The humble kitchen has become the favourite space for cosmopolitan young Indians. With their hunt for exotic ingredients and experiments with global cuisines, they are taking cooking as a hobby to a whole new level, Zofeen Maqsood writes.india Updated: Oct 28, 2012 01:12 IST
Until a few years ago there was nothing remotely posh about spending a Sunday slaving in the kitchen amid a mound of cabbage and celery as a broth of last nights’ roast left-overs simmers. But a new generation of millennials are bringing a new glamour to the kitchen.
“This is the first generation of Indians who has grown up watching a proliferation of photo-shoot-perfect chefs on TV chopping and stewing in stylish settings. They’ve also had a click-of-the-mouse access to instructions on using everything from fromage cheese to grana padano in dishes,” says Ravi Saxena, executive chef, Claridges. “Inspired by this, they are now looking at cooking as the new creative order.”
The dramatic change in attitudes towards labouring in the kitchen, once considered a domestic chore, is reflected in figures too.
Euromonitor International’s 2011 study of global consumers showed that 55% of young respondents worldwide prefer to cook a meal on a regular basis.
The consumer expenditure data in the survey also revealed that people are now spending more on eating in than eating out, with a ratio of 71:29.
“With the increase in the number of youngsters living alone and the fad of dining out, eating out remained a mainstream part of young culture. But interestingly, before it peaked in India, we are going back to home kitchens,” says Seema Chandra, food editor, NDTV.
And it seems that as the spotlight moves to kitchen shelves, youngsters are bringing precision and a whole lot of fun to cooking at home."The standard croissant-and-eggs don’t pass muster even for breakfast any more as these hobby cooks want to try specialities like filet mignon," says Tapasya Mudra, nutrition expert, Back 2 Health. "The rise of the hobby cook is a global phenomenon. The trend has come to India as today we have access to global ingredients and cusines," says Chandra.
A 2012 survey by Epicurious and Parade on American food culture also showed that 80% of Americans now eat at home with 45% of young people investing at least 30 minutes in the kitchen every day.
Rise of the gastrosexuals
Celeb chefs cooking tirelessly on prime time TV have influenced the rise of the gastrosexual – a neologism coined to describe young men and women who are passionate about cooking as a hobby and use their kitchen prowess to impress.
For them, cooking is not just about tossing ingredients but also about exploring the benefits of organic ingredients, local produce and investing in professional kitchen equipments.
Rahul Johri, Sr VP, South Asia, Discovery Network says, “Food is the best performing genre on our channels. It has come a long way since 2004 when we started food shows where the concept was invariably a chef cooking in the kitchen. Today, there is a series of experimental shows that club travel, cooking and farming together.”
In fact, according to All India, SC4+ ratings, food shows like Chew on TLC, had a viewership of 6.1 million in 2012. A couple of years ago a UK report entitled Emergence of Gastrosexual cited the popularity of good looking chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver as instrumental in making cooking a macho pursuit.
Chef Saxena points out, “The great thing about shows like Masterchef is that it highlighted that men are equally interested in the kitchen. While earlier men who cook were limited only to the hotel industry, now you see professionals who love stirring thyme leaves in their curry with as much concentration as they would make a balance sheet.”
Experts say the new-age kitchen is also somewhat influenced by the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses culture. “It’s a matter of pride to have a swanky kitchen,” says Chef Saby from Olive Bar and Kitchen. Miele, which is into luxury kitchens, is aiming at revenue of Rs 100 crore by 2014. “But the good thing remains that people are becoming educated about food,” says Ashmeet Kapoor, from I Say Organics.
He adds, “I have had requests from people who want to turn their kitchen 100% organic.” Saby maintains the change has to do with more educated people taking an interest in the kitchen. Chef Ritu Dalmia also believes the rise of nouvelle cuisine restaurants in the country has sparked interest.
Chef Saby, however, rues that it’s only the western kitchen that seems to excite us. “I am yet to see youngsters who find an India chulha aspirational. But then maybe it’s not a bad thing as food has no boundaries,” he says.
Modern gadgetry has made cooking more appealing to the young. Today, there are online tutorials on everything from Tex-Mex cooking to the nutritive value of ingredients.
