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Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal (left) and chef Ranveer Brar flank British food writer Jenny Mallin at the APB Food Book Club’s first event in December. Photographs courtesy APB Food Book Club
Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal (left) and chef Ranveer Brar flank British food writer Jenny Mallin at the APB Food Book Club’s first event in December. Photographs courtesy APB Food Book Club

India’s first food-book club

Interactions with chefs, workshops and lessons in culinary history await Mumbaikars who love reading about food

The first cookbook that Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal ever read was Felicity and Roald Dahl’s Memories With Food At Gipsy House. She soon got lost in the anecdotes about Dahl’s extensive family of children, grandchildren and friends, all written with dollops of humour and nostalgia, and pored over recipes that had acquired a special significance for the family.

“Not many know that Dahl had written a food book. It really opened up the world of cookbooks to me," says Munshaw-Ghildiyal, food writer, author, consultant and owner of the state-of-the-art kitchen studio APB Cook Studio. She founded the APB Food Book Club, India’s first-ever food-book club, in Mumbai in November.

At the first official meet of the club in December, excited members got to meet British writer Jenny Mallin and attend workshops where she taught Anglo-Indian recipes from a book published in 1850. These recipes have been passed down five generations of her family, who lived in India.

Snacks served at the first book-club meet.
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Snacks served at the first book-club meet.

A food blogger and one of the first to join the club, Khurana thinks such meets are a great platform for people like her, who want to carve a niche in the food business and soak up knowledge from the veterans.

The club, members believe, has allowed them to experience food and recipes differently. Take, for instance, the potluck held in January. Each member brought his or her favourite cookbook to the club, chose a recipe and cooked it right at the APB studio.

“I cooked peas and sweetcorn curry from Complete Indian Cooking by Mridula Baljekar, Rafi Fernandez, Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani," says Kriti Baijal, a 40-year-old home cook. With its vibrant pictures, the book has come to Baijal’s aid more than once. “My daughter used to be a picky eater. So I would just give the book to her. She would look at the pictures and choose what she wanted to eat," says Baijal.

Though cookbooks have been celebrated in similar clubs in the US, UK and Canada for years, India has long regarded the genre as mere compilations of recipes. According to chefs, that notion is changing slowly: Food writing is being looked upon as serious literature. “Food books are now opinion drivers, thought instigators and food philosophy propagators. They are no longer a mere source of information—as in a recipe. That’s why the time is ripe for such a club in India," says chef, author and food show host Ranveer Brar.

With growing consciousness comes an awareness of the sub-genres, such as food history. “These are not just books that were written with historical events in mind, but also those that were written a long time ago," says Munshaw-Ghildiyal. These accounts could be whimsical, quirky or solemn, but are always a treasure trove of trivia. For instance, when Munshaw-Ghildiyal was studying British-era cookbooks for the TV show Rewind With Rakhee, she realized tendli was a hugely popular vegetable then.

“Then, there was one book written by an English gentleman as advice to people setting up kitchens in India, which is full of stories about his khansama (cook) Ramaswamy," says Munshaw-Ghildiyal. “There’s also a whole genre of community cookbooks that every mother gives her daughters with the trousseau—the Pathare Prabhus, Saraswat Brahmins, Parsis, all communities have one such book."

At the moment, she is buzzing with big plans for the club. First and foremost, she wants to work with publishers and create interesting events around new books. “Everyone has good intentions—the author, the publisher. But sometimes everything doesn’t come together and the book ends up suffering. I would like to do something about it," she says.

Besides book launches, there will be retrospectives on older books, authors and more. “We will have one big event every month. I want to produce a newsletter. There will be reviews and offers on cookbooks," says Munshaw-Ghildiyal. Food walks and market walks with chefs are also on the anvil.

One does wonder, though, if a food-book club can survive in the era of Kindle, e-books and food blogs. “I consider myself a well-read person. But the kind of books I got to know about at the launch were just mind-boggling," says Khurana.

Blogger Rhea Mitra concurs. “Nowadays, everyone is online, but the physical interaction is missing. A lot of my close friends are part of the club, so it’s a great motivator to meet existing friends and make new ones," she says. “Also, tomorrow if I want to write a book, I get to know from the experts on how to go about it."

Part of the charm of a food book lies in its beautifully produced pictures, which one wants to feel and touch while cooking. “You need to take the book into the kitchen. With the Kindle, you worry about oil splattering on it or it getting spoiled," says Mitra.

The club offers something unique for chefs as well. While Brar believes it will teach him to be a better reader, for Saransh Goila it will offer a break from solemn book launches. At the club launch, Goila presented his book India On My Platter, reading aloud and creating a twist on some of the recipes. “Such a club offers a great medium to not just discuss one’s favourite book, but also to figure out which recipes work, which don’t. Also, I would rather launch a book with 30 people who really connect with it than with 100, of which 60 are there only because it’s a social do," he says.

For details on enrolling in the APB Food Book Club, write to bookings@apbcookstudio.com.

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