredible. I feel very privileged to have the opportunities I have today, I want to use that privilege for all the other women, who came before me or are still going. 

What were your favorite books growing up?

One of my favourite books still is Matilda by Roald Dahl. Seeing that little girl just rock her strengths and come from a place of pure kindness. It is still something I strive towards, owning my strengths and pouring out generosity.

Please share any of your upcoming pop-up/projects.

Every Wednesday in June, from 11am to 8pm, the Pulao Gals will be at the lounge with a full South-Asian style food menu for dine-in (when allowed), takeout, and delivery. Our iced drinks will also be offered on Wednesdays and every other day the lounge is open.  

Chef Zerka Inspired Reading List

For Adults

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz

The Women’s History of the Modern World by Rosalind Miles

The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont 

For Children and Families

5-Minute Stories for Fearless Girls by Sarah Howden

Malala: My Story of Standing up for Girls’ Rights by Malala Yousafzai

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Rad Girls Can by Kate Schatz

Chef Zerka Inspired Playlist

Cooking and music are a perfect combination! Chef Zerka says she’s always in the kitchen, so the music is always going. Library staff put together this playlist inspired by Chef Zerka’s love of R&B and Soul.

(To listen to the playlist, you will need a library card number. Don’t have one? No problem – get a digital library card today!)

Freegal album cover with portrait of a smiling Chef Zerka.

Stay Tuned

Next month, we’ll be featuring Chef Jaret Flannigan! In the meantime, here are some resources to keep you inspired –


Have questions? Want more recommendations?  

Call: 519-743-0271 | TTY: 1-877-614-4832 | Email: askkpl@kpl.org | Chat: kpl.org  

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