Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/2/13 8:50 AM

Feature: Indian Kitchens Go from Hot to Haute

 Kitchen: Hot to haute

Well, let’s face it: it never is going to be a glam room. Not even if you perch a mini television atop the pinewood and glass cupboard. Or a sleek boombox in yonder corner, nestled amongst the  fronds of bamboo bonsai.

Not even (don’t ask) if the  room is well, roomy enough  for you to park your  Stairmaster in an alcove.  Or, as has been known to happen, you store a futon  carefully colour-coordinated,  under the three-door fridge.

Be that as it may, the kitchen  sure has come a long way. When you think about it, there is a reason why it was  also called a scullery, galley or mess.

That begrimed cubby hole forever spewing pungent odours into the air and permeating the whole house with strange smells, those stone counters chipped badly enough to closely resemble the surface of Mars, those oil-slicked walls and shelves, that section of the house where only the hopeless and hapless (read: mother/ mother-in-law /daughter/sister/sister-in-law and their ilk) gather, peering into large steaming vessels, pausing to occasionally, wipe away sweat  with their sari pallav? Going, going gone.

Those quarters at the rear of the manse where the in-house female khansamas (refer those referred to above) ladle soup and stew into bowls which rapidly cool even as they begin their long walk to the dining room? Gone, I promise you.

Kitchens have acquired a reputation upgrade almost invisibly. Indulgent menfolk first installed compact electric fans so their women wouldn’t have to slog it out in That Room( galley slaves,  anyone?).

The fans transmogrified into air conditioners  and in scurried all the usual suspects masquerading as  mandatory accessories : the sleek music system with the even sleeker Bose speakers;that amazingly small HD television (all the better to follow Sanjeev Kapoor, MasterChef, et al);the most evocative of mood lighting; a set of bright orange Le Creuset ramekins, casserole  dishes and salad platters;the chrome and black cappuccino maker;that minimalist Space Age bracket  to hold the cuisine artiste’s (you don’t think the person  presiding over This Room is a mere cook, do you?) glass of Riesling while he or she cooks up the lamb  risotto.

Lo and behold, it’s the new revamped Chef’s Workstation(CW)!


It is to be hoped that readers did not miss the gender crossover in the sentence above. Because yes, cooking  is no longer a woman’s job, except in large joint family  households where the maharaj is always but always male. In the uber cool CW, virtually everyone fights to  wear that tall frilled white toque.

We now live in an age  where men are getting in touch with their inner skillet  skills and proudly owning them, too. We now live in an  age when a carefully casual ‘Yup, I made that spinach  ravioli/shahi daal’ goes down a treat with young women  (and old women, too, for that matter).

The store cupboard, a piece of early Victorian era, is not really a store cupboard, it’s more like the central showpiece  of this CW. Bohemian crystal, ye olde kalchattis from Kerala, pewter-lidded Mason jars, all jostle for place with garlic presses from Lyons, muffin pans from Milwaukee and laksa bowls from Singapore.

Those hidden drawers,  now, could well hold the spare iPhone, the family’s third  notebook computer and an unused fondue set, alongside  agarbattis and Bunty’s Prefect badges, all seven of them . And on the polished glass shelf, there sits a copy of  Catcher in the Rye and a random selection of Georgette Heyer romances amidst a wide-ranging selection of cookbooks.

It really is like that ad. This new improved kitchen is the place you hang out in wearing your ‘Proud to be a bawarchi’ tee, clacking your fingers to RiRi (she found love in a hard place, you are finding life in a kitchen) as you dip that Javanese shell scoop into your Dijon-mustard induced kadhi.

You are not alone. Your Significant Other is sitting  in that sunny nook, a mug of extra strong tea in  hand, newspaper propped up on the rattan table, reading out snippets involving real estate, the  commodities market, Filmstar Khan’s (first name,  your choice) latest shenanigans, tips on how to bring back the lustre in your hair, your eyes, your  life, whatever.

Your offspring (the quieter ones) are sprawled on the gleaming sepia- tiled floor (goes beautifully with that russet-hued still life  on the wall, the tiles not the offspring) doing their own thing with a sketchpad and a Playstation, respectively.

The sun’s dappled rays light up the cream and blush-pink chrysanthemums  in the crystal vase on the island in the middle of  this spacious room. The cast-iron woks, kadais and crockpots that hang from lustrous rails suspended above the island verily look like works of art.

Actually, they are. Works of art, I mean. Works of art your family and you can live in. Works of art your friends can hang out in, while working on that presentation due in tomorrow morning. Works of art you can impress your kitty club with.  Works of art you can use to intimidate your maid  into abject submission.

Willy- nilly, the common or garden kitchen has achieved a major transition. Let’s raise our cappuccino cup to that, shall we?

Sheila Kumar is a journalist and author who works best in her own Chef’s Workstation.

This ran in TOI-CREST of 2 March 2013.

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Sheila Kumar • March 2, 2013

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