THE CULINARY ADVENTURES OF CHEF JALPARI

Some people light up the room the moment they enter it -Sharada is one of them. Her infectious smile steals the most hardened critic’s heart, turning him into a sweet potato. The way she prepares food and the minute care she put into it, is divine.  Sharada had worked for us in the bakery and then in the new office for some time, proving to be a valuable team member.

Sharada’s story is one of hardships, sacrifice and eternal care for the children. Having lost her husband at the tender age of 20, it has been a long and arduous struggle for her, bringing up her kids single handedly and educating them. Her sole happiness has been her children, though, seeing them blossom. But, it is a beautiful success story to cherish.

Sharada has the looks to die for, is sharp and intelligent. With all these qualities, she could have remarried, but her love for the children and the undying love for the departed hubby kept her steady and firm minded. There is so much to learn from the simple village girl who moved to mega Bangalore to earn a living, and achieved her goal of raising two beautiful gems.

During her bakery days, she mastered the art of baking and Indian culinary skills while cooking for the staff. She is also exceptionally good at making Andhra food. In fact, she cooks so well that she could induce chances of coma by overeating. Sharada puts her heart and soul into the cooking, making sure that everyone is satisfied.

One thing sets her apart though her signature style of adding gallons and gallons of water while cooking. Thank God, she left the bakery at the correct time, or else those well-hydrated cakes would have become the new-age super H2O food.

 

No hurry for curry: All Furshat

I recently appointed Sharada as my cook at home – she is adept at making curries. However, she believes that they should contain the same proportion of water as the water content in a vegetable – a good 70 percent minimum. Her logical explanation is, “See anna, our body has 70 percent water, as you probably know.  The Earth too is made up of 70 percent water. Then, why should our dishes not have at least a good 80 percent water? Look at the Westerners, their meals are all so dry, causing all those problems. Drinking beer or alcohol is not the solution, the food should have natural water content.” Simple logic and quite enlightening –after all famous dishes like the Vietnamese PHO follow similar lines.

Her care and devotion to cooking begins right from the ingredient level, she would hold each veggie, touch it, caress it and turn it around to check for spots and blemishes. She would then make sure that it is clean and disease free to ensure that her Sir (yours truly) was not harmed! She would not even allow the super market staff to touch the vegetables,lest they contaminated them. Sharada has a knack for cooking exotic food. She is also equally adept at ensuring that herbs and the roots went where they should: be it in a robust roast or curry in a hurry.

After the meal was made, she would serve it with utmost care and sweetly call, “Anna, the food is waiting for you at the table, I want to make sure that you indulge as that is the only proof that my food is delicious. I would often be stuck, but the food was so delicious and made with such warmth and care that I would end up over eating. I would then painstakingly go through the extra laps at the pool in the cold frosty evenings. Shiver, Shiva!!!

Sharada would diligently ask me of my preferences each time before a meal. I would tell her patiently say, “Ok make chicken or bhindi in a semi roast gravy.” She would nod obediently and get to work.

One such day, as she got cooking, the wafting smells poured into the drawing room, courtesy my open, well lit natural kitchen. The garam masala competed with the good old ginger and won heads on, swamping the room with its heady aroma. I waited in anticipation as Sharada folded the liptahua masala on the slender ladies’ fingers, raising each one delicately to examine them. She then roasted them, where they turned from light green to darker gravy brown.

As I reached the dining table, I started dreaming of the rich thick roast gravy with my super light phulkas. Mind you, Sharada is adept at setting the table. The salads, crispies and pickles were all waiting, lovingly, to be savoured. My roast gravy bowl sat smugly in the centre of the table, covered with a frosted lid. My dining table is about 15 years old – a present from RMS hotels company when I had completed five years of services.

The roast gravy looked even grander in this entire setting. I waited longingly for the dish to be revealed.  I gently pushed my plate towards her and she rebuked me lovingly, “Oh anna, always in a hurry to taste my food…wait…” In a professional manner, putting the most experienced Maître D hotel to shame, she opened the lid and brought the bowl to serve. I started as I got the shock of my life – in the bowl was a sea – the lady’s fingers were floating merrily in a pond of water!

