Cooking is our Joint Venture ~ Suresh Ramanathan

by on June 5, 2015

It was wonderful to see a father and his two daughters interact so passionately over recipes and ingredients. Even though the older daughter resides abroad, the food talk with Appa is part of her daily ritual. The younger one boasts of being the self-appointed sous-chef at home while her proud dad waxes eloquent about her proficiency in chopping vegetables, with a glint in his eyes. A Tamilian from Chennai, 60 year-old Suresh Ramanathan and his daughters, Nanditha and Shobitha, are indeed a happy trio and refer to cooking as their joint venture.


Joint Venture Suresh Ramanathan


Namaste Sureshji. To begin with, how did you get so interested in cooking?
I lost my wife in 1996 and my mother in 1998. Learning how to cook was more of a necessity thereafter since my daughters were very young at the time.


Did you have any knowledge about basic cooking then?
Hardly! I still remember making lemon rice one day without adding lemon juice to it. I did not even know that it was turmeric powder that rendered the yellow colour to food.


How did you move towards perfection?
I am nowhere close to perfect. I have just come to enjoy cooking very much. But I must say that I had the advantage of many guinea pigs around me who were willing to brave my experiments. For instance, my younger brother’s family visited us over the weekends and ate what I cooked. Failure, patience and persistence helped me and my daughters not just to learn the art of cooking but better it.


Tell me about the evolution of recipes in your kitchen.
In the beginning, it was to fulfil basic requirements, so I started with making a variety of mixed rice such as lemon rice, coconut rice, capsicum rice, tomato baath. Slowly, I moved to the next stage of preparing breakfast dishes such as upma, khichadi, pongal, idli and dosai. Next were rice accompaniments such as rasam, sambhar, kootu, vathal kozhumbu, avial and keerai. Within a few years, with reasonable hands-on experience, I ventured into making pulav, biryani, fried rice, etc. As my daughters grew up, we ventured into many North Indian sabzi as well as roti and a variety of parantha. Today we experiment with everything from pickles to multi-cuisine dishes. So our culinary evolution has been gradual.


What do you think was the guiding force of your culinary journey?
I think it stemmed from the need to provide good and tasty food for my daughters. Even on festivals and special days, I tried my best, so that they did not long to go elsewhere for the payasam.


How did your daughters become involved in your cooking?
The older one, Nanditha, is a journalist and food blogger. She lives in Sydney. The younger, Shobitha is an economist in Indian Bank. She stays with me. Cooking has always been a group activity. We call it our joint venture. To begin with, I bought the vegetables, while Shobitha chopped them. Nanditha helped with the cooking and so on. She started reading recipes from her maternal grandma’s diary at a young age. She found them very inspiring. Shobitha is a very good baker. During college times, she used to bake and sell cakes; she even undertook orders.


By this time, Ramanathan also brought all the dishes he had prepared for my visit, despite my repeated request not to take the trouble. Each dish was cooked to perfection: adai with jaggery and vengaya chutney, steamed rice with keerai molagootal and dangar pachchadi. I managed to devour a hearty meal even at 4 o clock in the evening.


I am amazed at your hospitality even though you have to manage everything by yourself.
It’s a trait I picked up from Shri G V Muthukrishnan, my maternal grandfather. Even when he was angry with someone, he made sure they were served well. Nothing came in the way of hospitality. My mother was also very friendly and shared recipes with relatives, friends and neighbours. My wife, Radhika cooked delicious North Indian dishes and all our friends enjoyed her warmth and hospitality. So hospitality has been a way of life for me; it’s nothing unusual.


Do you have friends with whom you share recipes?
This is where I have great regard for Facebook groups. I am a member of United by Food, Chennai Food Guide and Kannur Food Guide, all of which are active food groups. In UBF, there are legends such as Rama Krishnan, Chithra Viswanathan and Bangaru Chidambaram. They are a great source of inspiration. I really enjoy being a part of that group. There is so much to learn. We all share our recipes, doubts and questions. There is a great feeling of camaraderie and kinship. I used to work in the commercial department of Air India and retired in June 2012. Today, this online world has become an integral part of my life.


What is the main thing you have learnt from these groups?
These groups introduced me to concepts such as OPOS (one pot one shot), the art and variety of regional cuisine and the pleasures of dabbling with multiple cuisines.


First published in June 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 Keerai Molagootal and Dangar Pachchadi, a family favourite.


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