Mithu Sen, artist
I left home for Santiniketan’s Kala Bhavan at the age of 18, leaving behind my mother’s exquisite cooking. I had been a fussy eater and she had to struggle to feed me. Nourishment, of course, came from books as well, and my mother often tricked me into eating while I was engrossed in a book. So, books were my favourite food and still are.
At Santiniketan, I got bored of hostel food within a month or so. I would make kathi rolls for myself but instead of filling it with meat or vegetables, I would pluck the flowers that bloomed on our campus and roll them up in the rotis made in the university’s kitchen. My university had a variety of flowers and I kept experimenting: all of them weren’t picked for taste; some were picked for their fragrance, others for their form. I still remember how people would freak out watching me eat them.
Sometimes, to change things around, I would surrender to the eternal time-saver — Maggi noodles. I never used the spice mix that comes with the packet. Instead, I would choose colours from my paint box to give it a hue of my liking. I survived it all and no plant grew from my stomach, though I waited for a long time for it.
Manu Chandra, chef
By 18, I was pretty certain that a chef is what I wanted to be. Despite having enrolled at St Stephens for a History honours course, I’d charted out a plan to work part time in professional kitchens. Given that one of those stints was at the ITC Maurya, where I’d have to spend endless hours toiling over the famed daal Bukhara — iconic even then — it was a recipe I did at home sometimes.There was no easy way of doing it. One started with unsoaked, washed black lentils and used very little garlic and onion and then just simmered them forever, stirring almost constantly. Very light masalas, generous amounts of tomato purée, butter and cream were added for its signature creamy feel. A small cup of it with hot rotis would leave my picky friends impressed.
Anita Nair, author
At 18, my head was filled with books, music, art, bike rides, my dog and boyfriend, not necessarily in that order. Food or its cooking was relegated to a discreet place in the cranium rather like the spot where fire extinguishers are placed in office buildings. To be accessed only when necessary. Nevertheless, and because of its historical construct in family gatherings, I began writing down recipes of the traditional dishes that had emerged from my grandmother and my mother’s kitchens. sambhar and kaalan; olan, elissery, kootu curry, puli ingi, olan, puzhku, mutton curry, fish curry in four different ways; appam and stew; idiappam and kadala curry… the list was longer than my arm and daunting. One day, I would get around to trying them out, I told myself. But, meanwhile, what I could make was a quick, simple, yet glorious plate of egg bhurji with a twist, as per my grandfather’s recipe:
2 – eggs
2 – shallots finely chopped
½ inch – piece of ginger finely chopped
A few curry leaves
3 – finely-chopped green chillies
Handful of drumstick leaves or finely-chopped spinach
2 tsp – coconut oil or cooking oil.
Beat the eggs with salt. Saute the shallots, ginger, green chillies and curry leaves in 1.5 tbsp of oil, just enough to remove the raw taste. Add the beaten eggs and scramble. Now, add the drumstick or spinach leaves. Cook till the eggs are done. Drizzle ½ tbsp of coconut oil over the eggs and serve hot.