Ever since I can remember, I had a passion for the richness and variety of food in India. I grew up in North Delhi where there were many different communities with very distinct cuisines – the Muslims from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi with their Awadhi and Mughali cuisines; the Vaishya cuisine of the vegetarian Guptas and Agarwals; the diverse cuisines of the Kayasthas, Biharis, and Kashmiris. I was one of those annoying kids who was always in the neighbours’ kitchens asking questions.
I firmly believe that cooking skills need to be imbibed through immersion that means close experience of the real thing, observing cooks at work in their natural environment and developing an instinct for spicing. I thank my parents for giving me a discerning palate and teaching me how to appreciate good food.
I have been on a lifelong journey of learning and appreciating food. All the lovely Aunties and grandmothers in my neighbourhood would always patiently explain and show me how they made a particular dish. In those days people’s front doors were rarely locked and young people had the privilege of getting an inside view of how food was prepared in different kitchens. No one seemed to mind and they could always use another pair of hands.
When I moved to live in the UK in the 1980s I missed the smells and tastes of home. All of a sudden, everything I took for granted was not available and I had to start cooking seriously to recreate that taste of home. I always dreamed of having a food business and launched Deccan Tiffin November 2012.
It has been a hard but immensly enjoyable slog to establish myself and not easy where everything about Indian food seems to have been done or said already . But I feel I have a unique niche and voice because of my deep understanding of Indian flavours and traditional cooking techniques.
My life has been a constant journey – I was born in London while my father was a student at SOAS, University of London and spent some years of my childhood in the States as well while he was doing a doctorate at Yale University. But we all returned to India and I spent my early school years and teenage years in Delhi, which is a melting pot of north Indian cultures and cuisines. My parents were came from an orthodox Hindu background. However both moved to Mumbai at a very young age after land reforms and other changes to try their luck in the city. Their culinary journey started there. It was in Mumbai that my father first experimented with eating meat and dressing in western clothes; my mum followed with the meat eating but never wore anything other than sarees her entire life. By the time they were in England they had shed all their Brahminical food habits and I remember my mum telling me how much she had enjoyed Sunday roasts! I was an omnivore from birth, and continue to be one today.
Both my parents were keen cooks – uncharacteristically for his generation, my father would often be in the kitchen experimenting with different things and I would be his keen helper. Although he was an internationally renowned scholar with a modern outlook on life, he was insistent that I learned to cook well. I also learnt how to cook from my grandmothers and many neighbourhood Auntijis who were all great cooks. Although I was rarely in charge of cooking an entire meal, I was, like many other children in Indian families, expected to help around the kitchen, cutting, chopping, organising spices and ingredients and generally being the assistant. Lucky for me we had cooks only for making things like chapatis and daals – the rest was down to us and thats why its so ingrained in my consciousness. I rarely use measures to cook and that is a skill that I acquired when I was very young.
I named the company Deccan Tiffin to acknowledge my parents who were born in the Deccan Plateau.