XMas Cake Mixing At Plaza Premium Lounge, Bengaluru International Airport

Did you know that cake mixing ceremonies began in Europe in the 17th century? Extended families would get together, a couple of months before Christmas, to add rum and spices to fruits and nuts. The ceremony would signify the beginning of the harvest season, be considered a harbinger of good times, a symbol of the beginning of the joyous Christmas season and hope for an abundant harvest the next year. The mixed dried fruits and nuts would then be allowed to soak till the day before Christmas, when they would be baked into a fruit cake (commonly called ‘plum cake’ across India). 

Today, cake mixing ceremonies are held all over India, too, and have become times for people to get together and have some fun. At this time of the year, when there is barely a month to go for Christmas 2017, cake mixing ceremonies are underway at most high-end restaurants. Fruits and nuts are getting prepped to go into the XMas fruit cake. I was thrilled to be invited to the auspicious cake mixing ceremony this year at the Plaza Premium Lounge India, Bengaluru International Airport, recently, along with a bunch of other food and travel bloggers.

 

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Dried fruit and nuts, ready to be mixed and soaked!

It turned out to be such a fun event, co-ordinated by Ankit Mangla, Executive Chef, Plaza Premium Group. All of us – including dignitaries from the Plaza Premium Group and the Bengaluru Airport – got our hands (errr… gloves) dirty and got busy mixing away. Uncountable bottles of alcohol and loads of fragrant spices went into the huge trays bearing dried fruits and nuts, and we mixed away to glory. Therapeutic it was, I tell you! It was a beautiful sight to behold as well.

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The cake mixing ceremony is in progress! Loads of alcohol and gorgeous-smelling spices are being poured into the fruits and nuts! Image Courtesy: Plaza Premium Group

I hear the mixed fruits and nuts have been safely packed away in containers, where they will be allowed to soak until Christmas time. They will then be used to make plum cakes and other goodies for the Plaza Premium Lounge’s Christmas menu!

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The mixed fruits and nuts, all ready to soak away till Christmas!

Post the event, we were treated to a lovely, lovely light lunch, courtesy of Chef Ankit Mangla. We were also offered a sneak preview of Plaza Premium Lounge’s Christmas-special! Let me tell you the pumpkin pie we were served was simply gorgeous, and the paan rasmalai was out of the world! (Psst: We had a look around the lounge as well, and it is simply brilliant – the lap of luxury!).

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A glimpse of the light lunch we were served at Plaza Premium Lounge. Top left: Assorted crackers and nachos with dips; Top right: The bread crocodile – isn’t he cute?!; Bottom right: The fantastic paan rasmalai we were served; Bottom left: Pumpkin pies!

This bright, shiny, colourful and happy ceremony has served to whet my appetite for all things Christmas. I can’t wait for XMas 2017 to arrive now! 🙂

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Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us Comes To Bangalore!

Renowned international toy brand Toys’R’Us made an entry into India last Saturday. The brand launched its very first outlet in India in Bangalore, at the Phoenix Marketcity mall in Whitefield. I was thrilled to be invited to the launch with the husband and the bub – a grand affair, with a number of fun activities for kids and adults alike arranged all day long.

The Bangalore outlet has two sections – Toys’R’Us, which stocks an unimaginable array of toys meant for children up to 11 years of age, and Babies’R’Us, which offers everything related to infants, from clothes and diapers and formula to breast pumps, potty seats, high chairs and princess beds.

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The entrance to Toys’R’Us and Babies’R’Us at VR Bengaluru, beautifully decked up for the launch

The store is huge, huge, huge and the three of us had a gala time walking through the aisles. We admired this and that, reminisced over the times when the bub was a little babe we could carry in the palms of our hands, had a fun time watching the magician’s performance, wishlisted a number of toys for the bub (and me, of course!), and even bought an early birthday present for the kiddo.

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Some of the stuff I loved at the store – a doll with a darkish skin tone; a doll that eats, drinks, poops and pees (yes!); the huge range of moisturisers for babies and moms alike; cutesy bows and hairbands on sale; a mermaid doll; and a pink princess bed that was straight out of a fairytale

There are a whole lot of toys available to the kids of today, I realise, a lot more opportunities to create memories and happy moments, for better or worse. Yes, there are a lot of toys and appliances that aren’t really necessary for the healthy upbringing of a child, and neither do they really help the child in any way. That said, there are a whole lot of toys out there that not only help keep a child engaged, but also help in developing creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and decision making, aid eye-hand co-ordination, and help in the development of motor skills. As a parent or a loved one, I think it is you who need to choose wisely, select the right kind of toys for a child. A walk through stores like Toys’R’Us act as an eye-opener to all that is available to a child today, allowing you to make an informed decision.

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More stuff off the shelves of the store – baby hand-print kits; travel pillows; feeding bottles by Dr, Brown’s (a brand that isn’t easy to come across in India); and cute, cute, cute clothes

I love how the store has a huge array of products for infants, toddlers and children, at different price points, from both Indian and international vendors. There’s something here for everyone, I am sure. You just need to take your time checking out different things and choosing what works for you.

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Some more stuff that caught my eye at the store – a Freddie the Firefly high chair toy; Superbottoms cloth diapers; a little piano; and a baby-proofing kit

Toys’R’Us and Babies’R’Us plans to open more stores in India in the near future, at Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai.

If you are in Bangalore, you must surely visit this pretty store!

This post is in collaboration with Toys’R’Us and Babies’R’Us. The views expressed herein are entirely mine, not influenced by anything or anyone, and completely honest.

 

Kapoor & Daughters, Now At HSR Layout

The HSR Layout outlet of Kapoor’s Cafe  now has a beautiful new addition – a one-stop bridal shop! Here’s introducing Kapoor & Daughters!

This new store will stock dresses for to-be brides and their near and dear ones, all designed by Mukulika Kapoor, wife of Kapoor’s Cafe owner Arpit Kapoor. The garments are stitched in-house, some lovely statement pieces included.

