Meet Reshmy Kurian, warm and talented food blogger behind Bombay Chow-party – an incredibly popular blog and workshop for cooking aspirants in Mumbai and now around India. Let’s talk ‘yummy’ and more with Reshmy. Caution you may want to read this with snacks handy!
STW: Tell us a little about Reshmy – the designer, the teacher, the food lover, the blogger. You wear so many hats.
RK: A designer by training (alumni of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad) and a baker by passion, I have been cooking and baking since the age of 6. Since forever, the one thing I remember being passionate about, driven by and good at, is food. So I eat, cook, visit, read everything food (that I can get to). Supermarkets and food stores have always been my destinations of choice, I decide where to travel based on what food’s on offer, fantasize about the next dish I will cook, hate repeating dishes too often, get bored with the same cuisine and am partial to foods I have never eaten before or have a wicked twist.
Design taught me the approach to anything creative. It taught me to think of creation as a process of of both science and art. I teach User Experience Design as well cooking/baking and in both spaces I often start with this. To be creative, one needs to understand science and structure and then use ones creative/aesthetic capabilities to make your own creation unique. For years I have been talking about that, teaching, mentoring professionals to look at design from that perspective and now that I have started teaching cooking/baking I realized that food and design are very very similar. Creating food is about the same mix of science and art.
I have a very low threshhold of boredom and thats probably why of all the things I do, food has always managed to keep me hooked. With food there is always the next new thing to eat, next new technique to master, a whole new idea to explore. I blog because food talk is the language I think in. But also, as someone completely self taught at cooking/baking, I believe that given a bit of guidance, everyone can bake/cook incredible food at home. My goal with the blogs, workshops and food tours is to help people find the joy of baking and cooking and finding new food experiences. One of my greatest joys is that a lot of those who come for my workshops go on to start their own blogs, a couple have even decided to join catering school
STW: Digging deeper into that love for food – Your blog and workshops are clearly a hit! What sparked this journey into food mania?
RK: My first memory with food is making pancakes while standing on a chair in my mum’s kitchen when I was 7 or so. There was a chapter on pancakes in my schoolbook and the idea that all these ingredients in my mom’s kitchen could work magic and turn into a sort of a ‘cake’ that the characters in my books ate, was incredible to me. Once I saw that even I could actually work that magic myself and turn everyday ingredients into fascinating dishes from far away places, I starting living for these moments.
Food has been many things for me. My way of understanding the world, understanding cultures, understanding people and even myself. It’s been my solace, my passion, my imagination, my expression, my self. I really mean it when I say its the one constant I can remember in my life. Since I can remember there has always been some dish that has been on my mind…that has taken up my focus, distracted me from all else I am suppose to be thinking of or doing and driven me to earn, beg, borrow or steal money so I can eat/make it. From being a kid who stole change to buy ingredients I wanted to cook with to sneaking an electric heater into my hostel room at NID so I can make plum jam, saving a portion of every paycheck so that I can buy cookbook getting up at 2 AM so I can bake bread before I go to work and now changing my careers trajectory so I can make space for this passion. You could call it an obsession. Really, its difficult for me to separate myself from my love for food.
I started the blog in 2010, as a vent for my overactive food mind and a place for me to share my experiences, thoughts and encounters with foods. For most people, even if they love food, there is only so much they can think food. Many of my friends have said the same thing to me “ how can you be eating a huge, planned, involved meal and at the same time be planning the next meal you will eat?” So I realised that my one track mind needed an escape route. A place where I could talk as much about food as I wanted. I also needed a place to record because I have a tendancy to get hooked to a dish, cook it over and over till I feel its right and then forget about it and for months, sometimes years not cook it again. Yet when I am cooking it, each attempt is thought through and works on fixing what I thought didnt work. Often once the problem is solved I lose interest and if I dont record it, the next time I want to come back, I end up forgetting what I did. And that I regret. The blog helps me record where I am at with the recipes i create.
STW: How do you stay inspired in the kitchen and on your blog? Does this philosophy extend to life as such?
