I love food.
Food isn’t just for survival. It is indeed a kind of expression of art. I would hate to call myself a foodie because that word has become the most obscenely abused word in English language.
I’m thinking about where it all started for me. I think I was all of 8 and curiously obsessed with the idea of ‘making something on my own’. I am blessed to have a mother who just as much encouraged me and helped me make humble beginnings by learning how to make tea. I started with 2 cups and within a few short weeks, I was able to multiply proportions and make 6 to 8 cups for guests and visitors! All this, while I was propped on a tiny cane stool, near the kitchen slab to be at necessary eye-level with the saucepan! Conjure that image in my mind today and it makes me grin to myself. All of this drama was every bit worth it for that few seconds of accomplishment and glory I felt when my parents friends would marvel at an 8 year old making tea. So, naturally in a few months, I’d had enough of tea-making and I wanted to graduated to something else.
On a random Sunday evening (and this episode is so vividly emblazoned in my mind), my father ‘egged’ me to try my hand at eggs. Partly because its apparently simple and neither labour nor time intensive and partly because my father is the ‘any a.m or p.m egg’ kind of creature. So, with some verbal instructions from Ma on how to chop onions, tomatoes and green chillies I executed some extremely rudimentary knife skills and proudly served up my first omelette (read kitchen disaster). It was half cooked & massacred to several pieces and shreds (I was too unskilled to flip an omelette without tearing it up and too enthusiastic to accept any adult assistance). My sweet father consumed it all, standing in our balcony and without ‘accidentally’ tipping any of it over. I adore him for it!
By now, my ambitions had gone through the ceiling and touched the skies. From the school library, I laid my hands on a French pastry book (can’t imagine what I was thinking!) and decided to try my hand at Coffee Cream Gateaux – without even knowing how to read ‘gateaux’. After 6 hours of patient labouring in Kolkata summer heat, what I ended up with, was a result, very hugely different from the intended, layers of sponge sandwiched with airy coffee cream. I got some kind of bizarre chewy shortcrust pastry sandwiched with some stodgy and messy excuse for cream with a strong coffee flavour. This time, a friend, born not with a sweet tooth but rather, an entire set of 32 sweet teeth polished off the gateaux (if I may still dare to call it one). He would have licked up a pot of melted sugar like a red ant and praised me for it, if that were possible! Indeed I must feel extremely grateful for friends and family who fell prey to, yet supported all my kitchen disasters.
But I guess, sense finally prevailed and Ma too did run out of her silent patience. There were no more culinary experiments for a while, but only a while, till I was just a little bit older & able to take on kitchen adventures again. And this time with a little more humble and realistic sense of personal capability! My second inning happened under amma’s (my mother’s much older sister and a parent figure in my life) wing with one of my most adored recipes – chilly chicken.
Almost two decades on, my love affair with the kitchen hasn’t faded. Even today, whether, I’m serving up an entire 3 course meal or simply poaching an egg, every single time that I’m in the kitchen, I feel the same enthusiasm I did as an 8 year old, making her first cup of tea.
If anything has changed, i think my love for food and how it brings people together has only grown. Grown beyond the realms of cooking to eating new things, using new ingredients, doing some amateur photography, taking interest in food styling, reading, watching food shows on TV, reading about legends in the food industry.
If I actually drew a mind-map on paper of what ‘food’ encompasses for me, I know I would end up with a reflection of my soul in ink.
At the core of it – I still love food.