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Left: Mukulika Kapoor, showcasing an embroidered saree from her collection; Centre: Some of the pieces on sale at Kapoor & Daughters; Right: A gorgeous red bridal lehenga at Kapoor & Daughters

In time, there’ll be jewellery and footwear on sale too. Customisation facilities are available as well.

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Left, Centre, Right: Some of the statement pieces on sale at Kapoor & Daughters

Kapoor & Daughters officially launched recently, to drumrolls and much fanfare, and I was thrilled to be a part of the grand opening.

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The dhol wallahs at the grand opening of Kapoor & Daughters, HSR Layout

All ye brides to be, take note! Now, you can shop till you drop here, and then eat your heart out at the upstairs all-vegetarian Punjabi eatery!

Making Modaks With Chef Kunal Kapur, At The Masterclass By Whirlpool Built-In Appliances

Last weekend, a day after Ganesh Chaturthi, I was at the Something’s Cooking Culinary Studio, making modaks. These were no ordinary modaks, let me tell you, but very unique savoury ones, stuffed with a salty onion-garlic-green chilly-coconut filling. These modaks were later plated in a sea of coconut milk moilee sauce, and served with a dab of kokum foam on top. I, along with a bunch of other food bloggers, was attending a Masterclass with celebrated Chef Kunal Kapur, organised by Whirlpool Built-In Appliances. These modaks were specially innovated by him, for the class.

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Food bloggers and foodies discussing the menu, with Chef Kunal Kapur

Food bloggers as well as foodies from different walks of life were present at the Masterclass, and were divided into teams on the basis of their dietary preferences. All of us, together, cooked. The aim was for us to experience Whirlpool’s built-in kitchen systems and a whole host of kitchen appliances, using them to cook a special menu designed by Chef Kapur for the occasion.

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Some scenes from the culinary Masterclass by Chef Kunal Kapur

The event was also a means to commemorate the second anniversary of Haute Kitchen, am experiential centre for Whirlpool’s built-in appliances in Koramangala, Bangalore.

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Left and Centre: Two different teams, busily and happily cooking; Top right: The fancy-schmancy modaks that our team prepared; Bottom right: The ande ka halwa that our team prepared

I was in the ‘eggs only in desserts’ team and, together, we followed the instructions on the menu to cook up these unique savoury modaks. We were taught how to make foam that would stick to a spoon when inverted, instead of falling off, using kokum – a basic molecular gastronomy trick using soy lecithin. This foam, we used to deck up our savoury modaks with. We also made ande ka halwa, an egg-based sweet dish, which is, apparently an old Hyderabadi recipe. The other teams made a non-vegetarian version of the modaks, using prawns and fish. As we cooked, Chef Kapur demonstrated the making of the prawn-and-fish modaks.

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Left and centre: Chef Kunal Kapur demonstrating the preparation of the prawns-and-fish modak at the Masterclass; Right: The beautifully presented non-vegetarian modak prepared by Chef Kunal Kapur

All in all, a fun time was had by everyone, and much learning happened. I know for sure that I am surely going to prepare these modaks again, at home.

Thank you, Team Whirlpool India and Something’s Cooking Culinary Studio, for making this possible!

About Whirlpool’s Built-In Kitchen Appliances

Whirlpool has introduced a host of smart built-in products with European design and functionality. These products – from coffee machines and hoods to built-in dishwashers and refrigerators to stackable washers and dryers – are highly versatile and technologically advanced, at the same time being very innovative and stylish. Whirlpool built-in appliances feature the advanced 6TH SENSE Technology, which intuitively senses all your needs and adapts to your culinary techniques. In other words, the appliances contain intelligent sensors and features that orchestrates the entire cooking process, observes the energy output, adjusts the cooking time, and keeps everything in your control.

At the Whirlpool Haute Kitchen (No. 11, 3rd Main, 80-feet road, K.R Garden, 8th Block, Koramangala, Bangalore – 560095), you can ask for a demonstration of various built-in kitchen appliances.

About Something’s Cooking Culinary Studio

Something’s Cooking Culinary Studio is a place that believes in bringing people together through the power of cooking. Cooking classes, workshops, corporate team events and blogger events are just some examples of all the fun stuff that happens here. The studio is located at 580, Aswan Plaza, 20th Main, 8th Block , Koramangala Ganapathi Temple Road, Bangalore – 560095.

It’s Falooda Time At #SwensensIndia!

#swensensindia #faloodaevent

What do you think of when you think of falooda?

I think of glasses filled with pink, pink, pink milk lined up on a street-side cart, vermicelli and chia seeds swirling around in it. I think of people grabbing these glasses with sweaty hands. I think of them gulping all of it down in one go, an attempt to sate their parched throats on a hot summer’s day as well as to placate rumbling tummies with the cool, sweet, rose-laden drink.

When I encountered the falooda at Swensens, at a recent event for food bloggers, it both matched and did not match the picture in my head. The event aimed to familiarise us with the latest introduction on the Swensens (India) menu – the falooda – or, rather, the chain’s version of it. We also met Director – Swensens (India), Mr. Pinaki Mukherjee, who talked to us about the salient features of this  falooda.

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Left: Mr. Mukherjee talking to the food bloggers about the Swensens falooda; Right: The three versions of the Swensens falooda (small, medium and large) that are currently available

The Swensens version of this dessert is classy and beautiful, all jazzed up, as against the street-side version. It is made with quality ingredients, all the little things that have always comprised the falooda. It is just as cool and refreshing, too. The rose and the vermicelli are there, but no chia seeds or milk. I would say it is Swensens’ attempt to recreate the falooda, without deviating entirely from the way the drink originally tastes.

At the event, we were shown how the Swensens falooda is made – layer by layer by layer. Each layer is built to give a different taste, a different feeling, to the eater. We watched in wonder as waffles (crushed and whole), rose syrup, saffron syrup, saffron-flavoured ice cream, broken cashewnuts, saffron-flavoured vermicelli, rose petals and the signature Swensens cherry all went into the making of the falooda.

