Chetna’s La Gur Jo Lolo

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The lyrical jaggery roti – sounding more Parisian than the humble Indian roti.

Life is a little boring without food and inspiration. But our home cooks have shown repeatedly how food manifests the idea of being someone else and taking us to a magical place. A plate of delicious food without the right accessories is as plain and boring as cup of tea without milk. This six-part series of our home cook chef in lockdown series has created this sudden surge in our passions, expanding food to that triumphant glory where we believe everyone can be cooks – but only few dare to expand on that belief.

So here I am taking to another expat from India, this time from the capital: ‘Dil walon ki Delhi’.

Meet Chetna Kaku. She beautifully sums up her life with choices: a mum by choice, corporate account executive by profession and chef by heart. What more does a woman want? Originally from Delhi (India), she lived in New Zealand for eight years and finally moved to Melbourne six years ago.

Before we go further about Chetna, let us take a pause and introduce you to the ‘Indian Food Australia’…

Magnificent Six Foodies of Melbourne

Affair with food by home grown foodies

Inviting you to meet the 6 upcoming talents of the Facebook group ‘Indian Food Australia” making their debut -G’day India talks to them about their food and love for food.

COVID, from the lockdowns to the COVID-normal post-lockdown, has changed everybody’s lives. Businesses, from art to media, felt the brunt of it; everyone just stopped. It was an unattractive proposition and there was this palpable sense of loss in the air. But it was amazing to see resilience in people. It was as if everyone was in sync with each other and a huge race came to a sudden halt, giving time to ponder.

There was no warning, nothing, as if someone has pushed a temporary halt button with a never-ending expiration date for this mad race we called life. For many, a career change was forced, and for many it was a redemption.

In March, the editor of The Indian Weekly and G’day India decided to do just that by bringing the community closer to fill the void. A foodie group called ‘Indian Food Australia’ was formed on Facebook by Gurbir Sethi, a confessed foodie who wanted to keep the community engaged during this isolation – and also because every morning, the only question that would sizzle after breakfast in his household was “What’s for lunch?”

Ten months on, Indian Food Australia has grown to 4.7k members. It’s a strictly private group but we have seen exciting culinary triumphs from some cooks. They turn at least three to four people away on a daily basis because they can smell their honesty about food. It’s a no-nonsense group of likeminded people who worship food.

But then there are six out of these 4.7K members who have repeatedly shown persistence and consistence with their great talents for the love of food. Call it their calling, as for them 2020 has been one giant leap for them to re-invent themselves. So here are their stories. I hope you enjoy reading about them as I certainly enjoyed writing about them.

The class of 2020 is full of tasty, sassy storytellers – and food connects them with their families and friends. Blending their mothers’ techniques with modern antiquities, our six home grown foodies are precious jewels. From medicinal purposes to the five love languages of food, they flirt with food on daily basis in their kitchen, teasing us with photos to the point that we are drooling on Facebook.

We have learned one thing during this pandemic: we are certainly excited for food and foodies, and we won’t stop writing about it – life is too short for that. Gurbir Sethi started the group for his wife, Manjit Sethi, because he wanted to create a place for her gastronomical affairs – an affair that he is proud to associate with. And with that, I conclude with a quote (or more a question) by the man himself, Gurbir Sethi: “Do we eat to live or live to eat?”

This is our story for bringing you the Magnificent six, now let’s take you back to Chetna’s story….

To her, cooking seems like a small word with an enormous capacity to explore. Just like diving into an ocean, not knowing what to expect with each wave pushing you deeper inside. By comparing the ocean with her creativity, it’s like she’s diving into the recipe of ideas with which she cannot wait to experiment.

To Chetna, food presentation is the best way for a chef’s interpretation and personality to come out in a dish. As I interview the six prodigies of ‘Indian Food Australia’ (A food group on Facebook started in March 2020), I get this deep sense of how they all use the five senses, but most common is eating with the eyes. Chetna says that if we could just spend that extra time, just a minute or so on plating, then the aesthetic results will be pleasing. Texture and colour create a symphony on the plate.

We all know how important food is to us – we all cook at least once a day. Cooking for and feeding others says a lot about people. It’s an emotional thing, connected with the heart. Hence, it also plays an important role in Chetna’s life. She loves spending hours in the kitchen exploring a new recipe – just like Heston Blumenthal, but only with real food for home cooking.

Her fondest memories are of her childhood; not mincing words, she says mothers are great chefs and she’s her mum’s biggest fan. “Staying apart brings us close” has been the mantra for 2020 and I think this is a phrase for every expat living away from home.

Chetna’s favourite food memories are attached with a Sindhi festival known as “Thadri”; it falls in the month of August, just a day before Lord Krishna’s birthday (Janmashtami). The festival is also able to ward off diseases like measles and poxes. Her mum used to make a lyrical Parisian sounding snack, “gur jo lolo” (jaggery roti). The sound itself left me salivating, so I can understand Chetna’s dilemma in waiting for that festival just to eat “gur jo lolo”.

She joined the ‘Indian Food Australia’ Facebook group in April 2020. Inspired by both home cooks and top chefs, it has been a rewarding journey so far. Posting over 250+ recipes so far, people have been texting or sending her private messages for tips and tricks relating to recipes. Chetna says it’s so encouraging that it motivates her to try something different every day; her prep time for the next day begins just before she goes to bed. Her huge recipe booklet comes alive.

Chetna loves to mix traditional with new. Fusion food is her favourite as she gets to experiment, leading her to discover her own recipes or perhaps invent a few along the way. Like most of us, her inspiration is her family and friends for whom she likes to cook. It’s all about sharing the plate, creating memories around the table.

She is her mother’s daughter, walking in her mother’s footsteps in terms of cooking. We have a lot to thank our mothers and fathers for when it comes to food and creating our history. Her mother is a great cook. During her childhood, she was enchanted seeing her mother watching cooking shows. She has grown up seeing her passion for cooking make a variety of food on the table, and that deep immense joy she could see in her mother’s eyes was irreplaceable.

Chetna’s confession is that she used to hate cooking before her marriage. So, can I then say marriage changes people – for good! Moving to New Zealand meant not only having to adapt, but also to up her game in the kitchen. There were numerous phone calls made to her mother in exchanges of love, recipes and techniques. So, she had 15 years of culinary experience before lockdown – her tribute to her mother.

When Chetna tells me her pantry is incomplete without salt, I am not surprised as it’s a basic ingredient to balance food.

Her most recent creation is her Facebook and Instagram page called Ffoodist. You can not only see images of her beautiful food but she shares her recipes. Her dream is to start a couture café: translating to a Parisian or Venetian style cafe with a small, unique, delicate and decadent menu. She would serve rich menus along with coffee, rotating in change of produce.

Everyone had a favourite memory during the lockdown. Mine (apart from eating of course) was simply interviewing well-known chefs, writing articles and screenplays. Chetna was not far behind: her best memories were cooking and creating new recipes. The most memorable one is the fruit platter she created for Indian Independence Day. It was a sailing ship with the Indian flag on top and the fruit arrangement inspired by the orange, white and green of the Indian flag. I could just see how excited she got when she screamed “JAI HIND!” It was her dedication, creating something beautiful out of the flag in her great pride and love for her country.

With such love and texture, I am so intrigued to see Chetna in the new future of food with her couture café and I wish her the very best in inspiring others and to keep doing what she is doing. Julia Child once said, “Cooking well doesn’t mean cooking fancy if you are afraid of butter, use cream.”

By Nandita Chakraborty