What do open source and cooking have in common?

Why free software and the art of cooking have more in common than you may think

What’s probably the most stupid idea to promote the principles of free software without actually coding? Well, I might have a proposal for you: Let’s do some Open Source Cooking! We’ve in fact been doing that in Munich for the past eight years already and the idea behind it is rather trivial: “Why don’t we cook together with many others - like, 30 people?!”

The name Open Source Cooking has been used initially because the idea was grown during our regular Open Source Meetings. However, soon we realized that cooking and free software have actually much more in common than it looks like in first place! So let me make you hungry for more…

Brief history of time: The Munich Open Source Meetings is a series of recurring Friday night events that was born in Café Netzwerk in July 2009. It aims to give a platform to open source projects and enthusiasts for presenting themselves and get to know each other. Our motto is: “Every fourth Friday for free software”.

So far, so good - this still sounds rather sensible, doesn’t it? ;-) Over the course of time, next to some weekend workshops we introduced shortly thereafter, we have created some, let’s call them “side events”, like white sausage breakfast, sauna and cooking.

As much as I’d love to present you a thoughtful story, there simply wasn’t a brilliant idea behind that - just our wish to cook together with many others. We’ve made lots of friends during our Open Source Meetings and if the chess club can go skiing together, why shouldn’t we meet out of lectures and workshops? Said and done, the idea of Open Source Cooking was born!

The first time admittedly has been rather chaotic, but we’ve gained a lot of routine over the course of eight years and fifteen events on how to cook delicious food for 25-30 people. Looking back at all those evenings, it becomes easy to spot similarities with “regular” open source communities, so the name actually was some wishful thinking that came to life. We work as per FLOSS principles, because:

  1. We enjoy working together.
  2. We are a community
  3. We have adventurous interest and excitement and so we learn new aspects about us and about the things we work on.
  4. Shi…, well, mistakes happen! We learn from these and share our knowledge to the mutual benefit, so nobody has to repeat them again.
  5. Everyone contributes what they’re best at, as everyone has something they’re better at than someone else.
  6. We motivate others to contribute and join us.
  7. Coordination is key… but a bit chaotic :-) And it still does work out pretty well!
  8. Everyone benefits from the result – and it’s sooooo tasty!

That’s exactly how (not only) open source projects work best - with fun, community vibes, interest, excitement, positive approach to mistakes, treating each other with love and respect, motiviating others and sharing what you’ve done, with some grain of coordination and a little bit of luck. If you put all that into the pot - be brave, be crazy, be creative and do the unexpected! If it doesn’t work out, you just stand up and learn from your mistakes.

Of course, some coordination and structure is required to a little degree. Ahead of the event, we run a “Call for Recipes” where all participants can vote. The thing is, we don’t just want to put a pizza into the microwave, but create something really delicious and tasty - and so far we had Japanese, Mexican, Hungarian and Indian food, just to name a few.

Like in real life, having respect and mutual understanding for each other is important and so we always try to have dishes for vegans, vegetarians and people who are allergic or simply don’t like certain food. A little beta test at home can be helpful (and fun!) though, to be prepared for the big release.

Scaleability is key, and Open Source Cooking is no different in this regard. Buying our “Build Requirements” in the large shop can easily eat up (hah!) three hours, for doing the math and calculating costs we use a spreadsheet - of course, we use LibreOffice Calc. ;-)

For every course we have a “Package Maintainer” working as disseminator with many volunteers to make the menu in time and find unconventional solutions to all problems that may arise - damn, we really should have bought this candy thermometer!

Not everyone is a cook by profession, but with a little bit of help and a good distribution of tasks and responsibilites it’s rather easy to parallelize things - at some point, 18 kg of tomatoes and 100 eggs really don’t worry you anymore, believe me! The only real scalability limit is the stove with its four hotplates - so maybe it’s time to invest into infrastructure budget… Time-based releasing, on the other hand, isn’t working as reliable as it should, as we usually serve the main dish at a rather “flexible” time between 21:30 und 01:30, but that’s not a release blocker either! And last but not least, like in many projects, documentation definitely has room for improvement and also the cleanup tasks like washing the dishes surely can be optimized further. ;-)

What matters is that we’ve found something that drives and motivates us, we don’t tread water. Some of our (crazy?) future ideas are:

  1. Cooking in a foreign country.
  2. Finally buy that large 700 € pumpkin.
  3. Maybe get back to the request of that TV show…
  4. Find a grocery store that donates a percentage of our buyings for the good cause.

The latter one for me personally is also an important aspect about the free software movement: Always remember there are people on this planet who are not living on the sunny side, who do not have a chance to life their live as they want it to be, who just cannot have a good time right now. There are many others with sorrows so much bigger than finding bugs and fixing code. There are things on this planet that are much more important than any technology could ever be.

With all that in mind, I am so much looking forward to the next Open Source Cooking, having a wonderful dinner with all of you, having a good time - and if someone now got hungry and wants to run their own event, as per the principles of free software we’re more than happy to see people adapting our proposal or even forking it. And we wouldn’t mind visiting you onsite and do some mentoring and QA… ;-)