She came to us as a student and left us a teacher. An extraordinary lady, Karuna Mehta, came to us all the way from distant Burundi on her annual visit to India. An avid cook, she fills every trip with foodie experiences and found APB Cook Studio on the internet while in search of culinary training. And fittingly, it was ‘No Reservations’; our World Cuisine course she picked. Over the next few weeks, amidst pots of fragrant Thai Curry, slow simmered pans of Paella, freshly fried Fritters, Churros and Satay, we bonded.
The conversations those days would make it worth being a fly on the wall (as we were happy to be!) Rushina imparted her knowledge and Karuna matched it with hers, along with beautiful stories of her cooking journey, from discovering the kitchen after her marriage, to the foibles of trying to grow ingredients from India in her garden in Burundi. She regaled us with anecdotes of trying to ferry cartons of food to and from everywhere… and seduced us with stories of the wonderful produce she had access to in Burundi – large meaty avocadoes, delicious passion fruit, Mogo (Cassava) and the spicy habanero chilli they made into Pili pili (chilli paste also called Piripiri in other parts of Africa).
Her manner and experiences charmed us and her passion inspired us to create a platform for this inspiring cook to share her story. And ‘Chef for a Day’, was born, an opportunity for passionate/interested cooks to showcase their passion for food in our studio whose motto is inspired to cook….
And that how 2014 started for us, on the morning of 5th January, Karuna walked in, carrying bags brimming with African ingredients. With nary a fuss she put on an APB apron, and took over the trainer station to begin prep as a group of food explorers watched. One by one, she pulled out wonderful ingredients and shared information about them with the authority of an instinctive cook!
Her lively voice was soon mediating questions and the conversation flowed around platefuls of Mogo (Cassava). Fried or steamed, Mogo or cassava is a root vegetable that is a staple ingredient of Central African diet and offered a delicious start to our meal as she dished up two mouth watering versions of it. First came the simple, deep fried Mogo, with the simple piquancy of salt, chilli powder and lime… then followed her to-die-for signature Masala Mogo in which fried Cassava is tossed with garlic and Pili pili.
She then moved on to the corn curry with white corn she brought in especially from Burundi for this event. She told everyone how as a typical Gujju dish, the corn curry has also migrated to Africa. That day she chose to use corn on the cob in a rich coconut curry to replicate a dish that is occasionally made in Burundi when coconuts are available. While that simmered away, she cut open a plastic packet of a striking red, oily liquid with a strong aroma. As she poured it into a vessel, she spoke about palm oil, a staple of West African cuisine.
The show-and-tell continued as she opened a container of a speckled red, oval bean. Similar to rajma, this pulse was another staple that is literally part of each meal. Karuna talked about how most people in Burundi are quite poor with simple daily meals fortified by marage. For flavour again, she added in liberal amounts of pili-pili (piri-piri) warning everyone to take an antacid after lunch.
Once the meal was ready, everyone quickly took their place eager to taste the preparation of this inspiring lady. Karuna confessed that this is the first time she has ever done something like this and blushed at all the praise she received. Soon the studio was filled with the sounds of laughter, stories from long ago, recipe details and happy people eating a wonderful meal.
It was, truly indeed, a pleasure to have her over. This woman endeared herself to us beyond measure. We look forward to many more such gatherings.