Growing up, I was never a “foodie”. I had a hearty appetite and would eat healthy food because my mother insisted on it. We were never allowed to refuse an item at the dining table just because we didn’t like it. My list included spinach and cabbage. An “I don’t like it” would elicit an “I don’t like many things but I can’t get rid of them can I?” from my father. The message was quite clear!
In my late teens when my younger sister would help my mother in the kitchen I had my music to focus on. As a result, when I got married and left to go live in Toronto I knew how to cook a grand total of 7 items which included rice and chapati! And I wouldn’t use a pressure cooker because I was mortally afraid of it! Memories of the pressure cooker valve blowing up and splattering rice and dal all over my music book in my mother’s kitchen are still vivid in my memory.
I remained an indifferent cook who would cook because we needed food on the table. Fortunately my husband knew how to fend for himself, so we didn’t starve.
It was much much later in life when I started watching Masterchef and other cooking reality shows that my dormant love for cooking surfaced. What a late bloomer! Up until then I would cook well but only a limited number of items and with no inclination to try out new recipes. These shows opened my eyes to this wonderful world of food and I started trying out many of the vegetarian dishes I would see on these shows. My family started looking forward to our meals and so commenced my food journey.
Coming from a line of amazing cooks, my taste for good food was already there. It was only that now I wanted to make them myself rather than eat out. With my mother’s help I started reviving some of the traditional recipes and my parents who lived with us were willing guinea pigs! Balancing my music and cooking took some doing, but I did manage it with a lot of help and encouragement from my family.
There were culinary disasters, which are now permanent family memories that we laugh about. Now healthy food options, tasty food, environmental responsibility and preserving of traditional foods drive me. Masterchef has also made me aware of the importance of presentation. My mother would always say that food should look good as well as taste good. She would be able to look at an item and identify if something was missing. That level of experience she garnered because she literally started cooking before she had reached the age of ten.
We in South India, place more emphasis on substance over form and and this holds true for food also. I now realise that this was because of our conservative approach to life itself. However, the result is that other than idli, dosai and vadai none of our foods have had a global reach. In fact, many have not even had an all India reach. Making our foods attractive is one way to improve their appeal to a larger audience.
Another area to focus on is the revival of many of our traditional foods many of which even children growing up here are not aware of. The influence of the universally appealing burgers, pizza and other fast foods has certainly been felt by every cuisine but we can, while importing international cuisine into our menu also focus on our own foods.
This is what I am attempting to do. I am always open to tasting and incorporating new foods but my lasting love will always be the traditional foods that we have so carelessly brushed aside. Feel free to share your favourite recipes as we travel on this food journey together.