With the demand for culinary experiences increasing, restaurateurs, home bakers and chefs are rising to the task, with new platforms and venues where Chennai’s cooking enthusiasts can transform into experts.
It’s not just about biryanis anymore — thanks to shows like MasterChef and the menus at restaurants like Ottimo, we have started looking beyond our own kitchens. “I’ve learnt so many new terms and techniques on MasterChef and can now follow most recipes that I find online with ease,” says Asvatha Babu, a student at MOP Vaishnav College. “I remember when I had to visit libraries to hunt for a recipe,” says Tasneem Ayub, one of the most popular home chefs in the city, adding that there was a time when your main source of information on food was your mother or, for the fastidious lot, Larousse Gastronomique or its regional equivalent. Today it’s not enough that you can go around the world by just dining at a restaurant like The Flying Elephant; an increasing number of people want to plate up cuisines from around the globe in their own kitchen. Thanks to the efforts of several restaurateurs, home bakers and chefs, people like Babu are very close to realising that dream. Ayub, who conducts at least one workshop a month (at Adoniya and Foodology), points out that people sign up for many reasons, “At one of my recent classes, it was so touching to see an elderly gentleman who came to learn to cook biryani for his wife.” In fact, Foodology, the five-month-old studio kitchen by Shree Periakaruppan in Adyar, has sessions dedicated for couples, where they participate in a hands on cooking class followed by a dinner as well. “A lot of couples have shown interest in these sessions. They work as a team and end up having a lot of fun,” says Periakaruppan. Elsewhere, members of the online community Chennai Food Guide (CFG) make regular plans for beach barbecues, while hotels like Courtyard by Marriott gear up for cook and dine sessions (executive chef Sridhar Sigatapu will be conducting his 21st session next month) and restaurants like Social open their doors to Supper Clubs (recall their recent Sri Lankan charity dinner).
Know your basics
About three years ago, Nikhil Moturi, the owner of Crimson Chakra, organised a food photography workshop in association with Cinnamon and CFG. “One thing led to another and we soon organised our first baking session with Marsha Thompson,” he shares, adding that they have done baking, barbecues and savoury sessions. “We see a varied audience — from 12-year-old kids to grandmoms. Everyone knows to cook, but baking is relatively new to them,” says Thompson, a soft skills trainer for over 15 years, who has been baking since she was a child. “A lot of them want to know the basics — everyone has access to recipes online, but they would not know how to ‘fold’ butter, for example,” she points out, adding that her sessions are hands on, where participants work in pairs. Thompson will be coming up with sessions on pies and tarts and working with yeast, “by early August.” It is all about offering what the people want. “People ask for something specific — like tiramisu — and then we organise the session,” says Sriram Sridharan, the owner of Gormei Market a speciality food retailer, adding that they have noted a lot of interest in Italian and Chinese cuisines. Sara Koshy, a city-based expert in baking, is the person behind their workshops that started six months after their launch in 2012. She has done sessions on desserts, cakes and cookies, in addition to popular recipes in Mexican, Chinese and Italian cuisines.
The Ashvita cafes have been conducting workshops for the better part of a year now. “We started with two a month and now we do almost six,” says owner Ashvin Rajagopalan, about their workshops on food, bar tending and even gardening and origami, that take place on a regular basis. “In addition to the restaurant, we also have a retail division and a rooftop garden as well,” Rajagopalan says, explaining that their workshops are always related to something they do. It started with the idea of getting their own chefs to share a few recipes that their customers could try at home. “The aim was to increase footfalls,” he admits. But as the network grew (what started with a handful of participants soon saw about 40 per workshop), people started approaching them to teach and the result was events like the recent mozzarella workshop conducted by a Canadian, Dr Aditya Raghavan. While they have a Persian cuisine workshop by A Kamalika Krishmy and cheese making workshop by experts from Pondicherry coming up, Rajagopalan says that he would like to see this spin off into a separate entity. “We could have more popular people come over to conduct workshops that span two or three days,” he shares.
Filling the gap
We’ve established that there are people willing to teach and there are more wanting to learn, but the challenge so far, has been facilitation. And this is the gap that Mohamed Ali hopes to fill. The brain behind the CFG, a 37,000-strong community of people who love good food, Ali is “trying to build an open-ended platform,” like Foodology, where people can learn and teach. “I call it open-ended because we won’t have a fixed curriculum. It will be more of an experiential centre for food,” he explains. While he refrains from sharing too much about his pet project, he does share that if all goes well, we can expect a regular kitchen, a mock cafe and a herb garden. What he stresses on, is that his space will be open to anyone who has something to share (on hire of course). Incidentally, The Chennai Food Guide has its own recognised instructors who work on their workshops regularly — Marsha Thompson and Sara Koshy. In addition, they also have special appearances, like Smriti K, who came down from the US to give a talk on veganism at their Learn and Share Experience. This is a concept started by CFG in 2011 that has conducted talks on food photography, food styling, wellness and more. “Today people even want to grow their own food,” says Ali, who is confident that the city’s hunger for cooking will only grow.
Back to the pages
Even as the world looks up recipes online, a handful of people still like to turn pages before they cook. Like 16-year-old Shivani Viswanathan for instance. The finalist at Superchef Chennai that took place earlier this year has been cooking since four and has a collection of cookbooks by celebrity chefs like Donna Hay, Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal.
With more than 2,000 recipes, 75-year-old Chithra Viswanathan’s app AskChitVish Premium is a must have for South Indian food lovers. Some of the other city-based food bloggers who have a following:
? Divyascookbook.com by Divya Kudua, that offers birthday cakes to bachelor specials
? Litebite.in by Sanjeet KK, with specials on healthy foods, like millets
? Baketales.com by Sara Koshy, with
everything possible in the world of baking
? Chef Willi’s Master Classes at Tuscana on Chamiers are always a full house. Enthusiasts from across town sign up to see him in action as he teaches them to make the wood-fired pizzas that Tuscana is known for. The restaurant also offers a unique experience for children (from seven to 12 years), where they get to sign up for a 90-day workshop that teaches them how to run a restaurant. “The sessions are split into two halves and the kids are taught to cook in the first half that is followed by a leadership session teaching them the various aspects of a restaurant — dealing with staff, service, etc,” says Ishika Sachdev, who conducts the leadership sessions.
? Restaurateur Sandesh Reddy,
who was last seen taking a master class on cooking steak for the recent Superchef competition that took place at The Park, also has a following. “We started doing workshops at Sandy’s RA Puram about four years ago and have done a series of one dish wonders. People want full length workshops, but that’s something I can’t commit to now,” says the man who has his hands tied up with his next project — The Old Madras Baking Co. “We’ve wanted to do a cooking school, but we want to make sure its sustainable first. We may do bread making workshops at Old Madras Baking Co — more for people to understand what we do,” he shares.