Kav’s Sambaling in Melbourne

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Graphic designing her plate with sambhal chili paste

Kavita Chabra moved from professional assessor and facilitator to graphic design – and is now dressing a plate of gorgeous food and bringing home that sense of “come dine with me” any time of the day.

Kavita Chabra, born in Malaysia, has been in Australia for the last 15 years. She changes between many hats: professional assessor, facilitator in communication, graphic design, business and marketing management, event management, and multimedia. She has 15 years in training development and has been a creative principle of Urban Vegas Melbourne since 2010. She is a dedicated professional who enjoys creating, designing and exploring new techniques. Recently she added another feather to her cap: she styles and dishes art in all things culinary.

She comes from a loving and supportive family and is the youngest of three siblings. She pursued her tertiary education in Singapore, London and Australia – later exploring opportunities around Europe, America and South Asia.

Before we go further about Kavita, 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 Kavita’s story….

Kavita’s travels around the globe have shaped the person she is today. A single mum to her seven-year-old son, she thanks her diverse experiences in businesses and travels for grooming her independence, her optimism and her love for cultural diversity.

Kavita gives all her credit to her family back in Malaysia, where cooking is just not cooking; it brings family and friends closer through happy times. Cooking brings a smile to her face because creatively she is at her full potential; twists and turns take place in her kitchen just like a good crime novel where a detective has to be strategic to overcome all obstacles. Whether it’s a dessert or just a snack, Kavita puts her heart and soul in her plate, strategically and creatively.

To her, the final presentation of a meal or a dessert is an essential part of her cooking process. She believes that most of the time, people eat with their eyes; to her, styling is important to draw the punters to the dinner table.

She is her own inspiration when it comes to food; her talent has soared recently like any other artist experimenting with different skills, adapting techniques for what she prepares daily in her kitchen. She has learnt to articulate her recipes and cooking tips – and somewhere along the line she has inspired her seven-year-old son Aarav, to love and appreciate food. She has learnt to build that anticipation of a theatre experience in a plate for her son to respect food.

Kavita’s fondest memories of her childhood are when her mum used to cook various spicy foods using dry chillies, such as when preparing sambal. Kavita can’t live without chillies; she goes everywhere carrying her chilli flakes or sambal chilli paste. Sambal is a paste from a mixture of dry red chillies and is used in all main Malaysian dishes for flavouring, like garam masala to Indian food. Sambal can be used in marinades, dips, sauces and spread. Malaysian food also uses a lot of coconut cream and milk in mains or desserts.

The most memorable dish that she has made is the Punjabi roti or paratha. She has always tried kneading from childhood but sadly it never got the way she wanted it to be. During lockdown, everything changed; she finally managed to get that solid round shape for her chapattis and square for her parathas. Life is now simple and soft with a round paratha.

Kavita joined the ‘Indian Food Australia’ Facebook group simply because she wanted to show off her talent and skills with her multicultural cooking heritage. She is proud to share the magic of cooking. To her, a picture is worth a thousand words and therefore storytelling is very important to her. So, if she is posting an image or a memory of her childhood, she is actually sharing a gesture of thankfulness.

She loves making desserts – cakes are her forte, apart from various cuisines. She loves playing around with different colours as they represent joy, thankfulness, nature, health and energy. She loves making agar (jelly) with different natural plants, fruits and flavours. She can’t have enough of it, giving each batch of agar a different shape and styling.

She is thankful to her mother for a lot, such as her cooking techniques, especially for Indian and Malaysian cooking. Her mother has paved her way with respect to ancient techniques.

She sees this as a huge business opportunity rather than a hobby; she would love to create a unique and urban taste experience of various Asian desserts, online or through a kiosk. She has also thought of a name: By Kav.

What can we say, Kavita? We too are anxiously waiting to see where your talent takes you. We also want to see you online or at the kiosks. We here at G’day India and The Indian Weekly wish you the very best for 2021. I can only think of one person who matches the spirit, determination and love that you have for food, and that’s Gordon Ramsay: “Pressure’s healthy and very few can handle it.’’

By Nandita Chakraborty