Ode To Abu

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Living, Learning and Moving On...

Surprised to see this blog still receiving page views despite being inactive for months. 

From profiling people and events that were largely FB-based; since new business startups and the spreading of awareness and/or events were raging like wild fire on the virtual medium, I have progressed in these past months to some hands-on profiling of people, places, establishments in the 'real' world. Working with an experienced journalist and providing content for a reputed local neighbourhood publishing house of 18 years standing, and still counting, has been and continues to be an interesting experience.

Each time I think of reviving the blog but have not been able to make the time, being caught up with deadlines and other matters. My personal journey in these past few months have also taken me closer to where my heart truly lies, which is social work or causes close to my heart. 

While there was and is much to say on that front, somehow putting those thoughts or experiences on paper/online seemed a daunting task. No words, however simply or magnificently written, could capture the essence of the depths of feeling involved when you do something completely selfless and from the core of your heart. 

While there are so many one meets these days, people who are enterprising, innovative with the right amount of savvy and smarts required to promote their work; it is rare to meet or know of the truly selfless ones. 

Ideally, would like to profile more of such people and/or events on this blog alongside the ones who are commercial and make no bones about it! Looking forward to writing more on what/who/places/events that keep me grounded and alive! It would be great if the few active ones checking this space join me for the ride too! :)

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Baker Brigade - Kuki Ravindran & Rashmee Gopalan

These two home bakers were part of HBG's very 1st Baker Showcase event and it is only fitting that they participate in the Anniversary edition as well. 

Kuki Ravindran

Kuki Ravindran calls Chennai her home after settling here for over 15 years now. Born and raised in Delhi, Kuki loves her life here and keeps herself almost completely consumed with her culinary pursuits. She also enjoys writing food-based articles for websites and magazines.

She has spent 13 years (seems to be a magical number for quite a few bakers!) in the corporate world of airline sales. Kuki was able to travel widely and experience different cultures and cuisines during her tenure at British Airways.

It is about 2 years now since she started her cooking and baking venture titled The Kuki-Jar and began catering for friends. She supplies desserts to restaurants such as Ashvita Bistro, Chamier’s Eco-Café and Amethyst in the city. She has also catered for events like the Metro Plus Theatre Fest, which sees the city’s theatre-loving populace enjoy productions from all over the country. 

Kuki’s regular clientele are mostly repeat customers. She came up with the idea of a High-Tea box that contained an assortment of her goodies and was a hit among the dessert lovers in the city. This was also featured in Outlook Magazine, a national publication.

Kuki says her catering philosophy is simple - to use the best recipes and the finest ingredients available to create dishes that she would be proud to serve in her own home.

Her other loves are singing, playing with her dog Nooky, her family, and her friends whom she considers her family! Kuki’s mother is a well-known face on television. Neethi Ravindran used to work as a Newsreader at Doordarshan in the English News segment, back in the days of monopoly television in this country. Many who grew up in those times idolized her and her peers, and remember her fondly.

Kuki’s Showcase menu consists of Glazed Cinnamon Rolls, Creamed Corn Quiches, Eggless Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Cupcakes, Lemon Friands, Creamed Corn Quiche, Nutty Caramel Slices, Foccacia Rolls, Rum Balls, Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Shortbreads and Mississippi Mud Cake with Bailey’s fudge frosting.

Wholesome goodies and rich delectable desserts are Kuki's specials and going by the look of the pics, these will vanish in the blink of an eye at the Showcase!

The Kuki-Jar FB page

Rashmee Gopalan

Rashmee holds the honour of being one of the first bakers to sell out at two Baker Showcase events! Hope she pulls off a hat-trick this time as well.

Since my last coverage of Rashmee, she has taken to playing badminton on a daily basis and hopes to take part in the upcoming July marathon.

This mother of two still enjoys making simple cakes, despite the fondant craze - more the norm these days, and has a wide range of options on her menu this time as well.

White Chocolate & Cranberry Cupcakes and Spiced Carrot Cupcakes besides her best-sellers like Nutella Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes, will sit side-by-side in her cupcake section along with other popular flavours such as Mint, Mocha and Dark Chocolate. 

