The Art of Observation ~ Venkatesh from Malnad

by on October 1, 2015

“Art of observation is the secret; to learn by seeing” is the simple formula of success, says Mr. Venkatesh. Simplicity and hospitality at its best – that is what one experiences on meeting him and his family at their rustic home tucked away in the town of Shimoga, now renamed as Shivamogga. Happy with adopting the stray cats and dogs that wander into their home, Venkatesh likes his life as it is – simple and uncomplicated. Content with his home, life style and career, he is silent and unassuming when you start speaking to him. But when he enters the kitchen, confidence, passion and enthusiasm take over. The tastes he produces in the kitchen are delicious and rich with authentic flavours of Malnad recipes. His son Karthik takes on the role of translator while his father speaks in Kannada.

 
Art of observation Venkatesh

Your house is set amidst such greenery Venkateshji. Have you always lived in Shimoga?
I was born in Mysore and grew up over there. When I turned 15, we moved to Shimoga. Actually, the government gave away our land to the people we had rented it to. So we had to move. That was Year 1961. After that, I continued my education here in Shimoga. Now this town is my home and as a family, we really like staying here.

 

How did you venture into cooking as a profession?
I joined the catering business through some common contacts. When we came to Shimoga, my father became a caterer because he could not find any other work here. I started by chopping vegetables and gradually became one of the head caterers. My son is also interested in the food business.

 

Does he work with you?
No, Karthik works at the Royal Orchid Hotel here in Shimoga. He is 28 while my daughter Kavya is 24. My wife Shailaja is also very good at cooking. In fact, she has done the preparations for your visit today and has kept the ingredients ready in the kitchen.

 

Why have you taken so much effort? Just one dish to taste would have been enough.
It’s no trouble at all. We are just going to make some simple Malnad dishes and are happy to show you. After all, you have come all the way.

 

Do you have your own catering company?
No, many of us are part of the Brahmin Adigai Sangam. We have a system where we can get the orders on our own but take up the catering by rotation. All of us manage quite well.

 

What kind of food do you mainly prepare?
Being Kannada Brahmins, we cherish our traditional Malnad recipes the most. But I can prepare other South Indian dishes as well as North Indian dishes. I enjoy making a range of dishes, from biryani to pani puri to gobi manchurian.

 

As all of you are interested in the food business, are there any other plans?
Karthik has always wanted to open a restaurant. In fact, he asked me to do so after his college studies. But I did not agree and so he joined hotel management.

 

So is the restaurant plan shelved?
He is still very keen. I plan to continue my work as a caterer for another five years. So before that, god willing, we are likely to start the hotel.

 

What is the secret of good cooking?
The most important thing is accurate measurement. If ingredients are measured properly, the food will be tasty. We also have a tradition of doing Agni Pooja (praying to fire) before starting the kitchen work. We also pray to Lord Ganapathi and believe that whatever we are cooking is in his name. Everything is handled in the name of God.

 

What trait should a good cook inculcate?
To learn by seeing. A good cook must inculcate the art of observation. The next thing is to be genuinely interested. Without interest, you cannot succeed. I enjoy every step of the cooking process. At home, we have always prepared all the powders, at home – be it Sambar powder or Rasam powder.

 

Can you name some of your favourite recipes or family favourites?
Thili Sambar is loved by everyone. Apart from that, Puliogare (tamarind rice), Kesari Bath (saffron halwa), Godhi Payasam and many others. Pathrode is a steamed snack made from Kesin soppu leaves (colocasia). That is also a typical Malnad preparation.

 

What is special about Malnad recipes?
They are simple to make and they have ruchi [taste]. Simple, tasty, homely recipes – you will agree with me when we cook today.

 

I am sure I will. Has there been much change in cooking style over the years?
At home, we follow the traditional method of cooking. There is no compromise in taste. We may employ some new kitchen gadgets, but the recipes are just as they were when we were growing up.

 

Can you explain the distinction between Sambar and Rasam?
When you make Sambar with vegetables, it is the thicker variety. But when it is made without vegetables, it is made in a watery proportion. That is known as Thili Sambar or Thili Chaaru. In kannada ‘thili’ means watery and ‘chaaru’ means rasam. But you must remember that the powder used in Sambar is different from the one used in Thili Sambar.

 

That’s so interesting. I am sure I will enjoy Rasam even more now. Looking forward to learning somee recipes from you.

 

INTERVIEW BY PRATIBHA JAIN & ADITI JAIN
PHOTOGRAPH: ADITI JAIN

 

First published in August 2015 in Harmony – the Indian magazine for silvers for the column – ‘His Ladle Love’. A series about men who experience the joy of cooking and can weild a deft ladle in the kitchen. Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Pathrode and Pineapple kesari, a creative and delicious recipe shared by Malnad Venkatesh.

 

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