Mittel- The Annapurna of Melbourne

Superseding passion, mixing creativity with cultural diversities

As I continue with my class of 2020 chefs in this six-part writing escapade, I begin to wonder what the future of food in 2021 will be. I am not talking about chefs in a Michelin restaurant or our local restaurants. I am talking about the real chefs starting from home. I am so excited for them because 2020 was painfully plain and pain.

However, the year also blessed them with that much-needed time to experiment with their curiosity. As long as there is the sun, water and air, crops will thrive, vegetables will grow and generations will come and go – giving birth to new chefs, foodies and critics. The love of food continues. So, I am pretty sure it will do the same for us in the coming years. I think the journey has already begun for this home chef.

Meet, a housewife, theatre artist and fashion enthusiast. Mittel Chandaria grew up in the city of dreams, Mumbai, to a Gujarati family. Now she is happily settled in the city of food, Melbourne. She came to Australia a decade ago with her family: a supportive husband and her daughter. Whoever said it’s hard to please a child, they got that right. She openly confesses that her daughter is her main critic and she is never too shy to admit being big on food. Mittel’s motto: “I eat to live and live to eat.”

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

Some see cooking as a chore, but for Mittel cooking supersedes passion; it not only supports creativity, but also acts as a detox for stress in these challenging COVID-normal times, providing a halo over our heads.

Mittel sees cooking as a learning medium to explore and integrate cultural dishes with hers. Being the ‘Annapurna’ (translating to being the giver or god of food) of her household, she considers this a serious business. It gives her an underlying sense of contentment. Like me, she too believes in bringing everyone together on the dinner table. The dining table is the table for bonding, and it all happens with food. Food brings it together, creating a positive atmosphere. That completes the much-needed nourishment of dining.

So where did the journey of food begin for this home chef? It all started young, as a casual helping hand to her mom. Since then, Mittel has entrenched within herself a deeper significance for heritage – for learning about other cultures and discovering the science behind healthy eating. Like every foodie, she is curious behind the science of food – some develop this from an early age and some later. Food and knowledge is a deadly combination; just imagine what the power of food can lead to!

Growing up in India is all about loving street food. Being a complete Mumbai-kar, though now a Melbournian, Mittel liked sneaking out and wagging classes to satisfy her love for street food. The menu mainly consists of sandwiches, chaats, dahi-puri, vada pav – you name it.

Amidst the crazy lockdown of 2020 it was her daughter who motivated her to start posting and sharing her home, her kitchen, and her cooking preps on the ‘Indian Food Australia’ Facebook group.

Plating and presenting has never been her forte. She always dwelled on creating an experience out of mere ingredients. It was only after she started actively engaging in food groups that, with a little bit of soul searching, she dug deep and – voila! Inspiration galore from fellow members flew through her Facebook and just like that, she began her food styling journey.

Aesthetical platting has become the core feature for any dish she cooks, and it has continued since the last few months of 2020. It’s sexy, stunning and appeals to our five senses – and it’s priceless for the memory bank.

Daal chawal and bajree ki roti summed with aloo curry is made regularly in her household and also a number one hit with the family. These are the dishes that connect Mittel with her home back in India, blanketing this expat’s soul with love.

She is a true mummy’s girl, following in her footsteps. Her cooking process is never dictated with measurements, only personal touch. It’s this magic of touching and eyeballing ingredients that makes the dish special. So, I am not surprised when she says she cannot live without salt. She tells me her favourite dish has to be a tie between Gujarati dhokla stuffed with garlic chutney and paan ladoos.

Mittel tells me cooking is a selfless act of caring about the people we love. As a mother, wife and a daughter, she is loved and feels the best way to respond to that love is to cook for her family and friends. At the moment, she is a home cook loving her family and enjoying this newfound love for sharing her plate with others – but should there be an opportunity to take it from hobby to business, it would definitely be food for thought.

As I write about our home-grown chefs, I am seeing that they all somewhat share the same philosophy about food: the storytelling and chasing cultures in exchange for knowledge. With that I am happy to quote the queen of food, Nigella Lawson: “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating.”

By Nandita Chakraborty