Month: August 2020

Stirring magic in the kitchen: Sanjay Roy in apron

Kitchen has traditionally been women’s domain. The responsibility of cooking at home was shouldered largely by the lady of the house. Men cooked but professionally – first as humble bawarchis and later as glamourous chefs. Could be because of the stereotypical patriarchal perception that women are meant to take care of home while men earn a living.

Thankfully, these stereotypes are changing, albeit slowly. Men are entering the kitchen at home and delighting us with their culinary skills. Sanjay Roy a hotelier by profession, a chef and a cook by passion is one such example. Though Sanjay headed operations of various chains like Hot Breads, Bisque and hotels, he has always stepped into the kitchen to develop innovative products. His customers in these bakery chains would look forward to cakes and pastries specially made by Sanjay. At home too he often enters the kitchen to pamper the taste buds of his family and friends. Be it his biriyani or mutton dishes, grilled fish or continental we look forward to his specialities during any gathering.

I am interviewing Sanjay Kumar Roy, a dear friend, who effortlessly dons the apron to pamper our taste buds with many delicacies.

How did you develop fondness for cooking?

I think it was there from the very childhood, may be because I have a very peculiar taste bud. I could, even as a child tell whether the food prepared was good or bad, the unique taste of different masalas and flavours they add. So, when I grew up and joined the hotel industry I always stepped into the kitchen. Wherever I worked, I wanted to first check out the kitchen because unless you know your products, you can’t sell them. And that is how the interest developed. I started sharing tips with chefs to improve their recipes and develop new products initially. But I got involved in food development when I joined bakery. I used to be in the kitchen a lot then, apart from supervising other operations.

But you are not a professional chef, you were more charge of operations. Why didn’t you opt to become a chef when you joined IHM Delhi?

A delectable spread

I think the realization came very late. Also, when I joined IHM 30 years back, becoming a chef wasn’t as glamourous as it is today. Now things have changed, and a chef’s coat commands lot of prestige. Also, there was nobody to guide me and I did feel later that I should have gone into full time production. Since I had the knack for it, I would get into designing kitchen, developing new recipes while overseeing operations. I liked to do something different with each outlet.

Since you are someone who has does both, how’s cooking at home different from cooking professionally?

Sheek kebab biriyani

The only major difference is when you do the professional cooking you have all the professional gadgets and equipment. When I cook at home, I miss those. Though my kitchen at home is quite well equipped I do miss the commercial tools. But I do enjoy cooking at home as it’s more out of love and passion.

Home kitchens are meant for a particular portion of cooking, for four people or five people at best, or if you are having a party once in a while, then you cook for a larger group. But then if you have to do commercial cooking from home every day, it becomes difficult.

Cooking for family is enjoyable. It’s a stress buster. And when my daughter or wife appreciates that’s even better.

What is it that you cook at home?

At home I cook what my family and friends demand. My daughter Prapti likes pastas so I make different kinds of pastas. She has a unique taste bud for a child, but she likes anything I make. My wife prefers continental or Chinese, things that are not regularly made at home. When I cook, I like to give them the feel of fine dining at home.

What, according to you is the most important ingredient when you are cooking?

Your passion is a very, very important when you are cooking. Sometimes you may not have all the ingredients, but you will still manage fine. If you have all the ingredients, then there is no problem. But sometimes at home, all the ingredients may not be available. You have to manage, you have to innovative, you have to be open to experiment.

And when you cook professionally, say like, when you developed cakes and pastries for Hot Breads and or now for your own brand Dessi Baker, what is it that you offer to your customers?

When you’re cooking commercially your ingredients have to be a top notch. You can’t just make your products with inferior quality of ingredients. We have to make sure that we are using the right kind of ingredient which helps in developing good products. When you cook professionally customer is the King, and we have to design our dishes as per their requirement and the liking.

What does Dessi Baker?

