Toss, Turn and Twitter

1:11 am. @gordon_ramsay: Bollocks, sorry for not using this. Someone’s showing me how it works. Hopefully this will…”
1:11 am (seconds later) @gordon_ramsay: “Fuck me. It worked.”

(Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey’s first posts on Twitter)

The world’s never been this small. Access has never been this easy. Celebrities have never been this real.
Twitter has opened up a whole new world of food networking, effortlessly bringing together Chefs, Food celebrities, home cooks and foodies. With more traditional forms of media, people like Gordon Ramsey, Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver seemed distant, despite being everywhere. You could read about them, watch their shows, even read their blogs, but as familiar as they were – for all practical purposes – they were really just about as accessible as Mr Potato Head. Suddenly, thanks to twitter, they’re morphing from two dimensional, larger-than-life, pedestal-occupiers to real, living, breathing people with tempers, quirks and spelling mistakes.
The food world’s never been more exciting.
Now you get recipes directly from Martha Stewart. She’s even managed to master recipes that fit into Twitter’s 140 character limit. Like “GUACAMOLE Mix juice 1 lime, 4t crushed garlic, 5 chop scallion, 1C chop cilantro, 1 mince jalapeño + 3 ripe avocado.” Jamie Oliver, who comes across as warm, friendly and incessantly upbeat can help you figure out why your last pudding failed. Gordon Ramsey’s as refreshingly brash on twitter as he is on his shows, making for some fabulous stories from behind the scenes. “April Head chef at Claridges set the fucking kitchen on fire, we had to evacuate, Clooney and Pitt stood outside saying ‘fucking chefs’.”
Then there’s Heston Blumenthal, who made waves in the culinary world with his award winning Fat Duck restaurant, famous for food like Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream. He transforms from celebrated culinary alchemist into a quirky real person on Twitter. While his first tweet ever announced “pickled herring with lemon rice garnished with grated brie for lunch,” he goes on to state not all his meals are cutting-edge culinary experiments. “Ever since my TV shows everyone expects me eating hogs heads and sheep brains for lunch. Ha ha… I usually end up with a simple soup and a roll at lunch if I am working. Soup is under rated you can make almost any flavour and its light.”
Most of these celebrity Chefs follow each other. Except for Gordon Ramsey, who follows just one person, despite having about 6,400 followers. This person’s Lennie Nash, or Chef Sandwich, who says he’s “writer blogging about retraining as a chef.”
In an e-mail interview Nash says Twitter has helped him as both a chef and food writer because it’s enabled him to get in touch with chefs across the world who would normally be very difficult to contact. And certainly impossible to stay in contact with on an everyday basis. “Just within food blogging there are many spheres – and you are able to find people with your exact outlooks and experiences. It’s also good for getting ‘breaking news’ and rumours on restaurant/cheffing topics,” he says.
Gossip? It’s simply delicious on Twitter to be honest. There’s Nash’s story about how Prince Philip phoned Heston Blumenthal to ask for his fish and chips recipe after eating at the Fat Duck. Then there’s the tweet about Curry Lounge, in Nottingham, creating the “world’s tallest poppadom tower. 1,052 poppadoms and 4ft 11in tall, beats record by an inch.”
Since the celebrity Chefs are on Twitter, and Twitpics, without their entourage of PR people, makeup artists and publicity managers, they seem so much more fallible, and thereby endearingly real.
Jamie Oliver for instance has two principal weaknesses. His cute daughter, who surfaces on twitpics besides pictures of his painstakingly hand labelled Gooseberry jam and freshly made potato pizza. “Bless look what my little daisy cooked. A daisy pudding. And she loves it and loves eating it even more.” And his spelling, which is far from perfect. (A word of advice though. Don’t point it out to him. The last person who did got this “Get lost you idiot I’m dislexic and I can’t spell so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!!! It’s better than being smug.”)
Blumenthal’s worried about his waistline. “Going for a suit fitting tomorrow. I hate it. There always seems to be more tape measure required every time.” And he’s also far from impervious to the inevitable twitter boors. “Half of the tweets are just insults and I have a temper problem at times and don’t want to get anything heated,” he says.
So why stay in?
Well, for starters everyone seems to be having so much fun. Blumenthal says he loves reading what other people are doing around the world. “Everyone’s doing and thinking something different.” He adds that its size and diversity also makes it a great sounding board for ideas.
Nash says it’s great from capturing and connecting with a specific audience or online community because it is so direct and immediate. “You can just put an idea out there, and it can quickly snowball into a ‘trend’ with everyone able to throw in their ideas rather than just celebrities or pundits. It is much easier to gauge what interests people, rather than just what interests you.”
So Blumenthal tells us when he’s “trying a new way of smoking deer with a blueberry smoke and serving with lemon and thyme covered garden peas.” And Ramsey gives us the inside story on his TV shows. “Taking live cook-along to the US, on Fox network, but I’ve been warned to watch my language. No cursing, that’s the deal. Bollocks.”
While the celebrities are the most obvious face of food networking, they’re just one slice of the pie. As Nash says this is “definitely the best tool I’ve come across for food networking because it is largely recommendation based – and therefore the best sites tend to shine through and attract followers. The mobile aspect using iPhones etc means people can blog or send pictures directly from an event rather than wait to get back to the office to write them up.”
As a result there are a bevy of colourful food writers who keep the site alive with great ideas. Like PuddingQueen who talks of wedding cakes made with Buttermilk, wild strawberry and more than 24 eggs. Or “Lemon and lavender sandwich biscuits with lemon cheese and lavender lemonade – its going to be a floral tea this afternoon!”
Things can only get better. Already Blumenthal’s running a competition on his page. “Doing a Harry Potter themed meal around October time for about 50 people 10 of which I will choose from twitter (UK only).” He’s likely to get flooded with replies, considering how many food nuts there are on the site, judging by the handles: MsMarmitelover, GingerGourmand, ThePorkyDrunk, TheMeadmaker and even LambshankRdmptn!
As for happy endings? Who can resist the story of Gregg Wallace, TV star ingredient-expert, who’s calls himself the “cooking woman’s crumpet.” and goes by Pudding Face on Twitter. Pudding Face made contact with Heidi Brown, who’s 17 years younger, on Twitter. “@Heidipopps You’re very special./ @Heidipopps missed you, but then you know that. Xxxxxxxxxxxx.”
They’re now married.
So what’s a celebrity foodie romance like? Champagne and caviar on a private jet? Not quite, according to Pudding Face’s twitter update. “Very romantic evening with my lady. Dinner from Tesco Metro, eaten on a balcony in Crewe overlooking Mc Donalds. Sun setting on Large fries.”
Honestly, who needs reality TV?