Rashmee’s delicious gooey fudge brownies are fairly legendary and besides the mint and plain brownie flavours, she has Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips Fudge Brownie on offer this time. Assorted Tarts are also on the menu apart from Focaccia Bread and Apple Walnut & Raisin Crumble. 

An all-natural, no essence, no colouring, extremely juicy, extra-moist Orange Cake shines brightly on her menu for this event. Her favourite is the Intense Dark Chocolate Cake, which she is certain would be a hit with all the chocolate lovers.

Despite battling last minute glitches like electricity woes, this home baker is an entrepreneur who plans ahead well, understands her customers better, and delivers to the satisfaction of both her own as well as her client's expectations. 

SnowFrosting FB page

Baker Brigade - Nanditha Sashidharan & Girija Menon

This mother-daughter duo will be wo-manning a table together. Nanditha is one of the founders of HBG and her cakery is called The Sugar Hut. Girija is her cool, fun, hip and stylish mom.

Nanditha Sashidharan

I have profiled Nanditha earlier in quite some detail at the last Baker Showcase in February. There’s even a ‘must-not-miss’ YouTube video of one of her performances. A singer with a rock band, Nanditha is busy cooking up a storm while juggling her home, hearth, business and cats.

Her specials at this event probably outnumber everyone else’s! Cherry Tart, Bannofee Pie, Chocolate Cherry Tart with Lime Custard, Brown Butter Tart, Lemon Bars, Hazelnut Fudge, Millionaire’s Shortbread, Rum Truffles, and a ton of varieties in Decadent Brownies! Phew…Wait! Not done yet…at the last Showcase Nanditha spoke of her desire to practice making more French desserts and this time around, she has managed to fulfill her wish. French macarons have found their way on to her menu!

There is a lot more on offer by this hardworking & talented young woman and no amount of description or pictures would probably do her work the requisite justice. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, so simply drop in to the event and sample the goodies from her table!

Loads of delectable nuts, toppings and berries and combinations of the same find their way into her bakes and her loyal customers swear by her exotic creations. So don’t say I didn’t warn you ahead for not being there on time to grab them while they last!

Girija Menon

When I called Girija, she was tucking into a Magnum ice cream bar and a lot of the conversation from her side was about how delicious they are! Up until now, I’d heard a lot of mixed reviews about this brand, but am curious now and almost completely sold after hearing Girija wax eloquent on them! 

This incident deserves special mention because you had to hear her to believe it! :-) What amazed me was this lady was as cool as a cucumber on the night before the Baker Showcase, while most of the other bakers were on pins and needles and a few tenterhooks as well! Her own daughter Nanditha was battling a fridge breakdown issue, but here was the mom, all ready and treating herself to icecream close to midnight! Most of us need to learn a thing or two from you, Girija, on the advantages of being organised, prepared and relaxed on the eve of a major event!

It helps that Girija has essentially 4 varieties on her menu - Bacon Bread, Gooey Brownies with Shortbread Crust, Brown Butter Apple Tart and Salty Oatmeal Cookies. Her bacon bread looks & sounds unusual and the picture was featured in a newspaper, as part of the run-up to the event. 

She even got an order and had to oblige the customer although she was busy preparing for the Showcase. After the order was despatched, her new customer calls back and requests for one more! Girija actually turned it down! Here is one lady who is clear-headed about what she can and will not do! 

Girija seems to have hit upon a brainwave by bringing the simple Chutney Sandwich to the Baker Showcase amidst all the gooey and sugary desserts and heavy savouries. Munching on these would settle the many varieties of rich flavours and tastings that people would be indulging in at the venue, besides adding a much needed respite to the tongue and palate!

Girija was a non-resident Indian for 28 years. She lived in the Gulf and returned to Chennai in 2009. She says she likes to bake just for the fun of it. Like most mothers, she began baking for her daughters’ birthday parties. Little did she know it would turn into a serious business within the family! Her last participation at the Showcase with Sara & Tasneem was a complete sell-out with her Lime Bars and Quiches being one of the most sought after items on her menu!

