Home Chefs Across India Filled the Space – Delectably – During Covid
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 jewelry.
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 traveled road.
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.
In Delhi, Rani Jinsi has cooked the Kashmiri Pandit Waazwan and managed not to repeat her menu. The perennial favorites 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 flavors of Assam and Northeastern cuisine.
Mrs. Beg offers a small but delicious repertoire from Hyderabad-biryani, mirchi ka salan, baghare baigan and double ka meetha– from her home. 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 flavors beyond cliches.
In Mumbai, Rushina Munshaw Ghildhiyal has spearheaded the revival of Gadhwali food from Uttarakhand. The menu keeps changing seasonally. She is interested in traditional knowledge about ingredients, nutrition, and seasonality.
We wait with optimistic anticipation the Charge of the Home Chef Brigade! (ANI)