My dear Sharu…that’s a bit too much water I said. Sharada then explained to me as if I was a child incapable of grasping. “See anna, this water is really good for you – the rich masala which I magnet (read marinate)gets diluted so that the strong spices do not affect your nervous system much. Look at this poor lady finger, it was getting scorched in that hideous brown masala,” she said as she lifted a ladies finger to justify.  “I know your weak intestines can’t handle these masalas. See I have even made the watery sambar and flowy rasam to give the roast gravy some great company… how’s my menu planning, anna?” As for me, I was tongue-tied as usual and ate in silence with a slender finger on my lips.

 

Malabar Fried Fish Polichattu in style!

I have been lucky to come across varied culinary experts while designing large MNC kitchens. I once met this dashing chef, Sabrina during the planning and execution of a large kitchen design,where she gave her inputs.  We got to know each other well during that stint, and I learnt that she was a celebrity chef too. On one of our chats, I mentioned my lovely cook and started praising her. Sabrina said, “Well, in that case I would definitely like to taste her food.” So, a special dinner was fixed and the wife agreed to brief Sharada, accordingly.

The D-day arrived. Sabrina was served with the choicest Andhra cuisine – a complete range of watery delights- Andhra pappu, Guthi Vankaya, Berakaya mutton, Rayalseema chicken curry, et all. She gorged on the food, and announced,“Lip smacking, no complaints, really great food, just a wee bit too much water. Sharada’s face was beaming and I felt happy seeing her joyous smile.

Then, Sabrina commented, “The menu was good, but I did notice that the fried items were missing. Is there a reason?” I started and twitched uncomfortably. Not wanting to tell her the truth, I kept quiet. But, the chef was inquisitive. So I let the secret out. “Our jalpari (water fairy) Sharada has been asked not to any make fries in this house.”

“Oh no, that would be a shame. She is such a great cook; how can she not be allowed to prepare fried items! Not done. Then, I told her that Sharada didn’t know the recipe of fried fish.

“Oh,It’s so simple. I will teach her a rare recipe of Kerala fried fish, wrapped up in an exotic leaf,” Chef Sabrina said.And lo,before I realised she started teaching. Sharada obediently started her class, nodding her head with accompanying ooh and aahs.

The class began…

“First of all, make sure that the Karimeen(pearl spot) selected is of the best quality, their gills should be gleaming red like fresh sun rays. Now take each piece and exam their eyes, they should not be sunken at any cost.”Sabrina directed.

“Yes Akka, Iam an expert in selecting veggies and non-vegetarian items. In fact, I inspect each and every pieces intensely.”Good, I thought –how they complemented each other. I smiled contently.

“The next step is to prepare the most important part- the masala. Make sure the spices are again of the best quality and slowly roast them over the pan. Just add few drops of coconut oil.”Sharada nodded her head again obediently.

“Then ground them well–the end product should be finest powder, smooth and shiny. Adda bit of Kerala puli(tamarind) for the tangy flavour. Now take the best hand pounded ginger and garlic paste, and make sure you make it yourself.  If the paste is coarse, the whole taste of the dish gets jeopardised,” Sabrina explained as Sharada nodded with utmost reverence.

“Before frying you need to envelope the fish in the fresh green tender banana leaves. Ensure that they are well wrapped so that the masala doesn’t run out. The final step is to fry them until they turn golden in colour,” Sabria concluded.

Sharada was thoughtful, having listened so attentively till then. But, when chef mentor asked the jalpari chef whether she understood the recipe correctly, Sharada shook her head hesitatingly.In a slow measured voice, she asked,“How many glasses of water should I pour after frying? That is just before it gets off the pan, my dear chef akka?”

The celebrity chef fainted!!

Venu Rao
Partner
Peacock Hospitality
Bangalore.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply