How do 40 creative individuals collaborate with one another without ever having met each other in person? The e-cookbook released recently is one such example of it. From the ideation to the styling and photography of this e-cookbook (athomecookbook.com) has happened remotely during the pandemic. Chefs, food bloggers and entrepreneurs, among others, have come together to create recipes that encapsulate the idea of home. Hence you find dishes that they grew up watching their grandparents cook, or those which carry a whiff of the kitchens of their hometown. For Hussain Shahzad, executive chef, The Bombay Canteen, this collaboration is particularly significant for the good cause that it represents. “When the team came to me, I felt that these guys were up to something really special. It is a cookbook for a great cause, and it was super genius to do this during the pandemic,” he says.
The proceeds from the cookbook have gone to Nabhangan Foundation, a not-for-profit NGO, which works in Maharashtra in the fields of all-round rural development and community-building to empower villages to self-reliance. “We have been trying to develop a school in the villages for the past 1.5 years. It is a gradual process as it takes time to raise funds. But the pandemic slowed the process down,” says Rajshri Deshpande, founder of Nabhangan Foundation. As the work resumed six months into the pandemic, with social distancing measures, the team embarked on fundraising campaigns for the last phase. This e-cookbook was one such endeavour. “It has been quite a challenge to do this remotely and virtually,” she adds.
However, given the noble intentions that the cookbook represented, collaborators started joining in organically. The first of these was Richa Srivastava. “During the lockdown, we had all ended up spending a lot of time in the kitchen, sharing recipes with one another over WhatsApp,” says Srivastava. “It became a thing of comfort.” She and her friend, Kasturika Kumari—both co-founders of the e-cookbook project—came up with the idea together during the lockdown. “I then pitched the idea to Surya and Rajshri to help raise funds for Nabhangan Foundation, as I had already done a baking workshop for them. After that, I reach out to Pooja of PRestaurants to help us get contributors from the food industry on board,” she adds.
Communications professional Pooja Trehan Dhamecha, who has 16 years of experience, has been working closely with the food and beverage industry. And that's how she came on board as a curator and helped get chefs, bloggers and food entrepreneurs as collaborators. Today, the cookbook has recipes by Shahzad, Ranveer Brar, Irfan Pabaney, Prateek Bhaktiani, Saee Koranne-Khandekar, Sudha Sumitran, and more. “We also have one Marathwada recipe contributed by the villagers,” says Deshpande.
Srivastava didn’t feel stressed out by the task of putting together the book virtually. Rather, she calls it a fun and engaging experience. While Kumari worked on the edits, she tried out the recipes in her kitchen, photographed and styled them. Prateek Bhaktiani, founder, Ether in Mumbai, felt this engagement as well. “While we were not all conversing all the time, all the collaborators were in conversation with a greater synergy,” he says. “It was a clearly laid out idea and we knew exactly what and why we were doing this.”
Shahzad too feels that this effort is in line with all that the pandemic has taught us about doing things remotely. “There was no rulebook but everyone associated with the project made it so seamless. It was not an easy task for them. They had people testing and compiling recipes in a way that was easy to recreate at home. The team made it foolproof,” he says.
What has emerged as a result is an interesting and diverse mix of Indian recipes —ranging from something their mothers made, to a regional recipe they adapted and made it their own over time. Bhaktiani chose a recipe, featuring bananas, that he had enjoyed cooking and eating as a child, which was also easy to whip up. He has merely outlined guidelines, which people can refer to and create their own ways of developing the flavour. “We have something as diverse as jackfruit jam to a spicy clam pasta. There is something for everyone, ranging from easy to difficult,” says Srivastava. Shahazad, for instance, has contributed a recipe for his mother’s mutton curry—a dish that signifies nostalgia and childhood for him. He made this several times during the lockdown for his friends.
For Goa-based Sudha Sumitran, this was a unique experience. She usually doesn’t write down the recipes she whips up in her kitchen. “I can tell you the recipe verbally. But to put this together in writing is difficult,” she smiles. “I told Richa I will write in my own way.” She has contributed a recipe for a jackfruit jam, which her mother used to make. Even though she grew up in Mumbai, vacations meant heading to Kerala, where her family hails from. With jackfruit trees in abundance, her mother would transform the yellow pulp into a jam-like condiment. “I was Intrigued by the whole thing. However, I didn’t get to make it until I moved to Goa five to six years ago. We now have a jackfruit tree in the compound,” she adds. Back in Kerala, it used to be made on firewood on a brass urli. “It was a labour intensive process. But I take short cuts, using the pressure cooker to pulp the jackfruit and then moving it to the urli,” explains Sumitran.
These recipes have received a great response. “Lots of people have downloaded the book. And thanks to this, the school is becoming greener and more vibrant with every passing day,” says Deshpande.