Ode To Abu

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!

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