An interesting conversationalist, Girija is a sound support system for Nanditha and her other daughter, who lives in the USA.

Girija conducts spoken English classes in her spare time and dabbles in aromatherapy for friends and family. She is considering pursuing this with more earnestness by enrolling for a course in America later this year.

Here's wishing these ladies all the best for a smash-hit Showcase yet again and all the luck to pursue their dreams!

The Sugar Hut FB page

Friday, 21 June 2013

Baker Brigade - Sara Koshy & Tasneem Ayub

It has been a personal wish and desire for me to feature these two lovely ladies on my blog for a long time. 

They are sharing a baking station for the 2nd time in a row at the Baker Showcase, giving me a chance to chat them up! Frankly, neither needs any introduction to the food community on FB given the popularity of their blogs, their amazing culinary skills, and most of all their charm and dignity and the wonderful way in which they carry themselves. 

One meeting with both these wonder women is enough to see how easily the love flows, the respect they have for their peers, their impeccable manners, and the ease and confidence that come only with experience. While I have always wanted to write about them, at the same time, I am quite petrified at the thought since I personally think words cannot do enough justice to their sheer talent.

Sara Koshy
Having said that, I have actually written twice about Sara, for Page4 and Chennai Spice magazines last year. While one of those write ups profiled her briefly as one of the most experienced and talented chefs in town, the other covered an event - a cookery demo and workshop she had conducted.

Sara is best known for her classes. And her classiness, if I might add! :-) Her blog is a source of inspiration and full of tips and techniques for those trying their hand at a variety of bakes. She has an exhaustive collection of recipes that are well displayed with accompanying “how-to” photographs illustrating the methods in a step-by-step manner, making it easy for readers/viewers to follow.

Her cookery workshops organized by one of the fastest growing FB groups Chennai Food Guide (CFG) and held at Gormei Market have covered short eats, desserts, quick & easy Italian & Thai specialties and more. Participants drool over the end results but also keenly observe the cooking process and come away duly inspired to try their hand at something different.

Besides these, Sara has been holding dessert and cooking classes at her home for many years now. Many a young girl residing in Chennai has attended her classes at some point or other in life. 

Sara has sass and a wicked sense of humour that occasionally crops up in FB forums but more over casual conversations. It is refreshing to meet someone like her who tells it like it is and makes no bones about being ‘politically correct’, especially in today’s world where it is difficult to tell friend from foe, or vice versa! Another little known fact about her is her days in book editing, which she truly enjoyed. She has worked with a publication at Hyderabad and Chennai. Being an editor myself, I can truly relate to her interest in the same.

Sara participated in a recent event called Be My Chef organised by Spoonbill, a restaurant in Chennai that serves world street cuisine. She made an Indonesian vegan dish called Tahu Goreng. Bean curd doused with a crunchy peanut sauce, the specialty was spicy and delicious, and a novel addition to the event. It was a live cooking & serving session within a 2-hour window and Sara rocked the house completely, churning them out of the open kitchen by the dozens!

Sara is truly one of the legends in this Showcase and with her smiling and unassuming manner, needs no effort to promote her bakes. Successful restauranteurs of the city are known make a beeline to her table to grab her signature creations.

Until last year, Sara refused to participate insisting that the younger ladies/new bakers should take centre stage. She had to be persuaded and finally relented, thanks to the brilliant idea by KP Balakumar to have one baking station called The Soul Sisters (pic in the post linked). Tasneem Ayub and Girija Menon were on the team and they all wore the cutest aprons inked with their signature team name on them. Tasneem is profiled here as she is sharing table space with Sara tomorrow. Girija is partnering with her daughter Nanditha Sashidharan this time and will be profiled in this Baker Brigade series as well.

Sara’s table at the Baker Showcase tomorrow will display Apricot Upside-Down Cupcakes, Mascarpone, Lime and Wild Blueberry Brûlée, Hainanese Chicken Pies, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies, Date Pinwheel Biscuits, Sausage Rolls and more.

