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The chef who creates art with ‘uttapams’ and ‘idlis’

Content creator Surabhi Sehgal brings alive mundane dishes with a sharp eye for colour and design

Surabhi Sehgal (left) and dosa with coconut and beetroot chutney.

By Swamini Narkar

LAST PUBLISHED 07.08.2023  |  09:00 AM IST

Surabhi Sehgal developed a love for cooking while helping her grandmother in the kitchen as a child. Now at 46, Sehgal runs the Instagram account @supaintsonplates that focuses on food art and styling. The account hit 200 thousand followers last week, when one of Sehgal’s reels featuring the beloved utappam reached 18.9 million views and garnered more than 900 thousand likes. It shows Sehgal cooking the uttapam with thin slices of colourful vegetables arranged like flowers.

Originally from Dehradun, the Gurugram-based chef and food content creator shares her insights on food art, and the joys and challenges of being a food content creator.

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Edited excerpts from an interview:

What is the story behind starting your Instagram page?

I secured a Master’s degree in English Literature and had a corporate job until I got married. My husband is a hotelier, and we’ve lived in six different countries. In 2016, when we moved to Abu Dhabi, I felt a deep need to take my passion for food forward, and started posting pictures on Instagram. My mother, who is a school teacher by profession, spent her free time painting while my father writes poetry. I come from a creative family. Like my mother, I create art through the medium of food, which is how @supaintsonplates was born.

How does food presentation influence the experience of eating it?

We eat with our eyes first, so if something doesn’t look good, it dents our appetite. By looking at the dish, people can tell whether it’s going to be soul nourishing. While the food must taste good, the presentation plays an important role too.

What do you keep in mind while plating a dish?

For me, colour is a very important element. I like bringing out the vibrant hues of seasonal vegetables. My passion is to present artfully-created dishes by using simple techniques, like using microgreens or herbs to create a contrast between the colours of different ingredients. I try not to follow any fixed rules, and it’s an intuitive process.

How do you make Indian food look stylish on Instagram?

I used to hear from people that Indian food is difficult to style, because most curries are brown and dull. I don’t think so. When you go to a spice market or bazaar, you will notice how vibrant they are, and I wanted to recreate that in my dishes. I’m absolutely in love with fresh ingredients from our mandis, and I wanted to show the beauty of our cuisine. So, I try to use seasonal foods and colourful spices when thinking about what to feature on my Instagram page.

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What inspires you to style a certain dish?
I draw inspiration from ingredients. For the utappam reel, I found beautiful onions in the market that had thin stems and I thought they could be used in a dish. When I begin styling food, I have no idea what the final result might be. The process is similar to painting; I have a few ingredients to experiment with to make something that’s new and beautiful.

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What is a challenge when it comes to posting food content on Instagram?

On Instagram, the algorithm rules you. So, if you make a certain kind of video, it has higher chances of going viral, but I have never followed these trends. I shares dishes with vegetables and healthy plant-based foods which is feels new to me. While ideas come effortlessly, I sometimes take a look at my profile and decide I want to feature more of a certain colour or ingredient, and then start thinking about how it could be incorporate in videos.

Who are some chefs that inspire you to create your content?

Growing up, I used to love watching television shows featuring chefs like Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. I thought the food they cooked was new and fresh.

Do you have any tips for home cooks getting into food art?

I always tell people to get a few basic white plates first, and learn to bring out the best colours in their dishes. Don’t overcook your vegetables. You can start clicking pictures on the phone; you don’t need expensive equipment. I always tell home cooks to learn the techniques and develop their own unique style. If your food tastes good, people will be able to tell through the pictures.

Take a look at her utappam reel here:

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