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Left: The Swensens falooda, standing tall and pretty; Centre and Right: The team demonstrating the various steps in the making of the Swensens falooda

Mr. Mukherjee told us of how each ingredient used in the falooda is sourced with great care and caution, to ensure good quality and consistent taste. The Maraschino cherries that are a part of all Swensens ice creams come from a farm in the US of A – apparently, the entire crop of the farm is booked by Swensens in advance, every year. Similarly, the roses and saffron (for the rose and saffron syrups used in the falooda) comes from select fields in India. Also, the vermicelli used herein is cooked fresh every morning, infused with saffron, unlike the plain vermicelli commonly found in falooda elsewhere.

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Isn’t she pretty?!

I’m not a big fan of falooda, I admit. I never have been. This version of the falooda did win me over, though. I liked the way it tasted, each layer contributing towards the delectable taste of the whole. I love the fact that Swensens offers the falooda in small, medium and large sizes, so patrons can choose the exact quantity they would like to have. The large size is like a complete meal in itself!

This is definitely one dessert that I would love to have again, if I can look past the Sticky Chewy Chocolate Fantasy that grabs my fancy every single time I enter Swensens!

Why don’t you go ahead and try out this pretty and delicious dessert, too?

  • Where?: At all Swensens outlets
  • When?: Limited edition for about 3 months, ongoing now
  • Price?: INR 99 for the small (Happy Falooda), INR 149 for the medium (Carnival Falooda), and INR 229 for the large (Crispy Crunchy Falooda)

I was invited to sample the product, and to share my feedback about the same. The views expressed herein are entirely honest and my own, not influenced by anything or anyone.

Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs, Day 2: How To Cook With Millets

If Day 1 of the Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs was enlightening, Day 2 was even more so. Day 2 was when all participants couldn’t take their eyes off stage, when they watched goggle-eyed the magic being spun before them, riveted to their seats. Day 2 was as full of practical sessions as Day 1 was of technical ones, with a number of chefs coming up on stage to demonstrate all the delicacies that can be cooked using millets.

The point was to prove just how versatile millets are, how they can lend themselves to a variety of dishes, Indian and international, healthy and not-so-healthy, simple and five-star-menu worthy, sweet and savoury, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Together, I think, the chefs more than proved this!

Here is an overview of Day 2 of the workshop, for your viewing and reading pleasure. I think I’ll mostly let the pictures of the food do the talking – that left all of us speechless, for sure!

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Day 2 began with Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, Honourable Minister of Agriculture for the state of Karnataka, addressing those present. In his speech, he recapped most of what was discussed on the first day – enunciating how exactly millets are good for you, for the farmers, and for the environment as well.

(Check out my detailed post about the key take-aways on Day 1!)

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Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, in his inaugural address on Day 2

Then, Dr. Bhaskarachary of the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), Hyderabad, came up on stage to talk about the role of millets in today’s society. He talked at length about how the inclusion of millets would go a long way towards creating a balanced diet, as opposed to the wheat- or rice-heavy diets that most people these days seem to use. He spoke of how the high nutritional value of millets is not something that we should miss out on, especially now, when lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are on the rise. Dr. Bhaskarachary also stressed on the role of chefs, dieticians, home cooks and food bloggers to spread the right information about millets, and to encourage more people to include them in their diets.

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Dr. Bhaskarachary addressing the participants of the workshop

After this, some heavy-duty action began on stage! It was the turn of chefs from all over Bangalore to showcase their delectable millet confections!

Chef Ramaswamy Selvaraju, Executive Chef of Vivanta By Taj, Bangalore, went first. He demonstrated how to make a beautiful Spinach-Stuffed Millet Ravioli With Primavera Sauce, as well as some Pan-Seared Chicken With Millet Stew And Sauternes Sauce and Smoked Chicken And Baby Pineapple Salad With Crispy Foxtail Millet.

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Left: Chef Selvaraju demonstrating his recipes; Right: Top – Spinach-Stuffed Millet Ravioli With Primavera Sauce, Centre – Pan-Seared Chicken With Millet Stew And Sauternes Sauce

Next, Ms. Vani Anamdas, Manager – Housing & Food Services, International Crops Research Institute For The Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, came up on stage. Her team demonstrated the making of Finger Millet Cake With Hot Garlic Sauce, Millet Manchurian, and Millet Kashmiri Kofta In Palak Gravy.

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Left: Ms. Vani Anamdas addressing the participants; Centre: Top – Finger Millet Cake With Hot Garlic Sauce, Bottom: Millet Manchurian With Gravy; Right: Top – Millet Kashmiri Kofta In Palak Gravy, Bottom – Dry Millet Manchurian

Ms. Anamdas’s team from ICRISAT also went on to demonstrate how to make Ragi Shots, Sorghum Stuffed Kulcha, Millet Waffles, Ragi Banana Bread, and Sorghum Flakes-Fried Chicken.

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Top left: Ms. Vani Anamdas’s team demonstrating millet-based recipes; Bottom left: Sorghum Flakes-Fried Chicken; Adjacent to bottom left: Ragi Banana Bread; Bottom right: Millet Waffle; Top of bottom right: Sorghum Stuffed Kulcha; Top right: Ragi Shots

Post this, Chef Nagarekha Palli of Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences (RUAS) came up on stage to demonstrate two more millet-based recipes – Foxtail Millet Crisps With Millet Sprouts and Smoked Kodo Millet Kabab With Yogurt Dip. She also demonstrated how to get millets to sprout beautifully into long, delicate, green shoots, over a period of four or five days.

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Left: Chef Nagarekha Palli demonstrating on stage; Centre: Foxtail Millet Crisps With Millet Sprouts; Right: Smoked Kodo Millet Kabab With Yogurt Dip

Chef Shyam Prasad of RUAS then came up on stage to show the audience how to make Millet Paella (yes, you read that right!) and Finger Millet Tacos.

