हिंदी खबर
Table for Six (Image credit: Snehlata Saikia)
Table for Six (Image credit: Snehlata Saikia)

Charge of the home chef brigade!

By Pushpesh Pant | Updated: Mar 08, 2022 14:29 IST

New Delhi [India], March 8 (ANI): There was a time when chefs were chefs, but nowadays, we have a plethora of prefixes to identify them. Some prima donnas like to be addressed as 'celebrity chefs' while others identify themselves as 'master chefs'. Then there are 'Michelin starred chefs' who, it is believed, have unfurled India's culinary flag in different continents and there is no dearth of 'Heritage chefs'-repositories of long lost recipes threatened with extinction and traditional tricks of the trade.
Those who have pursued the prescribed courses and qualified from a catering school or institute at home or abroad think interlopers have really devalued and diluted the designation. What has added to the confusion is that at times qualified professionals keep juggling with the hats they wear. There are entrepreneur/partner/owner chefs and the latest wave to surge like a tide is that of home chefs.
Home chefs are not considered professionals in the strictest sense of the word as they are neither armed with prescribed qualifications for the trade nor employed in a hotel or restaurant. Ironically, they cook regularly--twice every day in most cases. They are housewives or homemakers.
Late Jiggs Kalra, food impresario extraordinaire, often used to say that these women young and old are the real custodians of our culinary heritage. They possess rare recipes handed down the generations as family heirlooms no less resplendent than heavy silks, brocades and jewellery.
Home chefs too--at least some of them-- have mastered the art of juggling hats they wear. Some have participated in TV reality shows titled eponymously and as winners and runners up have joined the select master chef group. Others have made the transition to hotels as consultants on regional/sub-regional or ethnic cuisines. Authors of well-researched cookery books have also found it convenient to diversify to hands-on commercial cooking. Regular 'pop-ups' by home chefs in starred hotels is an emerging trend that can't be missed.
In the capital alone, home chefs have allowed lovers of food to indulge in regional delicacies from different parts of India. Rani Jinsi has cooked the Kashmiri Pandit Waazwan and managed not to repeat her menu. The perennial favourites are there of course but much of the fare showcases lesser-known delicacies. Revolving menus are specked with Anglo-Indian Tea Garden roasts.

Sneha Lata Saikia has introduced the flavours of Assam and the North Eastern. Besides the pop-ups, she has come up with the novel concept of 'table for six'. Guests are invited for specially curated meals at her CR Park residence and enjoy exotic food in convivial company.

Mrs Beg offers a small but delicious repertoire from Hyderabad-biryani, mirchi ka salan, baghare baigan and double ka meetha-- from her home in Paschim Vihar. Prema Kurian's guarantees a fabulous Kerala spread that is inspired by the striving to introduce non-Malayalis to the diverse gastronomic heritage of her state.

Sirittiya Bora with her husband Anirban (alas, no more with us) introduced resplendent Thai and Bengali dishes that explored exotic flavours beyond cliches. From the small kitchen in their flat in Indira Nagar Aroi the graphic artist couple's brainchild reached out to all corners of the NCR.
In Mumbai, Rushina Munshaw Ghildhiyal has spearheaded the revival of Gadhwali food from Uttarakhand. Like Sneha in Delhi, she is a brilliant curator of meals for a small number of invited guests. The menu keeps changing seasonally. Rushina is a best selling author, a consultant, an educator, and collaborates with leading chefs on a regular basis. She is interested in traditional knowledge about ingredients, nutrition and seasonality.
It isn't as if all home chefs are women. Rajesh Raghunathan, in Chennai, a qualified business management graduate, better known as the 'singing chef' breaks many stereotypes. He has anchored many TV shows cooking with his mother. His food and travel show unveiling Southern India for north Indian audiences (in Hindi) was simply amazing. He represents the younger generation of Indians who follow what their heart tells them and aren't afraid to choose the less travelled road.
The lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 has adversely impacted home chefs. Hotels shut down suddenly and 'pop ups' ceased. The small takeaway business was ruined before it could take off.
Some families were devastated by deaths caused due to COVID-19. Among the casualties were Anirban and Mr Jinsi. Babeeta Saksena who was very active in providing a platform for home chefs and organising in different cities was also claimed by the virus.
With conditions limping back to normalcy home chefs have started to prepare for the second act. Their debut had kindled interest in their work. Support isn't wanting either. The renowned foodie and food impresario Rocky Mohan has launched Home Chef Ping to assist gifted home chefs with branding and marketing.
We wait with optimistic anticipation for the Charge of the Home Chef Brigade!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the above article are that of the writer and do not reflect that of ANI. (ANI)