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If you are passionate about cooking, nothing will please you more than the coming of age of the Indian kitchen.
The first time I had to set up my own kitchen was when I shifted out of home to live in Mumbai at the age of 22. Other than for baking a bunch of cakes and cooking some random omelettes and pasta dishes, I really hadn't cooked much before leaving home. I'd also never paid attention to how our kitchen was stocked or what utensils we had. All I knew was that every afternoon and night, a fancy meal which would have made many a restaurant proud was dished up by our cooks and my grandmother when she got home from saving the souls of the downtrodden at work.
It's only when I shifted into my 220 sq foot apartment (if you could call it that) in Bombay that I was greeted by the prospect of fitting out a kitchen in the two shelves and one teeny cabinet that was passing off as a kitchenette in the flat. My aunt gifted me three utensils - one frying pan, one kadai and one saucepan. I also got two ladles. And three plates. No pressure cooker. That was a luxury at the age of 22. But I did get myself a mixer-grinder. And over time, as the hunger pangs and culinary skills started kicking in, I began stocking up on coriander, cumin, red chili, turmeric. The basics. I didn't have a microwave or oven - but did have a rented fridge. I remember dishing up an Indian roast chicken, fish curry, and a horrible whisky chicken cooked by singer Mika Singh on a Sanjeev Kapoor show. I had to chuck the last because it tasted only of whisky. But that's what I got for following a recipe taught by Mika Singh.
But things have changed - and how. Today, the first room in the house that I get settled is the kitchen. And since I stay in a rented place in Delhi and like all cursed renters in this city have to change home every 11 months or so, I've become quite an expert at it. I can proudly say that my kitchen in Delhi is way better stocked and fitted out than my kitchen in Calcutta. While I may be missing my wonderful Calcutta chef, I've figured out all the shortcuts to being able to whip up the same food as she does with half the back break.
So here are my top tips on what you absolutely must have in your kitchen if you want to be able to cook up almost anything. Get some appliances like an oven (I have a small Morphy Richards which has stood by me through bad cakes and good), a microwave and a mixergrinder. I don't have a food processor and have managed to survive for 14 years of living on my own and cooking up many a meal without one. So give it a skip. Get yourself two frying pans - a large one and a small one. A few non-stick pans and the ultimate luxury - a pressure cooker. I'm all grown up now, so I have two. A small, green one and a massive Prestige.
The presence of the bottle green pressure cooker is also because I like having attractive utensils around. And I'm not the only one. I've noticed that almost all my friends spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen now. Gone are the days when the kitchen was used only to cook food. And everyone would assemble in the dining room, gracing the kitchen only to check whether dinner was ready. Of course another reason why no one hung out in the kitchen was because in all our family homes the kitchens weren't the most temperate places to be chilling out in. In a city like Calcutta especially, come summer and the kitchen was sweltering hot. You could lose a few kilos spending an hour there. But with our modern apartments, almost all our kitchens are more compact, much better ventilated and at least some of my friends even have air-conditioners in their kitchens. Nowadays, many get-togethers are spent hanging out in the kitchen while one of us cooks dinner and others sample the food and pass us ingredients.
This is definitely one of the better influences of the West. Suddenly it's cool to spend time in the kitchen. One of the houses which I lived in had a lovely open kitchen which looked onto the dining room. And I recall cooking fabulous dinners and chatting with my friends while doing so. I have friends who have large kitchens in which they've placed small dining tables where the kids sit and have breakfast in the morning - something which would have been unheard of in our old family homes. Also, our cook would have been most displeased if my dad had trooped into the kitchen to eat his meals. But now with our nuclear families and single person setups, anything goes.
I've been to a couple's home who've pretty much turned their kitchens into lounge areas with bar stools, bookshelves and even a TV. It's the perfect place to while away the hours.
Also, I'm all for the evolution of the metrosexual man. Almost all the men I know cook like Michelin chefs. Suddenly they've discussed their culinary thumbs and are extremely possessive of the kitchen and "their" ingredients.
The new-found charm of the kitchen is also why people spend as much money and effort in doing up the kitchen as they do. Pretty jars, good lighting, comfortable chairs, and very attractive utensils are the new favourite buys. Fools like me pick up knick-knacks like ladle holders which look like garden gnomes and other such nonsense. My group of friends spends an awful lot of time salivating over the latest Le Creuset set and hoping someone will be kind enough to buy it for us, or picking up the new malleable German baking pans which have hit the market.
I even know of many a romance which has blossomed over coffee cupcakes baking in the oven and mulled wine heating up on the stove. To me, a cook, nothing can be better than this coming of age of the kitchen.
The author is a food critic and runs a catering outfit.
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