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Left: Chef Shyam Prasad demonstrating his dishes; Centre: Millet Paella; Right: Finger Millet Tacos

Chef Shashi Sharma of RUAS then showed everyone the method of preparation of his Millet Paneer And Spinach Tikki and Millet Chicken Risotto.

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Left: Chef Shashi Sharma on stage; Centre: Millet Paneer And Spinach Tikki; Right: Millet Chicken Risotto

After this, Chef Sridhar Krishnan of RUAS demonstrated how to make two beautiful, beautiful, beautiful millet-based desserts – Greek Yogurt Cake With Citrus Glaze and Toffee Chocolate Tart.

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Left: Chef Sridhar Krishnan on stage; Centre: Greek Yogurt Cake With Citrus Glaze; Right: Toffee Chocolate Tart

Day 2 of the workshop concluded with a panel discussion, where participants could ask relevant questions to the experts on stage. The experts included Chef Shashi Sharma, Chef Shyam Kumar, Chef Sridhar Krishnan, food blogger Ruth D’Souza Prabhu of the Bangalore’s Restaurants fame,  Chef Nagarekha Palli, Chef Vani Anamdas, and the Joint Director of Agriculture, Mr. Jayaswamy.

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The experts on stage, for the panel discussion

Key take-aways from Day 2 of the workshop

~ Millets can be used to cook a huge variety of dishes, ranging from traditional Indian fare to the highly exotic. And millet-based food can look great, too!

~ Millets can be used to create healthy dishes as well as junk food like manchurian and calorie-heavy dishes like cakes and other desserts. The dishes demonstrated at the workshop were a mix of both these types. I admit some the dishes shown to us weren’t very healthy, but I guess the aim of the workshop was to demonstrate the vast range of possibilities. Also, as the experts stated, people would be more amenable to using millets if they saw them being used to make contemporary food that is tasty as well.

~ While cooking with millets, one needs to be aware of the inherent properties that each type possesses. Some types of millets, for instance, needs to be soaked for a while before cooking, to ensure that they are cooked well and not very chewy. This understanding comes with trial and error, experimenting with millets in your kitchen on a regular basis.

~ Baking with millets can be a tad tough, since they do not possess any gluten. Hence, it becomes essential to mix maida or whole wheat flour with them, to get a good-quality finished product.

~ When you substitute millets for rice in a dish well-known to you, there might be a change in the texture of the dish as it is known to you. This is something you must be ready for, when beginning to cook with millets.

Well, that was all about the beautiful millet workshop I attended. I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it will be of help to you.

Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs, Day 1: An Overview

The 25th and 26th of July, 2017, saw a beautiful workshop on millet foods being conducted at the MS Ramaiah campus in Matthikere. This workshop – Workshop On Millet Foods For Dieticians And Chefs – was organised by the Government of Karnataka, in association with MS Ramaiah Institute, with the intention of spreading more awareness about millets and millet-based foods. This is an extension to the #LetsMillet campaign being vigorously undertaken by the Government of Karnataka, an attempt to reach out to the masses after the hugely successful Organics And Millets Mela held in April 2017.

I am thankful to have been offered an invite to attend and cover the workshop which, I think, was just as successful as the Organics And Millets Mela. It was met with a wonderful, enthusiastic response from chefs, dieticians, students, home cooks and various dignitaries from the worlds of food, nutrition and politics.

To say I am overwhelmed and enlightened by the experience of attending the workshop would be an understatement. I’ve learnt so much in these two days; watched so much of magic being unravelled; life in my kitchen is never going to be the same again, I’m sure.

Some of the most commonly asked questions about millets were answered, this first day of the workshop. Here’s a glimpse of all that happened on Day 1 of the workshop, and the key take-aways, for your viewing and reading pleasure.

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The workshop began with an address by Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, Honourable Minister of Agriculture for Karnataka. He spoke about how millets are the need of the hour, speaking about what exactly millets are and the need to inculcate them in our daily diets

We’ve been hearing about this ‘millets’ thing day in and day out. But what are they, really?

Millets are actually grasses with tiny seeds, something that has been cultivated in India since ages. They are hardy crops that can be grown with little investment and little usage of water, and hold immense nutrition within their tiny selves.

If they are so good for us, why aren’t we using more of millets?

Once upon a time, millets were consumed in generous quantities by Indians, and were extensively used to feed cattle as well. However, with advancing times and the increasing influence of Western culture, millets began to be looked down upon. They began to be called ‘poor man’s food’ or ‘cattle feed’, and our diets changed to include primarily wheat-  or rice-based products. Our consumption of millets has gone down drastically, both in urban and rural areas, so much so that it is negligible. People have forgotten how to use these ancient powerhouses of nutrition aka millets.

Why millets?

Today, when global warming is a scary reality that we are slowly waking up to and water conservation is the need of the hour, millets can be of great help. Growing 1 kg. of rice consumes about 4,000-5,500 thousand litres of water, while growing a kg. of millets needs just about 20% of that. Moreover, millets can be grown even in bad weather conditions, in poor soil conditions. They are sturdy crops that aren’t usually infested by insects or diseases and, hence, require little or no pesticides and fertilisers. Therefore, the cost of growing millets is much, much lower than that of cultivating wheat or rice.

Sadly, though, there is little demand for millets today. Today, millets are grown only by those farmers who are unable to grow anything else, because they are extremely pressed for money or have land that has extremely poor conditions. Millets are good for the farmer in a lot of ways. So, if you begin to include more millets in your daily diets, you are actually helping the poorest of farmers, saving them from a life of misery.

By buying millets, you also contribute to environmental good health, by reducing the stress on already stressed-out water resources. You also help in cutting down the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Millets are, therefore, good for the environment, too. 

