Food, the humble way
He amazes you with his subtle sense of humour and knowledge about food and their recipes. Not only does he keep trying his hand at cooking new dishes but he always looks for the background of the dish, its origin and modification.
BRUSH WITH PLATE: Seasoned artist Vivan Sundaram relishes the ambience, the food on offer at New Delhi's Crowne Plaza Surya. Photos: S. Arneja.
WORKSHOPS ON graphics, retake on Amrita Shergil, protest against trivialisation of art, march ahead with SAHMAT and cooking Safed Rajasthani Gosht: Do you find this combination strange? But the famed audacious artist, Vivan Sundaram may surprise you with more!
After his first love - art - where he finds solace is kitchen! This artist who is affectation-proof and humility personified despite being world famous, amazes you with his subtle sense of humour and knowledge about food and their recipes. Not only does he keep trying his hand at cooking new dishes but a restless soul as he is, he would always look for the background of the dish, its origin and modification. And for him the surroundings where the cooking is carried out and the food consumed, is of utmost importance. Hence, the intricate details that form the mood of La Café, a-92-cover coffee shop that also offers world cuisine at New Delhi's Crowne Plaza Surya, does not escape his ever-observing eyes. "Quiet, lively and casual, right?" he shoots a rhetoric. The formal setting of this restaurant that has unique specialities of a buffet comprising 10 vegetarian and 10 non-vegetarian food items, was established in 1982 when the hotel was opened, does not leave much scope for visual pleasure, except the serves meticulously dressed in black and white uniform.
The son of a bureaucrat father, Sundaram has always been a little rebellious of sorts. Believing in what Shiv Khera keeps saying from the rooftop that "if justice is worth having, it is worth fighting for", he has always kept the light of protests kindling in himself. He was sometimes ad hoc. Secretary of Students Revolution in France - 1971 - sometimes he would just search and gather like-minded artists, initiate a workshop with sculptors, patronise them to create sculptors out of traditional material than bronze at his inherited house in Kasauli, and bring a revolution in the art scenario. The artist is meagre when it comes to boasting about his dare-devilry. He frailly commences, "In 1984 such experiments were unthinkable. It changed the notion of craft and skill among the people. This manifested in works of `90s later."
For food too, he is a little inventor of sorts. "I want to diversify in cooking," he minces no words as he enjoys his Sole Allemande, which is grilled fillets of sole with lemon flavoured almond butter sauce. "I prefer European food. And day time is light food time for me," he says while trying some vegetarian kathi kabab.
Recently, he has learnt how to cook Rajasthani Safed Gosht. "It is called safed - white - because the meat is so much rinsed that it turns white. Though now it belongs to Rajasthan but I have learnt that it has its roots in China," Sundaram cannot keep his love for background of food at bay. But he feels annoyed when "these cook books do not give etymology of food items." But Rocky Mohan's cookbook hasn't disappointed him. "This book has cuisines from North-West Frontier. I tried quite a few from it," he says. "I cook for my family and friends," he divulges.
Ask him what is his take on video art, abstract works and installation and witness some creases cropping on his forehead, "Abstract hasn't produced many great artists in the 20th Century. People say that installation was started in the West and now we are doing it. Same goes for the video art too. This is a worthless argument. Don't we use English material in our every day life? Tell me what is Indian in a camera? Till 1930s most of the art was provincial. With Second World War, it started providing International Art. When Picasso made `regional art' where were Americans?"
Food for thought, you would say. What to do, to pacify now an uneasy Sundaram? Some sweet in this restaurant that has an elaborate dessert counter. Smiling, he chooses some Chocolate Cake Pastry while Gajar ka Halwa comes hot sometime later.
Did any one say food is the best weapon?
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