One of her ‘legendary’ dishes is her signature Citrus Drizzle Cake. It is based on the legendary and classic Victoria sponge cake, light, moist and bursting with the flavour of oranges. The photo is not featured on this blogpost because it has the tendency to obscure everything else in sight! Be there early if you want a taste of this slice of heaven! I for one cannot wait to dig into it again; along with some of the new varieties Sara is bringing this time. 

One is completely spoilt for choice here! Am still over the moon remembering her last Showcase entries – carrot cupcakes and nankhatai biscuits to name a few. One thing I am certain of is that she will wow us all tomorrow with her surprises!

Tasneem Ayub

I am going to take the easy way out here and use Sara’s words on her teaming up with Tasneem. (And it is very strange not to add the suffix ‘aunty’ here, which is how most of us affectionately and respectfully address this dignified, beautiful lady). Keeping it professional here!

Sara came up with a very interesting observation; this is what she says: “Tasneem and I are the Yin Yang sisters!!

What's yin and yang? According to Taoists, everything in nature is both contradictory and harmonious. You have heat and cold, light and dark, life and death. Everyone knows the taijitu symbol. Yin is the black half with the white dot, yang is the white side with the black dot. 

Why yin yang sisters? Tasneem brings to the showcase her wealth of experience in Muslim cooking -  delicious kebabs and rolls. What I bring will be the typical English bake sale goodies - cakes, tarts and pies.”

Tasneem’s royal demeanor and style matches her cooking prowess and culinary masterpieces. An expert chef, many among the food community on FB have been invited to her home and sampled her culinary fare. They vouch that they are still licking their fingers after that experience, even if a while ago!

Tasneem is a quick learner and on everyone’s suggestions (more like demands!), she soon started a blog and an FB page and wrote about her cooking experiences, learnings, recipes and trips down nostalgia lane. There is an old-world charm about her, and yet she puts all the young ladies to shame with her effervescence and youthful attitude to life. Stylish, warm and humble, Tasneem always has a kind word for everyone and people never tire of singing her praises or that of her multiple skills and talents. Tasneem has an interest in designing clothes and runs a tailoring unit. Her rock-solid allegiance to her late mother struck me most when I first met her and almost every time we speak, she has a word of praise and a mention of gratitude and of being honoured to be the daughter of the Principal of one of Chennai’s top women’s colleges, Ethiraj College.

Tasneem is also a staunch advocate of organic food and healthy cooking and eating right. Extremely family-oriented, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, who are both car racers. They have recently welcomed a daughter-in-law into their home. Anjum was by Tasneem's side at the last Showcase, helping with the sales and customers, prepping and planning. 

Tasneem has a condition by birth called Erb's Palsy. In all the times I'd met her, I had neither known nor noticed it. The only reason it is being mentioned here is this strong and bold lady's approach and determination to create awareness about this condition and I have promised to help by writing about it in detail, but that is for another time and another place. :-) I salute her spirit and her attitude never ceases to amaze those who know/meet her.

At the last Baker Showcase in Feb, Tasneem announced her venture called ‘Ammee’s Kitchen’ and her biryani, fish pickle and Mughal sweets sold faster than most of the cakes around! Since the earlier Showcases featured mostly desserts, this time more savouries were welcomed as per popular demand. 

For tomorrow’s event, Tasneem's specialties are Malai Chicken & Paneer Katti Rolls, Egg Shammi, Chicken Seekh Kababs and of course her piece de resistance – Zaffrani Badam – a rich, ultra-delicious almond-based sweet - a royal recipe from the Mughal era. Tasneem’s pictures of these goodies record some of the highest number of likes and comments on the FB event page. Her food is already legendary since she has cooked them for her friends many a time, although this is the 1st time these delicacies will be on sale. Some other specials like Walnut Chutney, which line the inside of the Katti Rolls, is one of her favourites. 

Ammee’s Kitchen is soon going to be rocking and rolling with Tasneem joining the bandwagon of women chef entrepreneurs of Chennai!