RK: Food inspires me. And its everywhere. Inspiration comes from so many places – new ingredients, new techniques I read of, unfamiliar flavours I discover and travel. I think my journey with food had a lot to do with reading. As a kid I would read a lot and so many of our kids books included incredible discriptions of food. I wanted to eat all of that. Even today reading inspires me to cook. But then if I ever see a charecter in a film/TV show eat anything, I want to eat that immediately too.
And now I have a whole new inspiration. Also the biggest constraint I have ever had around food – being diagnosed gluten and dairy intolerant. In turns this seems like the worst or the best thing that could happen to me. The worst because these two have been the cornerstones of my cooking so far as it would be with any baker you know. And also somewhat exciting to have brought a whole new set of challenges to solve and techniques to learn.
I wouldnt say this extends to life because honestly, for most other things my attention spane is incredibly short. Food has really been the only constant in my life.
STW: If you could live on two dishes for the rest of your life, they would be? Why’d you pick these?
RK: If you had asked me that a month back I would have said bread because that’s the one thing I can cook over and over again. And freshly baked bread is irresistible. You will eat.. even if you don’t intend to.
But beyond that, Im just not a live-on-2-dishes-forever kind of girl. 2 ingredients – ya maybe. If they are the right ones, I would just turn them into enough different dishes.
STW: With so many people taking to experimental cooking these days – inspired by food blogs, travel channels and reality TV, what do you think is the reason behind all this enthusiasm?
RK: I think a lot has contributed to making this happen. The markets opened up and we are now more and more exposed to international products. Whatsmore, as the IT industry boomed a lot of people are traveling extensively for work and encountering new foods, flavours, cultures which has helped loosen our rigid notions around food and our inward looking tendencies a bit. Meanwhile our fascination with the west has always been a constant and thats helped us along in accepting food that are perceived as western or upmarket. As we have opened up to the world, and our media has realised there is new content that will now be accepted, they have started running a lot of content that serves this curiosity and at the same time elevates the level of interest further.
And then shows like Masterchef Australia have made a huge difference to how we now look at food. That food can be artistic, sensual, exciting has been a revelation. Cooking is now no longer seen as an uncool, regressive activity. In fact I think we are now at a point where now a lot of people are into food because its kind of ‘cool’ to be a ‘foodie’. And its not an exclusivist label. Anybody can be a foodie. At some level, I think its also that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with life and food does soothe the soul. What’s more, the horizons around food are endless. There’s always new foods to discover and besides films, eating and restaurants are probably the only other thing that today gives us a break from our own crazy stressful lives.
STW: According to you could Mumbai be India’s food capital – offering treats and tastes from all over the world?
RK: It could be but its far from it yet. I would say that Delhi is hands down the food capital. It has far better specialty restraunts and has always had those for some time now. Whether it be international food (say Japanese food/ middle eastern bakery/ Indian food with a molecular gastronomic twist) or Indian (Like naga food). The Mumbai food scene is growing fast but nowhere near. At the risk of getting into lot of trouble I think this also has something to do with the inherent nature of cultures native to Delhi (mostly Punjabi) which are more intense about food vs the culture native to Mumbai (Maharasthrian) which though has a rich culinary heritage has not been as food centric as say the Punjabi, Bengalis or Gujratis.
STW: Your most favourite cuisine? Is there anything you don’t like (wouldn’t cook or eat)?
RK: I really can’t tell you one favourite because I just always crave for new untasted foods. I keep discovering new cultures through their food and vice versa. Italian has always been a favourite and pasta is almost a staple at our house. On the other hand last year for me was a lot about middle eastern cooking and a few years back I discovered a love for Japanese food thats stuck since then. This year I discovered Malay and Nyonya food and through that a lot of my ideas around cooking have changed for me.
What I don’t like – that would be chapatis unless right off the griddle. You will never get me to eat chapatis that are not hot and freshly made which means more often than not that I will just not eat chapatis at all. And now, with the whole new gluten intolerance, I can’t!
STW: What can we look forward to next on Bombay Chow-party?
RK: A lot of new Gluten and dairy free food! For someone who has always turned up her nose at food restrictions and fusion food, this year has broken a lot of my notions around food. I think I am now ready to approach cooking from a whole new vantage point. Healthier can be tasty. It has to be.