Dessi Baker offers a range of bakery items from specialty breads, cakes, pizzas, to muffins, cookies and doughnuts, and some frozen food items. We also cater to special requests from customers like glutton free bread, or special items for people who are lactose intolerant. That is how we came up with idea of Dessi Bakers, to offer people what they want.

During the lock down we took bread, cakes and other items to people’s doorsteps, and they were really grateful for that. We delivered specially baked cakes for their birthdays and anniversaries. And I think that has been appreciated. We wanted to bring smile on people’s faces during these difficult times.

Blood orange campari cocktail

Sometimes people are just focused on taste. But how important is art of presentation to you?

Cooking is an art. Anything that you do with passion is an art, whether it is a painting or even making a building. You do want people to appreciate you.

Also, I am perfectionist and I pay equal attention to cooking and presentation. I believe people eat through their eyes first and anything that’s not presented well will not appeal to them. So, it is very, very important that food is presented well and that’s an art, especially when you do confectionary. Not everybody can be a confectioner because you need have an artistic sense when you decorate a cake. Similarly, food presentation, plating is in very important when you’re banqueting. Also, table spreads and artfully done carvings add to the feel. The overall presentation has a lot to do with how people appreciate food.

What is it you like to cook the most, the things that you enjoy doing most as a cook at home, as a professional chef?

I prefer majorly doing Italian and continental. I find them much easier and neater things to do. I also enjoy making Pan-Asian – basically a combination of sauces and spices and other vegetables, which may be available at home. In Indian, I only do particular dishes like biriyani, mutton etc. at home. But bakery & confectionary is my first love.

Your favourite food

I like steak, I would love to have it anytime.

And what about home cooked food?

Simple daal chawal and aloo cooked by mom or my wife Sanchita. I love karela, I can have karela any time, in any style.

Thank you, Sanjay, enjoyed the gastronomical trip!

My Other Half: A Mesmerizing Trip Down the Memory Lane

A small parcel was delivered to me a few weeks back by the apartment guard. When I finally opened it after keeping it aside for 12 hours and sanitizing it (to ensure there was no virus) a book came out of the envelope that took me back to a different era – My Other Half: Krishna Paul in Conversation with Chandana Dutta.  Just one look at the cover and you get a whiff of the time gone by – an inland letter with the handwritten address of noted Urdu writer Joginder Paul and black & white photograph of Krishna Paul, his better half. The back cover carries a picture of Krishna Paul now, smiling at us affectionately. As I opened the book, the handwritten inside cover greeted me, reminding me of letters and journals that are now long forgotten. I smiled happily browsing through the pages, admiring the old back and white photographs of Joginder Paul and his family. Kindle can never give that feel!

Available on Amazon

I called up Chandana, a close friend who strung together this book, to thank her before putting it on my bedside table. That night as I started reading, I was immediately transported to pre-independence India when a young girl and her family came down from Kenya in search of a suitable groom. A beautiful love story made more intriguing by the quirks of Joginder Paul and the determination of Krishna Paul. Sixteen year old Krishna had cleared her Matric exam with six distinctions and was entitled to scholarships from several colleges in London. Her only condition was she would marry a man who would allow her to continue her studies, to which Joginder Paul agreed. He had no problem with her studying or doing something else with her life. To him these were trivialities before other questions of life, poverty and hunger, that he wanted to address. 

Joginder Paul kept his promise. Though Krishna couldn’t pursue higher studies in London, she completed her post-graduation in 1955-56 and joined SB College in Aurangabad as lecturer. She joined the department of English in Jamia as lecturer in 1976. Proficient in several languages like Hindi, Punjabi English, Urdu and Swahili Krishna has translated widely, primarily works of Joginder Paul from Urdu into Hindi and English.

Being married to a brilliant mind, being a match both emotionally and intellectually to a man like Joginder Paul, was a challenge that Krishna faced with grit, love, and affection. As the narration progressed, I was more intrigued by Krishna Paul, her intellect, her wit, her literary acumen, and the active role that she played in shaping the great writer’s masterpieces. “Maybe she could have been a brilliant storyteller herself,” I wondered.

Their first train ride as a couple, Paul leading Krishna to a vacant coach to chat with his new bride, reading one of his published stories to her for the first time, are unconventionally romantic. Krishna realized immediately that her husband was special and so started their journey together.

Chandana chose to narrate her interactions with Krishna Paul, rather than follow the interview format and that adds to the magic, brings to life this amazing woman who let her husband’s brilliance overshadow her. Life with Joginder Paul was not easy for Krishna who had grown up in the lap of luxury in Kenya. Not just material discomfort, Joginder Paul’s ideals, his whims, his refusal to settle down could make things difficult. Yet what surprises me the most is that Krishna Paul never complains, never glorifies her sacrifices. She doesn’t exalt her husband either, while she recognizes his brilliance, she’s also critical of his shortcomings as a man of this world. Her depiction of the creative process of Joginder Paul, her love for her husband, her sense of humour and the ease with which she narrates their life together gives the reader an insight into two brilliant minds – Joginder Paul and the woman behind his success.

What makes the book more endearing is the love and the warmth with which Chandana presents the journey of this incredible woman. From the ‘the writer’s wife’, who she started meeting frequently to understand Joginder Paul, Krishna Paul became her own person “as much in command of herself and her universe, as was Joginder Paul, in command of his words,” Chandana writes in her introduction. She realized that Krishna Paul was telling a captivating story and decided to pen it by keeping the essence of the story intact, as a narrative. For Chandana, it was a humbling experience “to meet two of the most fantastic storytellers of our times, one through the other.” Thus, we have a beautiful story of Krishna Paul, her insights that help us comprehend the man, Joginder Paul!  

My Story of beating the Pandemic by Titas Mazumdar

The world is, without question, being tested and so are its residents. I am a Mom- Manager- Maker (Home) being challenged every single day and is juggling between the priorities and making the best use of this never dreamt situation, I am in. I often ask this question to myself ‘Do I have a choice’? Probably not

If I am not positive, If I am not happy , If I am not myself then my family won’t be happy, my team won’t be productive and energetic and my house will be on fire and this is the wrong time to be on the negative side of anything with limited choices around.

So yes, I am making the best use of this time to stay positive and keep myself happy and enjoy every ounce of this new NORMAL. In my 17 years of career, I never got the flavour of WFH and somewhere in my heart I yearned for it.  I always had this longing desire for WFH and then all of a sudden someone with a Magic (Curse) wand just granted me one, that too without an expiry date.

The first two weeks of the lockdown – Dreadful is a lesser word to describe it. Country, state, society, office, house all going haywire to cope with this new setting. We were logged in to our office network literally for 16 hours to ensure zero downtime to production & business, ensuring the entire team was well equipped with all setup to work remotely, juggling between tens of excels, hundreds of stats and thousands of numbers, sending back and forth the same data again and again…wondering what’s happening all around. That was the time I felt I don’t have control on anything.

The websites flashing the corona numbers and us checking it like a cricket score, the Whatsapp University flooding with advices and threats, pressure cooker whistling amidst conference calls, kids spilling juice right next to the work station, spouse entering into meeting in the same time in the same room, and you don’t know where to run and hide. Yes, we all went through this and can relate easily.

 And when you are a mom at home, doesn’t matter how many people are there, you will be the one called first for any tiniest help required, how many time you might have asked your little one if she is hungry before your meeting starts, answer will always be “NO.” But the moment you enter into the call you will see the tiny soul coming with tears in the eyes out of hunger, and you don’t know where are you going wrong. You want to bang your laptop or phone, but patiently you go around with your laptop attending the call to search some munchies.

Now next nightmare these new online classes – Zoom, MS Team, hangout –teacher screaming, parents juggling between links, microphone turning on and off, video standing still – Super CRAZY morning for a Super MOM. Then comes your house, you cannot neglect either where you are arrested for 24×7, 30 days a month. Yes, it is equally demanding as your family and team, it needs washing, mopping, dusting.

Making time for creativity

But now after 4 months of working from home, happily I can say all these are HISTORY. Yes, we have won over our initial struggles to set our priorities correctly be it work, parenthood or housekeeping.  Slowly things settled down in course of time. We all started breathing in fresh air. Gurgaon surprised me with air quality of 40-50 AQI.  No travelling to office during rush hours, no traffic congestions, no unnecessary running to Shopping centers and movie halls during weekend. Someone far in the universe played the game of “STATUE’ with our planet earth….everything stopped with a jolt… and with this STOP, the earth started healing.

A paradise flycatcher – a rarely seen bird  visited my society one fine morning to say ‘hello’, dark nights gifted us with twinkling stars, I sit now hours with my daughter showing her the ‘milky way , the seven sisters, the Orion’ like my dad used to show during my childhood. I was able to see those tall buildings by the side of Dwarka expressway, Manesar and bit of Delhi from my 15th floor terrace which were until 2 months back covered with dark clouds and smog. My garden started blooming with rainbow colors by the touch of nurturing hands twice a day which was next to impossible in my pre-lockdown days. I sit at ease and have morning tea and breakfast with my family on a weekday – did I ever think of this before?

It’s amazing to see my child learning in front of me. I used to return home at 9pm dead tired after work and hardly had any time other than weekend for my daughter. Now we spend hours together before and after work talking and reading books. I am teaching her to read and write Bengali, our mother tongue. Yes the universe has given time to mankind to slow down and heal …..And as we heal, we are letting nature heal too. Good quality time with Family is not locked down, Creativity is not locked down, Reading is not locked down, Sunshine and hope is not locked down.

I am hopeful this time good or bad will pass slowly like a mixture of nightmare and sweet dreams. One day we will join again, cry for our losses, laugh on the moments which we spend together with family which was a rarity otherwise, we will talk about the new ways of life which we created post pandemic, we will once again sing and dance together holding hands but never to forget what this PANDEMIC taught us…The biggest lesson of our lives till date- To take a Pause and count our blessings ….if we wake up to the dawn of 2021!!

Food, memories & more…

Masoor dal and jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) that Didun (maternal grandmother) used to make, yummy veg curry with sheem bichi, aloo, begun or kathal bichi bhaja that Dida (paternal grandmother) would cook so often. Mom does make these occasionally, but they just don’t taste the same. She’s a great cook otherwise but no matter how hard she tries she can’t replicate those recipes. Something is lost. The signature dishes that Didun and Dida would make don’t taste the same, as I remember them. Those were pre mobile days, I don’t even have pictures of those dishes .

For food is so much more than ingredients and spices. Our memories of a certain dish, the love and the affection that enveloped them add to the flavour.  That could be the reason why some recipes are lost with a generation or with a person.

With Dida when I was little

The image of Dida sitting before the cooking stove in a white sari in the vegetarian kitchen, chopping veggies and cooking. She would remember what each one of us liked. She usually garnished dal and vegetables with coriander leaves, a flavour that she loved. Since I didn’t like coriander leaves as a girl, a bowl without garnishing would be kept aside for me (much to my dad’s annoyance). We would sit outside the kitchen and watch her as she peeled kathal bichi (jackfruit seeds) or chopped saag. She would dip slices of pumpkin or yam in besan and make them into yummy fries, to be served with dal. If we happened to be around, we would get to sample these fries or daler bora fresh out of the kadai. Often, she would make a fine paste of certain veggies or seeds in the stone mortar (pata pota) – kachu bata, kathal bichi bata, kacha kolar khosha bata. Just kachu bata with hot steamed rice was such a treat. We could finish our meal with her lau moong or sheem bichi sabzi and yummy fries, but she would have none of that. As far as Dida was concerned a meal wasn’t complete without fish. Though I was’t fond of fish them, especially the regular macher jhol, she would sulk if I didn’t have fish.

