Mother’s inspiration got him to spin Thepla Buns
Call me old school; growing up, when my dad used to step in the kitchen, he always packed a punch. The food would speak a million stories and that’s what made it special. Growing up during the 80s and 90s, food, books and Dad’s mutton curry were my society.
Two decades on, society is now the community on social media – Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. It’s an invitation to the open world. I could be in Melbourne and you could be in Timbuktu. Anyone can post anything and get excited. So, the food and the city are a perfect fit for this column – and the most exciting part is foodies never “sleep”; even if they do, they will wake up and just repeat.
The foodie escapade couldn’t get any better if we don’t introduce you to the only male foodie to be featured in this six-part series. He has been very consistent about posting his food and is happy for us to peek into his life in the ‘Indian Food Australia’ Facebook group.
So here I am with Rohan Desai, an expat from the city of lights, Mumbai. He came to Melbourne in 2010, married his wife Shweta in 2012, and together they have a four-year-old son, Evan. Growing up in a half-Maharashtrian, half-Gujarati household where food is all about happiness and joy, he learned to worship food. A beautiful resume, typed boldly and belonging to the family of foodies – everything and everyone is surrounded by food in their lives. When they are simmering the pots for lunch, they are already thinking of their dinner menus. Typical phrase in the household at breakfast: “What’s cooking for lunch?” I think I can relate to it, as I am constantly dipping my tea bags thinking of food.
Before we go further about Rohan, 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 Rohan’s story….
For Rohan – and unlike many Indian men – cooking has been a big celebratory journey for him. He says proudly that flavours have influenced and shaped his food journey.
Rohan feels that food is first eaten by the eyes, and hence presentation has to be immaculate. Dressing a plate is an art; if it doesn’t speak volumes then there will be no customers. Poetry has its finesse from its poet, and so too does a plate which deserves the ultimate respect from its creator.
Growing up, Rohan was his mamma’s prodigy, hand-picked by her to taste for the balance of spices before serving. I am so proud of Rohan when he tells me he made his first fried egg at the age of five. A perfect fried egg! This is all because he was attentive to what his mamma did in the kitchen, cooking amazing food. He doesn’t remember a single soul not bamboozled from eating her food. The immense joy it brought to her face was priceless – and that generosity that she shared with others inspired Rohan for choosing this industry, becoming a production chef in Crown Casino. Today, Rohan wants to create the same feeling and generosity on a plate that would transport him to that feeling when he was with his mamma.
His all-time favourite dish is the spicy, sweet one-pot meal of lentils, simmering away with wheat flour pieces with spices and more: dal dhokli. Not just any, but only what his mum makes. This was a dish made at his house every month. Rohan used to help her roll the dough on the back of a plate. Being very young, his mother would avoid the knife, giving him a cutter used for cutting diamond-shaped biscuits known as shankarpali (or tastefully known as sweet diamond cut biscuits), a tea time snack which is made of all-purpose flour. I could sense that he could smell the dal dhokli as he fondly says that the entire building back home would just know that they would be cooking it. Just like that, I walked with Rohan on his memory lane.
Being an introvert and extremely shy, he somehow managed to post the food that he cooked on his Facebook and Instagram profile. It was his wife who would beg him to share photos or even write a blog on it. Then recently, a friend of his wife introduced him to the Facebook group “Indian Food Australia” and the response was overwhelming. When we have a shy chef, it is especially important to gently guide them into the world of foodies. He was shocked to see how much value he added to people, especially during these times. Strangers praised and messaged him. Since then his world has expanded and he’s never looked back.
Rohan is my kind of a brunch guy. I survive on coffee and tea when writing until noon to break for a masala omelette, whereas Rohan on his day-offs like to sleep in and have a nice brunch. It is his routine and now his wife and son are his partners in crime, table laden with a variety of eggs and a nice loaf of sourdough. That’s why one will always find a never-ending tray of eggs in Rohan’s pantry.
Rohan, the chef, is most inspiring and happy at home when he is making his authentic Maharashtrian or Gujarati food. Especially when they are his mum’s recipes and techniques.
A fond memory for Rohan is waking up to the smell of thepla back home. When he lands in Mumbai, he breaks bread with thepla – and when he leaves for Melbourne, he makes sure they are all packed for him to take away. He confesses he can never make them as delicious as his mum’s, which is originally flatbread made of gram flour or wheat flour.
When Rohan decided to make the best rendition of his mum’s thepla, he twisted the flatbreads to buns. He has forgotten the countless comments of gratitude that he has received from people on sharing his mum’s recipe, but the bun version. When Rohan shared the comments and photos with his mamma, she was overwhelmed with emotion. That’s the power of food; that’s how it creates friendships, bringing strangers and communities together.
Rohan’s dream is to open a cafe one day, where every day is a surprise and the menu is cooked fresh with seasonal produce. I am loving this idea and hope to see it come true. Writing about a promising chef, cook, father, husband and son, I jump with joy to see his love for cooking. Food is fluid just like imaginations and dreams – you just need to create it.
As the saying goes, behind every man, there is a woman. In Rohan’s case, it doesn’t matter if it’s his mother or his wife – as long as food is in the middle, it all takes care of itself. I can only think of Paul Bocuse, the famous French chef from the 1920s: “Classic or modern, there is only one cuisine … the good.”
By Nandita Chakraborty