This is not all. Millets are good for our health, too. Today, non-communicable or lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol are rampant in rural and urban India. Many of these diseases occur because of our sedentary lifestyles, increasing stress levels, and an unbalanced diet (read: increasing use of junk food and drinks, a high level of wheat- or rice-based foods, and a lack of inclusion of different types of fruits, grains, vegetables and other ingredients). Thanks to their high nutritional content, the inclusion of millets in our daily diets can be one of the ways out of this situation. It is rather sad that people today are turning to foreign grains like quinoa and oats for their nutritional values, but ignoring our very own millets, which are far superior to these foods (even to rice and wheat, in case of most nutrients).

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Shri Krishna Byre Gowda releasing a special cookbook containing millet-based dishes, at the workshop, along with other dignitaries

What’s this #LetsMillet thing? Who are the various stakeholders?

The Government of Karnataka is presently on a mission to propagate awareness about millets through workshops like this one, to encourage people to use more of them, and to teach them different ways in which they can do so. Check out the #LetsMillet hashtag on Facebook and Instagram to take a look at the considerable work that has been done in this regard.

Chefs, dieticians, food bloggers and other social media influencers have an important role to play in contributing towards this end.

So, millets can be used just to make stuff like ragi mudde, right?

Millets can be used in a variety of dishes, traditional and contemporary, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Also, people take millets to mean just ragi (finger millet) or bajri (pearl millet), while that is so not the case. These are just two types of millet – there’s a whole millet family out there, for you to explore and get the benefit of. Pearl millet, kodo millet, little millet, proso millet, finger millet, barnyard millet.. there are so many varieties of millets! Most people today don’t even know what these grains look like! 

Further, these grains can be used to make anything from gobi manchurian, dosa, idli, curd rice and bisi bele bath to risotto, ravioli, cakes and breads. For the last two years or so, chefs, home cooks and food bloggers have been experimenting with different types of millets, and there is now a wealth of recipes to be explored. So, millets does not translate into just stuff like ragi mudde.. almost anything can be made from them! They can be used in place of wheat and rice in all the dishes you commonly consume today, like curd rice or sambar rice, and they can be made into delicacies like payasam and kesari bath, too. That said, millets possess certain qualities that are inherent to them, and a chef should work around them while trying to develop dishes with them. 

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Some of the exhibits at the workshop. Left: The various kinds of millets, and some other grains that we should be consuming; Centre (top): Palak dosa made with navane (foxtail millet); Centre (bottom): Different types of breads and cakes prepared using millets; Right (top): Various snacks prepared using millets; Right (bottom): Thalipeeth prepared using bhajni (a flour made with mixed millets and grains)

Should I use millets just because my ancestors used them?

The Honourable Minister of Agriculture ended his speech with a request to everyone to consider increasing the use of millets in their daily diets. He stated that he does not solicit people’s co-operation because increasing consumption of millets is a political agenda, or because our ancestors used these grains, but because they are good for us in so many different ways, a fact that has been backed up by a whole lot of systematic scientific research.

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Dignitaries speaking about various aspects of millets, including their nutritional values and the way in which they should be introduced into one’s diet. Among the dignitaries who graced the occasion were Dr. Vilas Tonapi, Director – Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), Hyderabad; Dr. Bhaskarachary of IIMR, Hyderabad; Dr. Vibha Shetty, Professor of Prosthodontics, Faculty of Dental Sciences, MS Ramaiah Dental College and Hospital; Ms. Hema Arvind, Chief Dietician, MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital; and Dr. Govind R Kadambi, Pro VC-Research, MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences.

What are the various nutrients that millets possess?

  • They are high in dietary fibre, so they fill you up with lesser portion sizes. Therefore, they are helpful in weight management. They also help in lowering constipation.
  • They possess a low Glycemic Index (GI), and are thus useful in controlling diabetes.
  • They have anti-tumour and anti-carcinogenic properties too.
  • They are low in sodium, so they are helpful in the management of hypertension.
  • They help in the lowering of serum cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • They possess a highly alkaline nature, thereby helping in preventing and lowering the effects of irritable bowel syndrome, acidity, gallstones and stomach ulcers.
  • They are rich in anti-oxidants.
  • They possess hypo-allergenic properties and, hence, help in preventing allergic reactions.
  • They are rich in iron, thereby helping in the prevention of anaemia. 
  • They are useful in the prevention of liver disorders.
  • They are completely gluten-free.
  • Millets are far superior to wheat and rice and even quinoa, as far as various micro-nutrients are concerned.
  • They are quite high in protein, and hence, play a crucial role in a vegetarian diet, wherein protein sources are limited.
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A panel discussion on millets by experts from various fields. The experts include food blogger Archana Doshi, reputed dietician Geetha GH, Yogen Dutta – Executive Chef of ITC Gardenia (Bangalore), and Dr. Vibha Shetty – Professor of Prosthodontics, Faculty of Dental Sciences

If millets are so high in nutrients, should I be switching over to an all-millet diet then?

No, that kind of extreme switching over in diet is not advisable, not recommended by dieticians or nutritionists. Yes, millets are very high in nutrients, but they do need to be supplemented by wheat, rice, pulses, vegetables, milk, meat, eggs and a variety of other foods, so as to provide complete health to a human being.

What is advocated, really, through campaigns like this is an open mind, an acceptance to trying out different kinds of millets, at least a basic introduction of millets in your daily diet. All meals/snacks that you consume in a day need not be millet-heavy, but it would be great if at least one of them is.

Also, millets are not a miracle cure for all your ailments. The increase in lifestyle diseases in today’s times in not just a product of an imbalanced diet, which can be cured by the introduction of millets in your diet. There are other steps that need to be taken, too, to curb this, such as lowering overall stress levels, incorporating more physical activity in our lives, etc.

What are the things that I should keep in mind while introducing millets in my daily diet?

  • Millets can be used by people of all age groups, from a 6-month-old baby to a geriatric person, irrespective of their health condition. However, millets are believed to be goitrogenous in nature (i.e. they can enlarge one’s thyroid gland) and, hence, it would be advisable to consult a doctor before beginning to consume millets if you have a thyroid condition. If you have any other chronic ailment, too, you should ideally consult with a doctor to check on how much of millets you should consume in your daily diet, and in what form.
  • Soaking millets and throwing away the water, sprouting, cooking, roasting and fermenting are some techniques that are recommended to reduce the negative goiterogenous properties of millets.
  • Do not get carried away when you are just beginning to introduce millets into your daily diet. Do not go overboard. Introduce them slowly, little by little, into your diets, and wait and check whether they suit you. To start with, you may consume just one type of millet for a while, mixing it with rice or pulses, about twice a week, to see how they agree with you. Slowly and gradually, you may increase the quantity of millets you use.
  • Since millets are non-glutinous, baking with them can be tough. You might have to mix whole wheat flour or maida to them, to get good results.
  • There might be a slight difference in texture, when you substitute millets for rice in a dish known to you. For instance, pongal made with barnyard millet or proso millet might be grainier in texture as compared to that made with rice. That is something you should keep in mind while using millets.

Well, that’s how Day 1 of the workshop ended. I hope you enjoyed reading the post, and found it informative!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussing ‘The Power Of You’ With Anaida, At SodaBottleOpenerWala

Last weekend, I was invited to be a part of a workshop titled ‘The Power Of You’ at the famed Parsi eatery SodaBottleOpenerWala, on Lavelle Road. The workshop promised to touch upon things spiritual and emotional, including the healing power of food, how to choose the right ingredients for your food, and how to be the best version of yourself. The person conducting the workshop was none other than Anaida Parvaneh, pop star of the 1990s, a highly unlikely suspect for such a thing.

I had a lovely time at the workshop, where I felt Anaida spoke my mind about food. I returned with my faith in the power of food and cooking renewed. This post is all about my experience at the workshop.

About Anaida Parvaneh

Many of us still remember the pretty Anaida crooning to Oova Oova, back in the ’90s. She was a rage back then, after all, as we were growing up, singer of many more such groovy hits. What most of us don’t know (yet) is that there is a whole other side to the beautiful Anaida – Anaida Parvaneh (yes, that’s her last name!) is an Iranian by descent, someone who loves the food of her homeland. OK, she is a foodie at heart, who loves food in general. She is also a healer, writer and consultant for the entertainment and hospitality industry. I hear her workshops on yoga, meditation and overall wellness are extremely popular, the world over.

SodaBottleOpenerWala (Bangalore) is presently running a food festival called Persian Pop-Up Kitchen, wherein Anaida will be acting as Chef and whipping up some lovely heirloom recipes that have been handed down through generations of her family. Interesting, right? This workshop is an extension of the food festival.

Major take-aways from the workshop

The workshop began with Anaida speaking about the immense healing power that food possesses, of how it can be used to heal your mind, body and soul. She spoke of how, consequently, the person who cooks has a great responsibility – he/she is nourishing a whole being, and hence, needs to do the act with great love, caution, respect and patience. This is something I have always believed in, too.

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Anaida opening the workshop, with Chef Hemant Sonar from SodaBottleOpenerWala, Thane, Mumbai

Then, she went on to speak about how it is critical to choose the right ingredients for your cooking. The ingredients pass on their energy, their nutrients, to you, through your food, and it is, hence, important that you choose them with great care. Use fresh and seasonal ingredients that haven’t undergone undue stress (read: unhygienically grown crops, unethically raised meat, or extremely processed food). She also talked about how one needs to be aware of the different properties that various ingredients possess, and to use them wisely – most of the medicines you require for your small and big ailments are already present in your kitchen, she believes, and I vouch for the same too.

She suggested showing gratitude to food, to the ingredients that have gone into it, thanking the Universe for providing nutrition to you, thanking all those whose efforts have gone into putting your food on your table. Once you become mindful of this, she says, you cannot not eat right and stay healthy. I heartily agree, and strongly believe in the same.

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Anaida, in the course of her workshop

She also spoke about how food per se does not make you fat, but it is the kind of relationship that you share with food that determines whether it is healthy or unhealthy for you. If you eat in a hassled way (read: paying no heed to your food, seated in front of a television, or emotional bingeing because you are upset or happy), you will tend to veer towards the wrong foods or overeat, ultimately negatively impacting your health. On the contrary, if you build a good relationship with food, if you love and respect it, you will automatically begin to eat just as much as you need. So, it is not the rice or the ghee or the kheer that makes you fat – do include them in your diet, too – but the lack of being mindful with them that does.

Anaida then went on to tell the participants about how food need not be elaborate or have too many ingredients for it to be comforting and nourishing. The foods that comfort you, that heal you, are, more often than not, simple ones. So true, right? These comfort foods are different for different people, and you need to figure out your own. It is you and you alone who can pinpoint the exact things that bring you comfort and happiness from deep within.

For the benefit of the participants, Anaida demonstrated one of her favourite comfort foods – something she calls her Magic Soup. She believes this soup – loaded with vermicelli, turnip, coriander, carrots, corn, mushrooms and mixed sprouts, among other ingredients – has healing properties and that it can help anyone who is feeling under the weather. The soup, indeed, was simple, yet beautiful – I tried out the vegetarian version.

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Left: The ingredients for Anaida’s Magic Soup; Centre: Anaida demonstrating the non-vegetarian version of her Magic Soup; Right: The vegetarian version of the Magic Soup that I sampled

At the workshop, we also had the pleasure of meeting Sourav Sachin of the Flipkart fame, who spoke about how all the power that you need to lead your life is right within you. It is your attitude that determines whether others are fair or unfair to you, he stated. It is your way of looking at things that makes life good or bad for you, he added. When you stop looking outside, and start looking deep within, your light will shine, he concluded.

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Sourav Sachin, speaking at the workshop

In conclusion…

Both Anaida and Sourav’s words resonated with me, struck chords within me. The workshop felt like a reiteration of beliefs that I have always held. Deep inside, I think, all of us know all of this, but we often forget to be mindful in the chaos of everyday life.So, here’s to being more mindful, more slow, more accepting and aware of ourselves and what we really need!

