One afternoon in 2007, my son Aniruddh came back from school with a very gloomy look on his face. This was not the first time I had seen him ‘down’, but it was different today. Something was not right.
Meera, his mother, who had picked him up from school said to me that he was not happy with what I did to him.
“What did I do?!!” I asked, incredulous.
Aniruddh couldn’t restrain himself any further and burst out, “You put coconut oil on my hair, that’s what you did, and all my friends call me a ‘curry boy’ and I don’t like it one bit!!”
“So what do you want me to do?” I asked him.
Rubbing his head furiously he continued, “Dad please, no more of that stuff on my hair!”
“Well son,” I said, “look at my hair, it still exists at my age when most men have lost theirs – and it’s not just that it’s still thick and dark! It’s not only because of the coconut oil but also because of all the spices that we eat which keep you healthy on the inside and looking good on the outside!”
He was not convinced.
So I tried another track.
“Son. How about you get your friends over to our place and we show them our food? Let’s cook together with your friends. What about doing an Indian BBQ and one dish of your choice?” That was just a spontaneous thought but it was also the beginning of the best period of my cooking life!
Since 2007 we have conducted cooking classes for children in schools around Sydney and also at nilgiri’s. It is the most satisfying thing as a chef, and as a father, to see so many kids interested in cooking, not just any old food but my food, that’s right, bloo.. Indian food!
So here is what we did.
Meera and Aniruddh invited his close mates over for a cook-off at the restaurant with their fathers and we called it a Father and Son Cooking Session!
Giving it a name was the easy bit. So what were we going to cook and, more importantly, what were we going to call the dishes? I was damn-d if I was going to call it a Cur-y session. No way José!! This was my food, cooked my way, not some sloppy cur-y in a hur-y!!
We don’t eat cur-ies in India at home. We don’t eat cur-ies in Australia at home, but this still hadn’t answered the question of what we should call our dishes.
“What do we call them then, son?” I asked Aniruddh and here is what he said: “Dad, you write a recipe of a dish that you like and I will write a recipe of a dish that I like. OK?”
“OK, but what next son?” I asked.
“We will then give it its own name.” Aniruddh replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
We were done! After all, they do say that the child is the father of the man!
So we got down to work.
Aniruddh started to use all his ‘expertise’ recalling dishes that he liked and I started to use all my experience to create the dish.
He chose lahsoon aur kali mirch champein (grilled lamb chops crusted with pepper and garlic) served with a pudine ki chatni (mint and coriander dip) and I chose chicken pulao andhra style!! (These names were kept a secret from the participants, they just saw fresh herbs, succulent lamb cutlets and ignorance is, sometimes, easier bliss!)
Once the menu was ready and the drinks were decided upon, we were ready to go!
Here is what Aniruddh’s plan was:
1. Every father and son pair would make one set of each dish in their respective stations. (We have small stove tops so that a group can cook together in the same room, as any of you who’ve been to my cooking classes will know.)
2. All the dishes cooked were to be eaten at a communal table and all the dishes were to be shared by all.
3. Any leftover food could be taken home for their mothers or brothers and sisters.
4. No drinks were to be served till all the cooking was done.
5. We used a phrase called “CAYG” (clean as you go), meaning clean your kitchen as you go and don’t leave all the mess till the end.
6. We were to do a demonstration of the dishes being cooked before the father and son pair re-created their own dish at their respective stations.
7. Once we were all seated at the communal table with our cooked food in front of us we were ready to give the dishes a name. The kids were to give a name to the lamb cutlet dish and the dads were to name the chicken dish.
So what did they come up with?
Every single one of the five kids called it “lamb cutlets with pepper and garlic”, or “pepper and garlic lamb cutlets”, or “grilled or barbecued cutlets with pepper” and do you know what the most surprising (and pleasing) thing was?
Not one of them called it a curry!!
With the fathers, it was a different story as all of them, apart from one father, called it curried chicken and rice!
Interesting isn’t it?!!
For most adults in the Western world Indian food is nothing but a curry, but for the kids it is fun food just like any other cuisine. It is a protein cooked with a spice in a certain style. They have no preconceptions.
So, let’s learn from our kids and not place this beautiful cuisine into a constricting box by calling it a mere curry!
I hope that my cooking classes (and my blogs!) will bring more Anglo Saxons into Indian kitchens so they can see just how varied our national cuisine is. I also hope that one day we will see a Bill or an Andy or a Tom run a 3 chef-hatted Indian restaurant right here in Australia, and it’ll only be then that we can say that we live in a truly multicultural society!!
Well, as for my son Aniruddh, he came back from school the next day with a frown on his face and said to me, “Dad, I’m not a ‘curry boy’ any more, the boys are calling me “The Tandoori Tiger”!!!!
Click lahsoon aur kali mirch champein (pepper and garlic lamb cutlets) to make your own dish at home. This is a great and easy dish to make and even better if father and son can do it on the BBQ and make lunch for the family/friends!
Anah daata sukhi bhava!!