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 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.

Venn Pongal goes places

Young Kurumi Arimoto balances carefully on her toes, and stirs the carrot mundhiri payasam. Maiko Shimizu fiddles with a nifty camera, capturing the moment. Meanwhile, Akemi Yoshii, ponders over translating araithu vitta thakaali vengaaya sambhar into Japanese. In the middle of the kitchen, cookbook writers Padmini Natarajan and Viji Varadarajan simultaneously try explaining everything from ghee-making to how American frozen spinach cubes make for mulagu kootu that’s “out of this world.” Welcome to the new global culinary classroom. Kurumi, the daughter of Japanese cookbook writer Yoko Arimoto, has written one recipe book and is currently working on another. Her fascination for Tamil Brahmin cooking is what led her to Viji’s kitchen and kadais. Maiko is a professional writer, photographer and radio presenter. She runs the website One doodle land ( and is working on recording and collating Kurumi’s culinary adventures in Chennai for a travel-food story, for her website. The link that brought everyone together is Akemi, Japanese translator with a Chennai software company, she’s also a freelance food writer with a Masters degree in Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide, Australia. This is their first introduction to home made Indian food. Yet, all three state that while Viji’s cooking is exotic, it isn’t unfamiliar. As Kurumi deftly makes kuzhakattais stuffed with moist coconut and crumbly jaggery, they talk of how similar these are to Japanese wantons, and those ever-popular dim sums found in every chinatown in the world. Kurumi plans to work on popularising this kind of fresh, easy South Indian home cooking in Japan once she’s back, because she feels it fits in well with Japanese traditions. “Our staple diet is rice… and our food taste is also mild and fresh.” Despite Indian food’s reputation for being high on spice and chillies, Tamil Brahmin food relies more on the taste of individual vegetables, cooked gently with carefully matched seasonings, which fits in comfortably with the Japanese culinary ethos. As recipes and kitchen tips are swapped, Kurumi and Viji cook their way through an elaborate lunch. Eventually everyone’s tucking enthusiastically into the sutta kathirikkai gotsu, made with carefully smoked brinjal and twanging with the distinctive flavour of hing paired with fragrant venn pongal. “We don’t eat Japanese food everyday,” says Akemi, talking of the various kinds of cuisine available in Tokyo. “Indian food is our favourite and we even have our own curry!” However, South Indian restaurants are rare in Japan. The few Indian restaurants that move beyond the flaming red curry route tend to limit themselves to dosas. Although chicken tikka and greasy curry tend to represent India in places like London and New York, these cities are also cosmopolitan enough to nurture change. In many of the world capitals, Indian food is ceasing to be defined by the curries, naans and kebabs of North India. Regional food is getting popular, as Indian chefs introduce the world to the likes of Kerala beef fry, Goan prawn balchao and Chettinad chicken. However, the fact that Kurumi’s in Viji’s kitchen, learning how to make a perfect semiya upma is indicative of the fact that we are poised at the beginning of a new wave: foodies travelling the world to learn cooking from individual households, recipe hunters leaving no page unturned in their quest for something new, cooks tracking down each other to swap techniques. Thanks to the Internet, with blogs, You Tube and websites, all this knowledge is quickly available to everyone. Who ever thought a vendaikkai thayir pachadi could travel so far, so fast, so flamboyantly. (Viji Varadarajan and Padmini Natarajan recently won the Gourmand Jury award for their book Classic Tamil Brahmin Cuisine.)


October 2022