 

Tete-A-Tete With Chef Michael Swamy, On His Restaurant, Food And Travel

A while ago, I got the wonderful chance to witness Chef Michael Swamy in action at a cook-off organised by Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar, Bangalore. It was an informative, enriching experience that set me thinking about different food-related aspects.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to interact further with Chef Michael Swamy, to have a little chat with him about things foodie and otherwise. I present our conversation here, for your reading pleasure.

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Chef Michael Swamy (right) at the recent cook-off at Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar, alongside Chef Aniket Das (left)

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Me: How did your journey into the culinary world start?

Chef: I grew up in a family who entertained a lot. Growing up, we were always surrounded by great food. Also, I loved food, and loved watching cookery shows and pretending to be a TV chef. It was my mum, a documentary film-maker, who pushed me in the direction of art, food and photography, and insisted on my being a chef before I became a “TV chef”. I did my HAFT from Sophia’s and then went to London to pursue Le Cordon Bleu. Since then, there has been no looking back…

Me: How has the ride been so far?

Chef: It has been an awesome ride, meeting different people, chefs, and food professionals. It has also has its down moments, but I believe in continuing to do the things I believe in. At the end of the day, I go to sleep with the happy knowledge that, no matter in how small or big a way, I am working towards fulfilling my dreams.

Me: How do you think Indian food is perceived outside India?

Chef: It is perceived as food to be eaten when downing a beer or just a cheap dinner. It is not considered as a global cuisine yet. Also, it is perceived as a very complex cuisine, requiring a laundry list of ingredients for every dish. This is not true, as I feel that some of our best dishes are the most simple ones.

Me: Would you like to change that?

Chef: Of course! We need to globalize Indian cuisine and really highlight the aspects which the world will relate to, aspects which are very much present in our cuisine. We need to delve and record our culinary histories, though that is something that will take many lifetimes. One needs to make chefs more prominent. Here, I mean the true chefs, the ones that work day in and day out in their chosen profession. We need more professional chefs to become TV chefs and educate people properly about our myriad cuisines. Of course, chefs also need to come out and share their knowledge openly.

Me: What do you think are the best-kept secrets of Indian cuisine?

Chef: I think the best-kept secret is that there is no secret to Indian cuisine. Each household uses their own family recipes and techniques. The same dish sometimes tastes different from village to village, city to city, and house to house. Also, some of the techniques used in Indian cooking are so unique and rare, owing to the abundance of certain elements and absolute dearth of others in several regions.

Also, I think the cuisines of the hills, Coorg, Munnar, the inner coasts of eastern India are relatively unexplored. There are many secrets and traditions in there, and we only have barely touched the surface.

Me: How do you think food in India has changed over the years?

Chef: I think India is always 10 years behind global food traditions. The acceptance of the Indian palate to global foods is very slow. This is due to the fact that not much is being done to explain different cuisines to other parts of the world. We’re all too busy reviewing restaurants than actually delving into the cuisine and studying the food philosophy a chef follows and trying to understand it better. We like the role of the judge more than that of an experiencer.

Me: Why did you choose to showcase Latin American cuisine in your restaurant Nueva? What inspired you to do so?

Chef: As a chef and history lover, I do a lot of food research. About a decade ago, I had predicted the rise of Peruvian cuisine on the world scene, and so it was. I had studied a lot about the Spanish influence on the cuisine and the history of the continent of South America, as their culture and rain forests have always intrigued me.  At the about the same time, the executive chef at the Marriott in Bombay was Peruvian and I, being a regular at the hotel, spent a lot of time with him, even interviewing him for a magazine I was the editor of then. Though not consciously, I think I may have wished to do something with this cuisine right back then. Also, whenever I do something, I see what the world is doing and set out to do something different. When this opportunity came to me, I saw that though people were beginning to dabble in Peruvian cuisine, nobody was doing justice to the rest of South America. So, I decided – why not me?

Me: How challenging was it to source ingredients and train staff in a cuisine that is as exotic as Latin American?

Chef: It was, and still is, a bit challenging. That said, I have a good network, and know most of the vendors handling exotic produce from my times when I handled Masterchef India and through all these years of restaurant consultancies.

Training staff is always a thrilling challenge and, here, the case was interesting because I decided to work mostly with freshers who did not carry any baggage of “the way we cooked at our earlier job”. None of them were familiar with Latin American cuisine or techniques, so it was a re-learning with them of sorts. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the process.

Me: How difficult are you finding it to be an entrepreneur, vis-à-vis being a cook and food stylist?

Chef: It is difficult, but I don’t’ know why people don’t consider being a food stylist as an entrepreneurial role! Why are only restaurateurs thought of as entrepreneurs? I have been running a business in food media for 15 years now, and it has been much more difficult to run and manage, given the much higher demands of the scope of work – and we covered the full spectrum from print to television there.  Also, people forget that I became a chef first and then decided to step out of the kitchen to pursue food styling. So, as a stylist, I was a chef, an author too!

Me: What do you think of the recent trend of using millets in place of rice, in a lot of traditional Indian dishes? Is it here to stay or a fad that will pass away?

Chef: Like all fads, they will disappear in the city. However, small cities and villages still rely heavily on the use of various millets. It’s just become a trend in the big cities because it has suddenly been marketed well in the west. And, sadly, despite our history, we are still so besotted with the west that we refuse to acknowledge and value our own wisdom. However, looking at the trend through the eyes of a modern cook, millets may seem daunting and not so easily applicable or likeable for many, so the busy housewife is going to return to the familiar stuff.

Me: What do you think are the major culinary trends that will be making news in the next year or so?

Chef: South American, Korean, and Vietnamese are the cuisines to watch out for!

Me: How do you manage to stay healthy in spite of so much cooking, day after day?

Chef: A healthy eating style of a good breakfast and good lunch, a light dinner before 7 pm, and some exercise when I can pull it off has helped. Also, once I eat something, I don’t dwell on the number of calories I’ve consumed. I enjoy my food and value it, and I think that’s one reason why the food I eat also keeps me healthy.

