Little Bitty Productions

As co-chair of the Beye School PTO fundraising committee, Monica Khetarpal, knows the importance of raising money to support her son’s Oak Park elementary school. Luckily her efforts are well-supported by the school community through unique “Beye-In” parties and events.

“We aim to host two Beye-In events every month;” says Khetarpal, “one event  is typically for children and families, while the other is usually an adults-only party.”

Generous parents and friends of Beye School host and fully fund events designed around their own unique talents. Guests “Beye-In” by giving a donation to the school in exchange for attending the themed events; options range from bowling parties to wine tastings and everything in between.

“Our donation system ensures 100% of the money we raise goes directly to the school for use in acquiring supplies, funding field trips, and purchasing books” says Khetarpal, “but we have a donate-what-you-can approach that keeps our events accessible to all community members.”

And Beye-In events are personal to Khetarpal.

Last week-end, Khetarpal and her husband James Botana hosted their own “Beye-In” party in their comfortable Oak Park Home. Botana served as sommelier for the Indian food cooking class that drew a crowd of more than a dozen folks to their home on last Saturday night. While cooking for a crowd can intimidate the most confident cooks, Khetarpal and Botana had a secret weapon in the kitchen guaranteeing the success of their sold-out house-party.

“My mom is the best cook I know;” says Khetarpal proudly, “Indian people come to learn how to cook from her and she is cooking this meal for us because she is supportive of the school, too.”

Though Khetarpal admits she did not inherit her mother’s cooking ability, Hersh Khetarpal, a self-taught cook, knows her way around a kitchen and volume cooking is her forte. Hersh runs a sacred Hindu temple known as an Ashram in Chicago and has been opening her home for communal Indian meals every Sunday for the past 29 years. More than 40 people come to eat Hersh’s thoughtful northern Indian vegetarian dishes every week. She has a faith-driven, open-door policy when it comes to feeding friends and strangers.

“When we eat together we really get to know each other,” say Hersh, “meals are  a celebration of a common ground we all share.”

Hersh’s interest in cooking came from her own mother and observing her cooking habits while growing up in India. When she arrived in the United States in 1975, however, there was a lack of quality Indian spices available. Early on she would would make trips back to India in order to stock up on spices, but eventually found reliable markets in Chicago’s Indian neighborhoods that delivered the familiar flavors she was looking for. As a result, her dishes remain authentic and flavorful to this day.

This was the second “Beye-In” event Hersh has hosted with her daughter and son-in-law. Her husband, Mohan, serves as “lead taste-tester” and embraces the shared belief supporting Beye School should be a family affair.

Last Saturday, jovial guests dined on Hersh’s vegetarian menu featuring spiced black lentils (dahl), savory pumpkin (sabji), a potato stuffed skillet bread (paratha), yellow rice with spices (pilau), home-made yogurt, lime and garlic pickles, and assorted sweets.

“My mom was looking for pumpkins to use for this dinner and we were having trouble finding them,” laughs Khetarpal, “but after putting out an ask through Facebook to Oak Park Working Moms we had more than enough to use for this party.”

Needless to day, the Botana-Khetarpal residence was alive with laughter, good smells and extraordinary flavor last week-end. Thankfully local photographer, Joey Wood Tesch of Little Bitty Productions was in attendance and captured the spirit of the evening perfectly. 

Enjoy this glimpse into Hersh’s Indian vegetarian feast and check out Beye school’s list of upcoming events on Eventbrite. There is a rumor Hersh will cook again this year and you won’t want to miss your opportunity to “Beye-In” to this memorable meal.

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