Food industry has particularly taken a big hit, not once but twice during the pandemic. We bring to you four authors, who used the time to bring out exciting books with one common theme – love for food
One is a young entrepreneur, who quit his much-coveted position at Google India to make a brand out of a pop-up kitchen. What started as homebound operations went on to become a successful specialty brand – The Bohri Kitchen, spearheaded by Munaf Kapadia, who also made into the Forbes Under 30 Cover story; another is a chemical engineer, a food researcher, and columnist, whose favorite subject is the ‘science of food’, Krish Ashok says food is chemicals and cooking is engineering. He puts his heart out whenever he speaks on food, which he does as often as possible. This passionate foodie is a Ted speaker among other things; then there is chef and owner of what could be termed as one of the most famous, trailblazing restaurant spaces in Hyderabad, Fusion 9 that gave a fine-dining edge to fusion in a city known for its biryanis. Shankar Krishnamurthy continues to experiment, research and devise brilliant menus at his restaurant that started in the 90s, but continues to maintain its USP; and then there is this writer, a Sahitya Akademi awardee, she is an art critic, among other things. Esther David’s books are usually based on Jewish ethos in India.
They all have one thing common. In their own individual space they brought out books, unique in the content and approach, but with one central theme ‘food’. The books except for Munaf’s may have been long time in the making, but it took a lockdown and its troubles, to actually push the authors to complete them and bring them into limelight. This is the time food is being discussed with much passion, there is a need for books on food, the publishers are keen, and the authors found their muse, and out came four wonderful books, which are our topic for the day!
The drama of being a food entrepreneur
Munaf Kapadia first started promoting The Bohri Kitchen as a place that offers the taste of the unique and culturally vibrant cuisine. It was in 2016, he started delivery operations, set up a team and began to standardise recipes. It was also the time he quit Google. Until then ‘The Bohri Kitchen’ was a pop up kitchen where guests from across India, film actors from Mumbai, and celebrity chefs from all over the world made a pit stop. While the new model seemed to be successful, Munaf faltered in other areas. “I went bankrupt and I decided to call it quits when this crazy thing happened. Forbes called me and said they are featuring me on their cover. So I decided ‘let me atleast go on until the magazine is published’. In the next three months, The Bohri Kitchen began to experience a new lease of life, our food became better, our deliveries took a turn around, I began to involve myself in accounting, learnt to cook the food, and I managed to raise investment. In 2017, we began to scale up. I am glad I didn’t go through my decision to close down,” he shares.
Over the years more branches opened and the brand began to aspire for bigger successes before pandemic happened. For over a year now, the iconic restaurant is going through troubles, like so many others during the pandemic. He closed down the branches and has just one central kitchen open. It’s back to where he started, but now with him is the much valued brand name, a great bunch loyal of customers, and a great set of experiences as an entrepreneur, which he shares with the world. Munaf’s ‘How I quite Google to Sell Samosas’ is selling like hot cakes (pun intended) and is a welcome addition to the genre – books on food.
Shankar’s One Dollar Recipes
35 years of experience in working on both sides of the kitchen, opening a successful restaurant, experimenting with recipes, devising menus and mastering world cuisines, Shankar Krishnamurthy has been a busy chef and owner of Fusion 9 in Hyderabad.
Then pandemic set in, restaurants were shut down, and days were filled with nothing much to do except waiting for things to get better soon. On one of his long morning walks, the idea struck him to author a book of recipes, and eight months down the line it led to self-published ‘The $1 Cook Book’.
Shankar has been already working on his culinary academy, a very innovative and modern online learning space. And, when he decided to write a book with his recipes that can be made in one dollar, he was sure it was going to be an e-book, one of the first initiatives of the academy.
“During pandemic we all have been cutting back on expenditure, there has been a major loss of revenue, and you are happy to discover less is good and it is enough without compromising on quality. That set me thinking. My book of recipes can all be prepared by spending under Rs 75 that could be a dish or a one pot meal. So, for Rs 300 and less, four people can have a comfortable meal.
One of the first recipes he made was that of Chicken Fried rice. “I used cauliflower instead of rice. The aim was to make simple, healthy, and flexible recipes, structured to enable replacing of ingredients. While the economy of ingredients was kept in mind, it was not at the cost of quality and taste,” he shares.
The advantage of years of working with ingredients and a definitive edge that comes from a deep understand of flavour profile and the combinations that work and what doesn’t worked in his favour while creating the recipes. However, working within a box of one dollar was a bit challenging, shares Shankar.
This is just the beginning. Shankar will be producing atleast 100 other ebooks of various cuisines, his take on them and recipes. The work is already in progress, and he is quite excited with the new title to his profile – an author with his debut book available on the link mentioned below.
The Science and Craft of Cooking
Penguin recently launched the much-awaited book by food expert Krish Ashok. “Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking’. He is a Chennai –resident and the love story with food began from home. He would watch his mother and grandmother cook food. He says Indian cooking is indeed a science and by giving it an artistic status we are undermining the brilliance of it all.
He says, “If you are a chef who is imagining and creating recipes; that is indeed an art, but the sheer act of everyday cooking for the family is I think is a craft. It is really about cooking in the least amount of time with the least amount of wastage and with a maximum amount of nutrition. It’s just that the people who do did not get a degree and learn from their mothers and grandmothers.”
Taking the concept of science a notch up, he adds, “Good cooks when they think about food, it’s not in terms of recipe but in the form of algorithms. Sambar or a rasam is a dal based sour gravy. The sourness agent is typically tamarind. However, in Maharashtra kokum is used, in Kerala it is Malabar tamarind. You can even use vinegar as I have discovered. You will not know the difference. I realise that good cooks were already thinking in the manner.”
He says that recipes can be conceptualised in terms of Meta model – for example if we have general gravy then it can be modelled according to our preference of ingredients. The key is to know what each ingredient brings to the recipe, he says.
Masala Lab is indeed like thriller in one sense with exciting details about food, and the scientific analysis to our everyday cooking, which we take for granted. The book has been in the scheme of things for a long time, but it took pandemic to finally get down to finishing it. “The publishers did get back to me saying this is the right time to write a book on food,” he relates.
Indian Jews and their Invaluable Food Memories
Esther David is primarily an artist, sculptor, and most importantly a writer. In her new book ‘Bene Appetit: the cuisine of the Indian Jews’, she tries to document fading memory of culture, and food according to her is a memory and tradition. She is from an unorthodox Jewish family, and it was from her travels across the length and breadth of the country she discovered the many food cultures that have had major local influences. Some of the traditional habits continue like meat has to be Kosher. And dairy is not eaten with food, and so Indian Jews replaced coconut milk in recipes and that created a new flavour. On her visits to Jewish families, she would record the recipes, note them down, and religiously document them. She also visited Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh for her research.
She discovers that Indian Jews find an amazing balance between dietary laws and regional influences, and preserving traditions despite them. Esther says one of the reasons she began to write the book is because she saw how the recipes were all being forgotten as quick-cooking is being preferred. An artist that she is – Esther has beautiful illustrations throughout the book.
The books are indeed unique and bring out different experiences to the readers.