Mobile apps have also changed the gourmet world as they layer instructions with videos, comments, twitter feeds and Facebook updates. A new app, DinnerSpinner, that allows users to scan grocery items into their phone to produce recipes has had more than 11 million global downloads.
The Epicurious recipes app for iPhone and iPad that allows users to create interactive shopping lists to sync with recipes has had 5 million downloads.
Chandra says, “Social media is hugely fostering this synergy. Today, one can know exactly what a crème brûlée looks like as every recipe can be deconstructed on the web.”
Community food forums have reignited the interest as most online cooking clubs have people between the ages of 30 and 35. www.6eat.com claims to receive more than 150 million visitors a year while Allrecipes.com claims 750 million visitors.
The recession has also played a big part in luring the young into the kitchen as eating out is the first extravagance that is dropped when people are intent on penny-pinching.
Tehseen Poonawala, 30, Political analyst, Pune
‘I come back with kitchen ingredients from my travels abroad’
“I grew up watching my dad cook, so in our house it was not unusual for men to be in kitchen. I am a health freak and like doing dishes with a healthy twist. I cook with my own farm-fresh ingredients and try to prepare everything from sauces to dips from scratch. I believe in authentic rustic flavours and sun dry tomatoes and herbs on my house roof. I have mastered many versions of pastas and love cooking everything from cannelloni to tagliatelle.”
Sunday cooking “I cook on Sundays and find it therapeutic to go to supermarkets to stock herbs, spices and cheese for my kitchen. I am particular about kitchen décor and pick up chef knives and cutlery on my travels abroad. I love doing big spreads for friends comprising of fusion food. I like cooking with stinky cheeses as they give that original flavour to the dish. The aroma of herbs in my garden lifts up even the dullest days.”
Musskan Agarwaal, 24, Jewellery designer, Delhi
‘I grow my own veggies and use organic spices’
All organic “Cooking has always been my first love and I take great pride in experimenting in the kitchen. I am big on the organic movement and use everything from pepper to asparagus from organic sources. Every evening, after I come back from work, I de-stress by stirring up an exotic soup in my kitchen. All my travels abroad are centred on exploring the local cuisines and local kitchen ingredients of the place. I have a huge collection of exotic herbs in my kitchen
“I just use my imagination to come up with my own take on a classic dish. Also, you will never find anything pre-packaged or pre-cooked in my house. It’s heartening to see that stores stocking exotic kitchen stuff are coming up in the country. Since I am a hobby cook I also take help from a lot of online cooking tutorials to further hone my skills.”
Akanksha Dean, 17, Student, Gurgaon
‘I enroll myself in cookie-making classes during school breaks’
“When I was very young, I would cut vegetables and pluck basil from my balcony and try to dress it up on my plate. That’s when my mom noticed my natural flair in the kitchen. I am fond of cooking but I don't want to take it up professionally. I want to study law and retain cooking as a passionate hobby. My cooking is also inspired by global cuisines. During my travel to Spain last year, my interest in cooking grew when I saw how the Spanish were so passionate about the little nuances of cooking. I learnt more about Spanish cuisine and today I make everything from paella to churros to tacos in my kitchen
Pies and cakes
“I am also an avid baker and did a hobby course in pie baking during my summer break. My tiramisu is a favourite with my friends and I have also started baking cakes myself for birthdays in the family. I recently whipped up a rocky road fudge cake where I used caramel, marshmallows, pine nuts and walnuts to layer it up. It was an instant favourite. I am constantly creating newer recipes with ingredients that I feel will complement each other’s flavours. I also love cooking tea-time snacks. I am also forever reading online about new cooking techniques.”
Pourushasp Mehta, 24, Marketing executive, Mumbai
‘I organise kitchen parties for friends’
“I used to go on scouting camps where I used to cook for big groups in basic settings and do things like cooking on bricks; it was during this time that I began enjoying the art. I used to experiment with trout and vegetables and be complimented for my cooking. Today, though my work keeps me busy on weekdays, I try to organise a kitchen party at least once a month. I stock up fresh ingredients and friends come and pick their favourite ingredients to create a dish.”
“I love mixing turkey, ham and prawns with African spices. My cooking is also inspired by Nigella Lawson’s and I go generous on cream and cheese. For me life's finest pleasure is to garnish a dish with parsley, lemon verbena, rosemary, and of course, a lot of love.”