Home chefs: The unsung champions of regional food

The ongoing lockdown has made home chefs, who have been rewriting the rules of dining, more popular as they hand hold newly minted cooks, share secret recipes and familiarise with obscure details about their native cuisine, reports Chhavi Bhatia

They have been around for sometime now, trying to carve a niche either by hosting a table every few weeks at their home or making a guest appearance on the menu of a high-end restaurant. Deglamourised as they may be, without the arc lights falling on them and cameras shooting them in the best of angles, there is no denying the fact that home chefs have been subtly defining our relationship with food. They have rewritten rules of dining, making the whole experience a more intimate one, besides being unsung champions of regional food and sustainable practices. Now, the months-long lockdown has further given an impetus to their existence, extending greater relevance to their craft as they hand hold newly minted cooks, share secret recipes, familiarise with obscure details about their native cuisine. In short, they are bringing order to the Covid-19 pandemonium through one of the most loved things in the world — food.

“Scrolling through numerous posts on social media, I noticed that a lot of people were not aware of the basics of cooking, and gave up after a few attempts. I have been cooking myself for so many years now and learnt a lot of things on the go. So I took it upon myself to hand out tips and tricks to amaetur cooks,” says Varun Rana, communications director, The House of Angadi. A self-tutored “passionate” cook, Rana shies away from being labelled as the messiah of kitchen newbies though his Instagram feed imparts information on whole Indian spices, local sabzi, and simple recipes that do not require one to rush to the supermarket or wait for the lockdown to end. For instance, he steers his followers towards the comfort of tomato and coriander infused upma or a Thayir Saadam and Punjabi Bhindi for dinner. He also urges us to break rules by having Sticky Rice Mango pudding in lunch — all of these recipes neatly enlisted in simple steps, taking the phobia of burning the house down, out of cooking.

Rana has a partner in Samaira Bhasin. All of 10 with her own Instagram handle, this little girl doles out cooking tips with oodles of cuteness quotient in her videos. Taking into the footsteps of her father Ashish Bhasin who is Executive Chef, The Leela Ambience Gurugram, Samaira tells you with the confidence of a trained chef that chocolate melts at 45 degrees and that cut and fold is an important step in baking cakes.

Seasoning her videos with endearing mischievous expressions, she even motivates you not to lose confidence if your Mango Mousse does not turn out well. This trained Bharatnatyam dancer treats her users mainly to baking exotic cakes with most of the recipes curated by her. Her latest Instagram live on her birthday where she bakes a red velvet cake, garnered hundreds of views and many likes. “I spend about an hour in the kitchen since there is no school these days. I am happy that people are connecting with me and trying my recipes,” she says. “Sometimes, people also ask me questions about a particular dish, and I always try to give them correct answer besides sharing my own experience. I love cooking and I want everyone to enjoy it and not be scared of it,” says Samaira who first experimented with no-fire cooking at the age of five.

The significance of using readily available ingredients and seasonal produce is something Abhilasha Jain is also vociferous about in her Instagram live videos. For most half of the week, the Gurugram-based home chef connects with people on the social media platform, promoting Marwadi cuisine, vegetarianism and rustling up simple food with limited vegetables and fruits.

“Rajasthan being a desert region does not have too many greens. So we learnt to make do with whatever was available in the season. Dishes like Tarbooz ki Sabzi, Angoor Kakdi Ki Sabzi were invented out of necessity. For those not very conversant with Rajasthani khana, all these are delicacies,” she says.

She puts up pictures of thalis — complete meal in itself with all the rasas on her social media handles, talks about making traditional things like papad etc in one’s own kitchen instead of buying them off the shelf. She also gives live cooking demos on Marwadi khana, interspersing her interactions with stories about her state, kitchen and food. “Gram flour or besan is a very prominent player in Rajasthan followed by poppadom and mangodi. Not many people are aware of the real reason behind our obsession with these things — availability and shelf life. So these sessions have also increased other’s knowledge about Marwadi khana,” smiles Jain.

While she has slowed down on bulk food orders due to Covid-19, she is still delivering food on special requests from friends and old patrons.

Like Jain, another home chef Anupurna Kaul, is dispelling myths surrounding Kashmiri cuisine, besides taking orders for home-cooked meals, albeit limited. Her customers are mostly senior citizens living around her residence in DLF Phase IV, Gurugram who were dependent on house help for food, bachelors and over-worked couples who do not have time to cook.

“I take orders for only one meal a day — lunch or dinner. This is usually an assortment of different cuisines including Kashmiri. I started it to help old people in particular. We are taking due precautions in view of the pandemic. The food is arranged to be picked up from the entrance of the place where I stay and cashless transactions,” she shares.

On social media, she is hosting watch parties on Kashmiri food, sharing recipes of Dum Aloo, Nadru Haak etc. “This is a great opportunity to connect with people and share the vast reservoir of information I have about food, specially my own cuisine. The most common sentiment is that Kashmiri food is all about Rogan Josh. In my posts and interactions, I am focusing on bringing out the other gems of Kashmir, and I have seen that there is a lot of curiosity about the cuisine,” says Kaul.