Byte Sized Pakodas

Sauté onions till brown. How brown? I’ve-spend-a-week-in-Goa brown? Smoke-alarm-shrieking brown? Or I’ve-been-using-Fair-And-Lovely brown?
Recipes can be infuriating for amateur cooks. All those annoying professional terms: chiffonade the herbs, add a bouquet garni, julienne the vegetables. How many times have you been bent over a glossy cookbook, double-boiling and basting away like some 21st century witch, wishing that you could hubble, bubble, broil and etouffe the writer? Fortunately the YouTube generation has come up with a solution.
Between all the videos of apparently unbalanced young men having astonishingly idiotic accidents and stammering adolescents showing us how to use iPhones, there are now heaps of kind chefs and accomplished home cooks who record their recipes, thus demystifying the kitchen for once and for all. (At this point, we must point out this does not include the bright sparks at ‘Will It Blend’ who feature an intently serious man attempting to pulverize everything from golf balls to the Iphone in a Blendtec ‘Total Blender.’)
People like Chef Sanjay Thumma, who has found himself catapulted to stardom thanks to you tube, are quietly revolutionising the way people cook. Sanjay began recording and posting his recipes online just two years ago on http://vahrehvah.com. Today, his name throws up about 20,000 results on Google. His lemon rice alone prompted 10,000 instant hits. Sanjay says that he now gets an average of one lakh viewers a day, from all over the world.
Cooking styles have certainly changed. The dog-eared, turmeric stained, well-loved family cookbooks, passed down for generations might just become a thing of the past. I, for instance, take my dinky iPod Touch into the kitchen and balance it on the microwave when I cook. The ability to view Sanjay, and cook simultaneously, makes following a recipe as easy as boiling an egg.
Sanjay says written recipes are really for professionals. “Home cooks tend to make mistakes,” he says. “With a recipe, one in ten people can make it good. With a video 99 out of 100 can make it good.” Especially with Indian food. As anyone who’s ever tried to learn how to cook from their grandmother knows, Indian food involves a lot of “one pinch of this, a handful of that and a fistful of curry leaves.” Sanjay does precisely the same thing – but you now have the option of pausing, grabbing the mustard/ turmeric/ salt and then mimicking him perfectly.
“Indian food all about adding things at the right time, cooking to the right texture, to get the right results,” Sanjay adds, explaining why it’s beneficial to actually see for how long he fries onions, blends cucumber or churns yoghurt.
Sanjay’s an interesting example of how much professional Chefs can do to reach out to the public in these times, when the Internet makes all barriers obsolete, whether they’re geographical, professional or culinary. He studied hotel management in Hyderabad and then worked for the ITC hotels in Gurgaon, Chennai, Agra and Jaipur. He then moved to Chicago in 1998, where he eventually started his own restaurant ‘Sizzle India.’ It was successful enough to become a chain, but 4 restaurants and 7 years later, Sanjay decided life was getting monotonous. “I decided to sell all of them and take a 2 year vacation. Food is my passion – doing business is not… All I wanted to do was cook.”
During the vacation, he bought himself a video camera. By September 2007, Sanjay had set up a slick studio in Chicago and began recording his first 150 recipes. “I just used the restaurant favourites,” he says, “Because everyone wants to know how to make butter chicken, chicken 65, chicken tikka.” Then came the basic cooking: pakoda, sambar, chutneys. The show is largely based on requests from his large and loyal fan following.
Now, he’s moved back to India, to Hyderabad, and his website’s finally making money, though the videos are still free. “People who like the recipes donate money. And there’s also some advertising on the site.
The best part? The excited e mails from people all over the world. We’ve always known food can break barriers. Teamed with YouTube, it’s clearly unstoppable.

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Sho-Buzz

April 2009
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