Culinary Chroniclers' Conclave 2018

Attended the much awaited Culinary Chroniclers Conclave at Godrej One,Vikhroli.Organized by Rushina Munshaw -Ghildiyal and Vikhroli Cucina,this was held in a gorgeous glass building in a beautiful and serene campus.With the rain drizzling outside,it was quite the romantic setting! Rushina who has spent the last 16 years as a food writer,pulled another ace up her sleeve.She had brought together some of the best food writers from the country....Vir Sanghvi,Vikram Doctor,Marryam Reshii,Sourish Bhattacharya and Antoine Lewis.We were gifted a logo of the coriander leaf as it was not only a garnish but also an ingredient and held an important place in  Indian cuisine.
          Vikram Doctor who is full-time with T.O.I spoke about how topics were earlier decided by editors but now everything is done at the grassroots level.He pointed out that food writers must get their facts right and acknowledge people who have contributed to the food.Completely agree,there should be originality and a sense of responsibility when writing.He discussed books like the Indecisive Chicken by Prajna Desai which spoke of food by the women of Dharavi.The Baingan Bharta by the potters' community had a piece of broken pot to enhance the smokiness of the dish.Gems like this make reading cookbooks worthwhile.

Saba Gaziyani spoke about Food Photography and Styling.She was the first food stylist I had heard of (she worked for Upper Crust if I remember correctly) and would have a stall at the Upper Crust show and I would admire her pictures.Good food styling should evoke all the senses.She believes in keeping things natural.She would rather photograph an ice-cream than mashed potato masquerading as ice-cream "Show it like it is" her words.She said it's important you show what you are selling and keep it real.The display should be neatly arranged to look disarranged! We saw a video of her work that made our mouths water! Saba held an excellent masterclass on "Challenges of Styling and Photographing a Chicken Curry" at the event.

Ruchi Srivastava was earlier a journalist but now is Content Creator in Food Media.She was a producer for MasterChef India for five years.Ruchi spoke about how earlier the format for shows was simple and catered to women in the afternoon.The movie Chocolat changed how people perceived food.She spoke about how things had changed and how parents now encourage their children to be chefs.She is working on a serial called 'Curries of India" and culinary chronicles are very useful for their research.Ruchi held a masterclass at the conclave on "Setting up a microwave video shoot in your kitchen"

One of my two favorite food historians,Dr Mohsina Mukadam spoke about Culinary Chronicles of India.Manuscripts of Ayurveda discussed food from health point of view.In Mahabharata,Bheema was well known for his culinary skills and in Ramayana,Lord Laxman.Soopashastra was a book that represented Maharashtrian society in the 19th century and one can surmise the origin of dish by reading it.Gruhani Mitra by Laxmibai Dhurandhar,published in 1910 gives us an idea about the Pathare Prabhu society then,about their sophistication and outside influences.The ingredients are in kg and implies the family structure at that point in time.Dr Mukadam mentioned the Harvard University Archives on food since 17th century and recommended we have a similar library/museum in India.By looking at old cookbooks,one can infer previous food trends.

I liked the relaxed setting of the conclave.There were three conversations.The first being on Food and the Oral Tradition by Saee Koranne-Khandekar,Lalita Iyer and Shubhra Chatterjee.Shubhra is full of life! She is a freelance film producer and has made wonderful shows on Lost Recipes for EPIC channel.She pointed out to the simple childhood song 'Lalla lalla Lohri" which talks of milk and sugar.Lalitha Iyer is a journalist,author and blogger.She spoke of how the turn from milk to buttermilk implies a souring of relations.Troubleshooting tips are best given orally.Saee pointed out that oral passing down of recipes involves multiple senses,unlike the typical cookbook.I must add that Smita Hedge Deo's cookbook "From Karwar to Kolhapur to Mumbai" is evidence to the contrary!

Noted freelance foodwriter and author Marryam Reshii gave a talk on 'Building a Career in Foodwriting".She spoke from the heart and said the only way to write well is to experience the food yourself.Vikram Doctor asked her how to maintain standards and she said by reading good books.She also rechecks what she has written,the next day.Food is not just about survival,she pointed out and one must write about all aspects.Researching origin of a dish is important and learning the language an added plus point.In fact,Kashmiri women come and ask her about their food as she knows their language and has written so extensively on their cuisine,having experienced it firsthand.Marryam had recently published a book "The Flavour Of Spice" that has all the principles she spoke about

The next session was on Cooking the Books.Vikram spoke of a Palanpuri Jain cookbook that had wonderful descriptions of the food and culture.Unfortunately there are not many publishers interested in such topics and one has to look into self-publishing.I know of a fantastic book on CKP cuisine by Bhanumati Gupte which has been published by her daughter for the same reasons.Saee and Jyotsna Shahane were co-speakers.Jyotsna Shahane is half Dutch,half Maharashtrian and has written a book due for publication based on Narayani Nayak's 1960s cookbook "500 Easy Recipes" for the contemporary kichen (The Classic Konkan Cookbook).Saee showed a copy of The Victorian Kitchen which had so much more information than just recipes.Saee herself has authored two books,one on her family recipes for private circulation and another on bread (Crumbs).Vikram spoke of "The Jewels of Nizam" by Geetadevi which had wedding feast recipes.I was gifted this book by my friend Soumitra and it holds special significance as my ancestors were teachers to the Nizam's family so many years ago.The length of the recipe should be appropriate,they all said and agreed that "The Joy of Cooking" was a great book in that respect.Incidentally the young and talented Ankiet Gulabani held a workshop at the conclave on Recipe Writing which was much appreciated.

The next dialogue was between senior journalists Sourish Bhattacharya who writes for Mail Today and has his own blog,Antoine Lewis (ex Savvy magazine and a blogger) and the young and articulate Anisha Rachel Oomen of Goya Media.Their topic? The Critic as a Cultural Interlocutor.Sourish and Antoine having been in the line for long,spoke about the changes that had taken place.Antoine thought the role of the critic had been narrowed.Sourish bemoaned the state of newspapers that provided paid reviews and the crisis of credibility.He said people believed more in peer reviews than written ones.Anisha was more optimistic and felt there is always room for the truth.She underlined the importance of the Informed Critic and felt building one's own audience was what was important.My take? I agree with her.It does not matter what others do.One just has to focus on what we do.It works! If people read a paid review and go to eat and experience the contrary,they will lose faith in the writer

The surprise of the day was the special award for Exemplary Initiative to Dr Kurush Dalal (my other favorite food historian) and his team who organized a fabulous conference on food  called Archaeobroma recently.

The event also had art exhibits.Rushina makes the most amazing food doodles (she calls them Foodles) and she held a workshop on the same.Here's an example! Pretty cool na?

Then there was the impressive exhibit by Shilpa Mitha of Sueno Souvenir on the food of India with miniature dishes arranged on the map of India

Abhjit Kini is a well known cartoonist and I know him cos his mother Prabha makes outstanding Saraswat cuisine and holds popups.Was happy to see his poster!!

Jasleen ( a.k.a NamakSvaadAnusar) put up a beautiful exhibit of a rural Kashmiri kitchen

Then there was the chocolate tasting session by Zeba Kohli which was as exciting as a wine tasting tour.The lady knows her stuff.Tried her Goji Berry Chocolate Bark and it was delicious!

There was also a Chocolate Tree installation by her!

The event had excellent topics and perfectly chosen speakers.I wasn't able to attend all the lectures thanks to jet lag  but my friends raved about Ranveer Brar's and Vir Sanghvi's lectures.Welldone Rushina and Vikhroli Cucina....hope to see this as a continued event!!


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