Me: Tell us about the chefs who have inspired you the most…

Chef: Anton Mossiman, Gary Rhodes, Charlie Trotter, and Heston Blumenthal have greatly inspired me. Their work continues to inspire me to do my best.

Me: How was the experience of serving cricketer Virat Kohli?

Chef:  Frankly, I’m not a person who is starstruck. My parents hailed from a media background, and I have cooked and served several celebrities through the years. The tendency of looking at a celeb and feeling awestruck is past, for me. For me, every guest, regardless of their stature in society, is equally important.

Me: Considering the passionate traveller that you are, which are your most favourite holiday destinations?

Chef: Dhanachuli in Uttarakhand, the mountains, and Mc Leod Gunj. The jungles of Kanha and Corbett move me too. I also love the winding roads of Ireland and the scenic lakes of Italy.

Me: Could you tell us about your upcoming projects? What are you working on currently?

Chef: Cookbooks are always an ongoing project for me. I am expecting my next book to be published shortly. Other than that, I’m toying with the idea of doing something content-related for television.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this tete-a-tete just as much as I enjoyed having it!

 

 

 

In Conversation With Chef Kunal Kapur: About Food And More

A chef who has trained under some of the most reputed institutions out there, who has a couple of television shows to his name, who is well recognised by all and sundry in Indian households, who has been a judge of the famed MasterChef India, who has been witness to some of the most exciting trends in the culinary world, who has had the opportunity to cook for the nation’s Prime Minister and the foreign dignitaries visiting him – that is Kunal Kapur for you, a celebrity in his own right. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity, recently, to attend a ‘Food Camp’ by the celebrity chef at the International Institute Of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore.

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Chef Kunal Kapur demonstrating different techniques of plating and the basics of molecular gastronomy, at his Food Camp, at IIHM-Bangalore

I had gone to the event prepared with a set of questions for the chef, and was so glad the bloggers present were given a chance to have a little one-on-one conversation with him. Chef Kapur was happy to answer my questions, in his cool and composed and smiling manner.

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you the conversation I had with Chef Kapur, about food and more.

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Me: What is comfort food for you?

Chef: Ice cream and chocolate – these spell out ‘comfort’ to me (laughs). Also, homely, old-time stuff like daal chawal or khichdi are what I turn to when I need comfort.

Me: How do you think food has changed over the years?

Chef: I think everyone wants to order out these days. There are very few people today who really love cooking, and that is a sad state of affairs. Food has become fancy. Plating is of crucial importance now. Soon enough, actual home-cooked, simple food will be a luxury.

Me: How do you manage to stay fit, in spite of cooking so much, day after day after day? 

Chef: I try to burn whatever I eat – that is the only way. I think you can eat all that you want, but in moderation. And you have to work out, get moving, and burn fat.

Me: You are currently researching unique pickles across India for your latest book. Could you tell us more about this book?

Chef: Yes, you are right. I am travelling from one place to another in India, talking to people, trying to find out about various pickling practices used in the country. There are so many unique pickles made in our country, many of them unheard of by common people. That is the stuff I want to bring to light through my latest book.

This book will take me at least two more years to write. The Internet hasn’t been of much use in my research – this is something that needs extensive travel and first-hand research. I am in full-on research mode, for the book, as of now.

Me: What are the most unique pickles that you have come across, in the course of your research?

Chef: A very unique pickle I encountered, in the course of my research, was one made of mustard leaves, in Darjeeling. The leaves are pounded, put into a sack and buried under the earth for over a week’s time, to ferment. Post this, the fermented leaves are dried and pickled. This is something I had never heard of before!

Then, there was this mahani root pickle that I tried out in South India. The root is pickled in buttermilk, which is said to preserve the pickle. This completely blew me away. Commonly, when we think of pickles, we think of a whole lot of salt, spices and oil – but this pickle is so very different!

Me: What do you think are the best-kept secrets of Indian cuisine?

Chef: I would say, the dadis and nanis in Indian families, the grandmothers, are the best-kept secrets of the culinary world. These grandmothers possess a wealth of experience and knowledge. They have, in their repertoire, a number of culinary secrets and recipes that are, largely, unknown to the modern world. They are the best people we should be learning to cook from!

Me: You have been conducting food camps in different cities across India. What do you plan to achieve with them?

Chef: Yes, I have been conducting food camps in hotel management institutes in different Indian cities. These food camps are, basically, workshops where students can learn the basics of molecular gastronomy, plating, food trends and reinvention. These hotel management students are the chefs of tomorrow, which is why I want to work with them, to train them. I want them to get the benefit of my experience of all these years.

Through these workshops, I plan to bridge the gap between the trends prevailing in the culinary world, nationally and internationally, and the syllabus followed in these institutes.

Me: How was your experience cooking Sattvik food for PM Narendra Modi, on his visit to Bangalore? And for the visiting German dignitaries? Do tell us more!

Chef: Oh, it was a wonderful experience! I had a lot of fun preparing a slew of vegetarian dishes for Narendra Modiji, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the other honoured guests. I am so glad I got this opportunity to showcase the wealth of vegetarian dishes we have in India, to these guests.

You know, I was okay cooking Sattvik food for Modiji, since he is used to vegetarian dishes. I was actually scared of preparing vegetarian food for the German dignitaries, who are hard-core meat-eaters. What if they didn’t like what I had to offer them?, I worried. I needn’t have worried, though. Everyone loved the meal, German dignitaries included.

Me: Is there a memoir in the offing? Do you plan to write a book telling your fans all about yourself?

Chef: Oh, I don’t think I am accomplished enough to do something like that! I’m still learning about food, trends and different cuisines of the world. There are a whole lot of things about food that I want to write about – not myself.

If someone else wants to write about me, though, they are welcome to take it up (laughs). That is not a task that I want to undertake myself.

I hope you enjoyed reading our little conversation, folks! Do let me know!