Dida once loved fish; she couldn’t have a single meal without fish. She was windowed even before my parents got married and as was the practice in those days’ she never touched fish since. Though she would never enter the non-veg kitchen or the dining area she would often stand outside to see if her grandchildren were eating properly. Once while we were being served fish, I asked her how she could watch us eat and not touch something she once loved. “We get used to it didibhai,” she said with a sigh.   

Dadu & Didun

Sundays were meant for weekly visit to Dadur bari (my maternal grandparents place). On our request Didun would make masoor dal and crispy aloo fry. She would often make dhokar dalna or kachur saag. Aloor khosha bhaja and a simple cabbage curry were some of her other signature dishes.  Of course, she would make fish too for her damad that we would rarely eat. The meal would end with amshir chatni (dry mango chutney) that we so relished. Desserts were always homemade – payesh, patishapta or ras bara. When we were little, she even made fuchka (bong gol gappa) and chop for us at home. Her grandkids should not be given unhygienically prepared food from the shops, she would say. She would stuff containers with moorir moya, chirer moya and mishti & nonta nimki for us to snack in the evening.

These are all simple things made from easily available ingredients that somehow don’t taste the same anymore. What mom makes is quite close, but something’s missing, maybe it’s Dida and Didun or my memory of their signature dishes!!

Hope in the time of pandemic by Poonam Tibrewal

These are truly strange and unique times. The ongoing global pandemic is not just affecting one country, one continent or one society, it is affecting the whole world equally! COVID-19 has removed barriers of ‘we and they’, ‘here and there’, and has stirred up the value of belongingness among us. It has demonstrated that our globe is one single interdependent community. Though the crisis has brought the world to a halt today and sadly, the health and economic impact will be disastrous, I feel that from an emotional angle, the pros will outweigh the cons making us a global community with more empathy.

Despite the lingering uncertainty, COVID-19 silently offers us an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual side. In taking a moment to pause it helps us to be a little less reactive, to find some clarity that can help us be more responsible in the face of strong emotions. For instance, in many countries we saw societies pulling themselves together with the national anthem, or just singing together out of our balconies/windows, united to face this common threat.

Yes, these are scary, difficult times, and they are likely to get worse before they get better. But as we shake our heads at the reckless behavior featured on the news, or we throw up our hands in despair wondering how we can make a difference,we can introspect and look for ways to do something to make things a little better. I saw many such small acts of kindness around me. Whether it was friends who cooked meals over several days to be distributed to the migrant workers, my daughters who created beautiful things out of waste and generated funds to buy food for birds and street dogs, neighbors who helped senior citizens with essentials since they couldn’t step out. In every moment of darkness, it seems, there are countless moments of light — small gestures of compassion and connection that allow people to show who they are, how they want to live, and what matters to them.

For me personally, I’ve found myself reconnecting with family and friends on the other side of the world, and it eases my mind a little bit knowing we’re doing similar things. We find ourselves joined together across the world, waiting for Covid-19 to reveal our future. I’ve also found that this is a really good time to reflect on my routines. The constant protests about the lack of time…not enough with family, not enough to pursue my hobbies. Now with this sudden gift of time, did I do everything that mattered to me? Or has the very definition of what matters to me changed in the face of this adversity? Being constrained for months many of us wonder if there will ever be a real life outside our homes. Our tasks are now more about subsistence, not profit. We cook and we clean. We ask for help as help and don’t disguise it with marketing jargon like “collaboration” or “partnership”. In this new normal I find myself pondering, even looking forward to an imagined future…a future full of hope, dreams and a world which is worth saving!

This crisis has given us all a much-needed pause to reflect on the things that need to be protected and conserved. Maybe this is what will see us through over the next millennium and even after!

Communication consultant Poonam Tibrewal enjoys reading and writing in her free time. During the lockdown, she discovered her passion for cooking. Poonam is a mother of two adorable girls, Aliya and Amira. She engages with her daughters in various handicraft projects like painting bottles, making things out of waste to keep them meaningfully engaged while they are at home.