Thursday, 30 January 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: Recipes for a Multitasking Generation

This column first appeared in the Mail Today dated January 30, 2014. If you wish to see the original page, click on http://epaper.mailtoday.in/epaperhome.aspx?issue=3012014 and go to Page 15. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
A NEW generation of cookbook writers are rewriting the ground rules of the craft. It may be because of the criticism that their recipes are meant to be admired for the pictures that accompany them because they are impossible to follow. Elaborate recipe requiring numerous ingredients and many stages of cooking may demonstrate the prowess of the person writing them,  but these are impossible to replicate at home, and can be frustrating for both the homemaker and the hobby cook.
It is heart-warming therefore to see the efflorescence of cookbooks that the Regular Ritu or the Neighbourhood Neha can relate to even as she juggles the multiple chores of managing a career, running a home and raising children, who can never be satisfied with the food they get. Cookbooks must address the needs of our multi-tasking, multi-cultural urban middle-class universe, where each family wakes up every morning with one existential question: What shall we eat today that will be different from what we had yesterday?
The debut cookbooks of Kunal
Kapur (above) and Rushina
Munshaw Ghildiyal address
the needs of a time-challenged,
 multi-tasking homemaker
 and hobby cook

We have two of them that have just been published and stand out in the crowd. A Pinch of This, A Handful of That (Westland; Rs 595) is by a popular food blogger (A Perfect Bite), Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, who lives the life of the average working mother making a desperate daily effort to prevent her children from seeking out junk food as deliverance from 'uninteresting' food at home. I first met her at a Godrej Nature's Basket cookery demo and was impressed by the turnout -- there's clearly an audience of young mothers out there among whom Rushina is the new domestic goddess.
The other cookbook (A Chef in Every Home; Random House) is by the sunny-faced Kunal Kapur from MasterChef India, a good-looking Punjabi munda whom every auntieji following the reality show co-hosted by him would want to have as her son-in-law. Away from his popular television persona, Kunal is an inventive chef who works very hard in the kitchens of The Leela Gurgaon and I first discovered him through his paan-flavoured panna cotta at the hotel's under-rated Indian restaurant, Diya, whose kitchen is now headed by an acolyte of the Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar.
In his acknowledgements, Kapur mentions an array of male relatives, unintentionally pointing to a rising constituency for cookbooks -- the urban male hobby cook, whom you'll find all over Facebook and Twitter, exchanging their recipes and holding forth on those of others on Sikandalous Cuisine, the busiest and the largest (at least in South Asia) recipe-sharing social media community. The audience for cookbooks clearly has transformed dramatically since the glory days of Mrs Balbir Singh and two Mrs Dalals -- Tarla and Katy.
The beauty of Rushina's book is that like the average day of a homemaker, it follows no order. Each page, as a result, throws up a little surprise, or an interesting anecdote, and you can start reading the book from anywhere and still find a recipe you'd want to replicate at home. You could find a recipe for something as easy as Keema Pasta or as challenging as the 13 Onion Pasta, or as nostalgia-laden as the chicken curry that is served with roomali roti at Mayo College on Tuesdays, or as exotic as the Root Spinach Soup of Istanbul's Asitane restaurant, or the South African Bunny Chow, or Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, or the Channa Bateta of Bhendi Bazar's Bohri Mohalla. There's something for every inclination.
Kunal's book, as you'd expect from a chef, is structured like a traditional cookbook, but its sweep is remarkable -- from Menaskai, the famous spicy pineapple curry from coastal Karnataka, Bhutte ka Shorba with Chilli Butter Popcorn and Potli Masala Creme Brulee, to Mutton Varuval, Fish Amritsari, Prawns Moilee and Char Siu Mutton Chops, the recipes come with a twist to excite your imagination. And perhaps prevent your little ones from ordering in a McDonald's lunch or Domino's dinner.

LOVE YOUR BREAKFAST? INSTAGRAM IT!

WHAT do Instagram, India Art Fair, signature breakfasts and tea-time eclairs have in common? I asked myself this question as I watched Arnaud Champenois of Starwood Hotels and Resorts walk in, his fluorescent green shoelaces grabbing my attention before anything else. We were at Le Meridien, at an exhibition of Instagram pictures of Delhi's sights and people by Dan Rubin, who with 600,000-plus followers on the picture blogging site is a social media hero. The three-city show (San Francisco and Paris are the other two big cities) is a part of the Filters of Discovery initiative of the international hotel chain -- one of nine owned by Starwood -- and the event where I met Champenois was timed to coincide with the India Art Fair.
"Mobile photography is the new language of our social media-obsessed world," Champenois said as he went about explaining the connections. After the Obama selfie kerfuffle, don't we know all about it! Travellers "unlock destinations" with the pictures they shoot with their mobiles and they have turned the social media into a global repository of these millions of "picture story books", as Champenois described them. To engage their guests in a more creative way, Le Meridien hotels (#lmfilters) around the world encourage them to Instagram or tweet their mobile photographs, and get rewarded for their work. And by connecting with the art community through the concluding dinner that Le Meridien New Delhi, where the country's many culinary traditions will be showcased to the accompaniment of music by the Bandish Project, Champenois said, the hotel is reaching out to "creative-minded travellers" who are "more plugged in" than the rest of the world.
The Dan Rubin show coincides with the global launch of Le Meridien's signature breakfast, which after nearly four years of carrying American top chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's stamp, will have a strong local flavour. You can now order a rasam poached egg served with a lentil galette to start your day, or have a baked omelette rolled in a gramflour cheela with tandoori chicken morsels and mint chutney. Craving for an eclair with your coffee? Don't miss the one with ginger and jaggery, or maybe rose and cardamom. Indulge -- and Instagram. That's the new mantra.

GOOD FOOD FOR THE COFFEE TABLE
OK, I did extol the virtues of cookbooks for the new homemaker and hobby cook in the lead piece, but there's still a market for the strikingly illustrated tome that looks good on your coffee table and also has recipes that you can attempt at leisure (and of course, if you're adventurous as well!).
One such cookbook, appropriately titled Taste (Om Books), has been moving fast in the market. You'd  expect it from a cookbook with recipes from four Michelin-starrers (Vineet Bhatia, Vikas Khanna, Frances Aitken and Marcello Tully), Australian celebrity chef Ian Curley, Michelin Rising Star Laurie Gear, and BBC2 cookery show host Anjum Anand. Creative Services Support Group's Anand Kapoor, whose grandfather's Chicken Korma and Coffee Mousse Cake recipes are the ones you must attempt at home, has accomplished the surprising feat of getting the celebrity chefs together to share their best. Having done two annual charity events with these chefs, Kapoor seems to have mastered the art of balancing their egos and managing to get the best out of them, and it shows in the selection of recipes, which are arranged in the form of meals.
Surprisingly, despite the heavyweight presence of Michelin stars, the recipes are not that hard to replicate. Start with Anjum Anand's Fluffy Spinach Koftas in Creamy Tomato Curry, or the New York-based Vikas Khanna's Octopus Chaat and Watermelon Shorba, Ian Curley's Tortellini of Pumpkin and Ricotta, Marcelo Tully's Bread and Butter Pudding, and find out for yourself how these creative powerhouses elevate the simplest pleasures of life.