To Grandma, With Love

This Women's Day, chef celebrate their first food lady who taught them, indulged them and told them the meaning of "cooking for love"

By Madhulika Dash

Grandmothers. For many of us, she is our first Annapurna. The lady with a magical spoon who could cook up great dishes with as much ease as she could tell a great tale. She was the chef who cooked for us dishes that were interesting, innovative and indulging. In fact, for many who have had the chance of growing up as part of the Great Indian Joint Family, our grandmothers – both paternal and maternal – were the ones who taught us to eat food with relish. And years later, the power of food that was cooked (and served) with love.

This March, we celebrate these very ladies who have been the custodians of great food and food stories – and for many of us our first food fairy. 


Chef Akshraj Jodha, Executive Chef, ITC Windsor

Growing up at my grandmother (nani's) house was like a kitchen adventure. The sounds, the aromas that weaved and waft our ancestral home would every day make me dash to the kitchen to see what was cooking today. And not a single day went by when I could stand there watching my nani and her team of two assistants labouring on the chulah and guess what would be there to eat today. For those few days I could, there would be a surprise. It was at my nani's place that I first learnt to stuff my batti with laal maas and enjoy it; my first mirch ka halwa and gatteki pilaf was made by her. In fact, even later in the years, it was under my nani (Pritam Kumari), who was married in Sheorati Royal Family of Mewar, that I learnt to make Hara Maans. A lesser known cousin of Laal Maans, this version uses a whole lot of coriander, dash of chilli paste, and is finished with paan. The flavours are subtle, almost qorma like. I remember the first time she made it, I had polished the bowl without saying a word much to the amusement of my nani, who happily spooned a little more. During the later years, I made it a point to sit next to her to hear stories and see how magic was created. She was my first culinary guru.


Chef Harangad Singh, Corporate Chef, PraPra Prankster 

I grew in a Pind in Mohali. And anyone who has had that kind of childhood will confess that it is a great way to grow for two reason: the cocoon of a tight knit community and great food. In fact, as a happy, talkative kid who took to singing at the Gurudwara pretty early on, I enjoyed a rather privileged position when it came to good food. Whether it was halwa or pindke Chole Kulche. But my fondest memory was the version made by my grandmother. Served with home madegajjar achar (carrot pickle), the most fascinating thing about the chole kulche was that it appealed to everyone’s palate including my dad, who liked his chole a little spicy and I, who wanted it chatpatta. As a chef, that is the one lesson I work on thanks to my grandma. This version of Chole Kulche is my ode to her – and her culinary ingenuity.


Chef Megha Kohli, Head Chef, Lavaash By Saby 

Recently at Lavaash, I had a week of serving Kala Gajjar Ka Halwa as one of our chef’s specials. It was an impromptu decision made for two reasons: one, the sight of kala gajjar (which is the original Indian carrot) and two, the memory of hot pipping halwa that I was treated with every season grandmother(nani) was at home. I still remember how her face lit up when the first stock of carrots would arrive home. She would called it her precious “karat”, and it was too – of all the halwas, it was the one made with black carrot that turned into my absolute favourite. Even when it was made with lesser sugar and served with no dry fruits. That bowl of halwa eventually turned into an ethos that I live by as a chef – cook simple, cook delicious. Thanks, grandma!


Chef Karan Bansal, Senior Sous Chef, ChorBizzare

I don’t really recall how this ritual began, but for as long as I remember, potato bread roll – one of the frightfully amazing innovation of my Granny – has been a part of our breakfast. It was the roll that launched me into eating all kinds of vegetables just because it had two of my beloved things: bread and potato. How did my Grandmother, who grew up in an era of home maderotis, parathas and puris, create such a fantastic snack is a thought I have rarely mulled over because for me my grandmother was the person who could create magical food just like her stories she narrated while we munched into the crisp goodness!


Chef Ravi Tokas, Executive Chef, Prankster 

Winter noon in Delhi for me holds a special memory: that of fresh seviyan being rolled. And the one person who I have seen do so through out my growing up years was my Grandmother. Sitting soaking the warm rays, she would deftly roll out a big box of dough into these little delicate strings, which were sun-dried and then turned into a delicious treat. In fact, it was one of my winter holiday highlights to find a warm bowl of seviyan kheer waiting for me every evening. That bowl and her stories is perhaps what turned me into a chef, who often joined her to roll out and cook!


Chef Atul Upadhyay, Executive Sous Chef, Taj Palace, New Delhi

One of my earliest happy memories is that in the kitchen helping my grandmother make Siddu, a rustic Himachali delicacy. I would watch her deftly roll balls of Siddu and stuff them with the most delicious of fillings and would help her in the process. Hot steamed Siddu with piquant chutney has since remained one of my favourite dishes and I love to relish them with homemade masala chai. But as a chef, it has also inspired me to experiment with techniques – and of course has been my go to comforter. The Chaunkiya Matar Aur Akhrot Ke Siddu is my ode to the many ways she made Siddu – and of course the gooey love that came with it.


Chef Vaibhav Bhargava, Corporate Chef, Drunken Botanist

I was born in Old Delhi which is a paradise of food and I would always get fascinated when I used to roam around the streets of Old Delhi and try new things as a childhood memory but every Sunday when I was at home than my grandmother would treat me to her special CholeyBhatura. Smitten by the flavours, I would often forget my little list of things that I had to have on the street. Incidentally, that dish made by her still has the power. But as I matured as a chef, those flavours have inspired me to create dishes that are simple, relatable and yet tasty enough to make you forget other things. The Chole Taco is an attempt to recreate her philosophy of making food with love.


Chef Akshay Nayyar, Consulting Chef, Anglow

As a chef, the one quality that we all prize is the ability to recreate dishes that you have heard or eaten once. My grandmother was one such person. She could create anything to outstanding closeness after she had tasted the dish once, or even if on my explanation. I remember her creating the first scotch egg like that. It was one of my favourite breakfast to have, since then my grandmother went on to create her own version that looked like a story itself. Watching her make them was perhaps my best memory too. Of course, she remained my go-to person always for great treats and delicious memories.