I have always had a great zeal for food. As a child, I loved playing mad scientist in the kitchen and often got chided for tinkering around, mixing a myriad of flavours together, and often, burning my mother’s pots and pans. But, it was my mother who was the true mad scientist. Everything I love about food and the kitchen comes from her. Every food memory, growing up, has the spices, the smells and flavours from her kitchen. The resident chef at home – her dishes were always thoughtfully planned, prepped and cooked. My father played the loyal and diligent sous chef, who often got yelled at but without whom my mom’s kitchen would be incomplete.
Being a Tamilian household, my parents introduced my sister and I to unique ingredients from early on. I was probably the first kid in my class when I was 7, who knew what asafoetida was. Things like manathakkali vathal (Wonder berry/ Black Nightshade), mahali kizhangu (Indian sarasaparilla) were childhood staples. So were the stone grinders, special utensils such as eeya chombu (tin vessel) for rasam and tawas and steamers for the dosas and idlis. Food was about technique as much as about flavour.
My mother also ensured that we ate everything from carrots and peas to pumpkin and bitter gourd. Every preparation was unique and shined a light on the flavours of the vegetables. A tiny portion of potato chips with one of meals (a luxury for us kids) meant eating all our vegetables without any fuss. Along with moral values, my parents instilled in us its oft-ignored but equally important cousin – food values. Eating well and in moderation and always sharing our little plates of food with everyone. Having Appa’s (my father) colleagues over, cousins and friends over, meant a day of never- ending, lip smacking meals, homemade South Indian snacks, coffee and many cups of garam, garam chai (tea).
It’s no wonder then that many years later, as a 20-something, exploring passions and purpose, I knew where to find my bliss and what road to follow.
In the fall of 2011, I started an experiment in Maastricht, Netherlands – cooking for, and dining with, strangers. The idea was simple: bringing people together around a table with the promise of good food and interesting conversations. Within a year’s time, this experiment turned into an international series of dinners called Table Talk @ Cici’s. Starting from my humble home in Maastricht, to hosting over 100 dinners across Europe and India, this serendipitous journey has given me a chance to keep my childhood alive and pass on the food values that I hold so dear to me.
Here’s to more exciting journeys and creating new memories. Up, up and away!
What the media has to say about Table Talk @ Cici’s