Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Food writing workshop at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2011.

On the 6th of Feb, I stared at the graceful arches of the empty seminar room at Elphinstone college stretching into the distance, a little stumped at what to do next. I felt like I had run a marathon (and personaly WON) but what now? The students had gone home, the camera man too. It was just me and these reagal stone walls that had witnessed so many revolutions in writing.

When the literature section of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival asked me to do a workshop on Food writing I was excited but accepted with trepidation. It was exciting that Food writing was getting some long overdue recognition but I was also apprehensive. I had no literary or culinary qualifications, was I the right person for the job? I had never done any sort of workshop, let alone a literary one, would I do it justice? And then I thought of myself, right at the beginning I had no training because formal training did not exist for food writing, I did not even know food writing existed as a career! And I remembered the people that have guided me down the years, Roshan Taman, Vikram doctor, Arnab Chakladar, Antoine Lewis, Naresh Fernandes, Monica Bhide... they have all been teachers, either knowingly or unknowingly. It was time to give it forward...

Soon however all these noble thoughts were sidelined. There was no time for thinking anymore when I found out that I would be conducting FOUR HOUR long workshops! I would have 8 hours of workshop time to plan for. What I was going to do, I had no idea! But I did know this much, I had to make it count. Every nano second of it.

I had two workshops, on the 5th it was Sharing An Appetite for Gastronomy Writing which was for beginners. And on the 6th it was Eat! Write! Love! Which would explore new frontiers of Food Writing. So I battened down the proverbial hatches and got to work. Cleared the schedule, framed a plan and sequestered myself behind a wall of books. I dusted off work I had diligently filed away for 6 years. I revisited mistakes I had made, recalled areas I wished I had had guidance in, read, and wrote late into the night, read some more and wrote some more. It was absolutely WONDERFUL to be immersed in something one loved!

India’s food scene is set to soar, cheap eats, fine dining, home cooking, TV, every sector related to food is on the brink of change. And food writing is an area that is parched for new blood! Wasn’t I always lamenting about the lack of food writing out there? Well it was time to be the change I wanted to see! (Or try anyway!) A fusion recipe for a Butter Chicken Pasta, The history of Chocolate, Where to find the best Vada Pav in Mumbai. A first person adventure in the food precincts of Melbourne, A guide to ayurvedic cooking, How eating vegetables can save the world. Food writing is like a buffet, there are so many delicious reads to pick from! And yet a food obsessed country literature rich country like ours, barely gives food writing any space. There were so few spaces dedicated to food writing in the media when I started and even these dwindled as recession hit the publishing industry in the last few years.

But that has changed with the advent and growth of digital media and push button publishing. Today you do not have to wait for the gratification of print media, you are literally a blogpost away from publishing yourself. Yes, there are a lot of issues, plagiarism, copyright etc that are very real and very present. But for a writer that writes to be read, the satisfaction of their words realising as thoughts in other minds comes much faster today.

I had a single minded objective with my workshops; to awaken those participating to the world of food writing, to the delicious vastness of it.Someone commented that the workshop seemed to be about eating more than writing, It was, how can you write if you do not eat, taste.So, I admit I went in there with all my guns blazing, tempting with Dragon fruit, Heart of Palm and Turiya Patra Nu Shaak, blackmailing with food memoir, leaving no food description filled page unturned, unleashing the aroma of Kaffir Lime, reeling them in with Chocolate and Chillies, and seducing them with macarons, cupcakes and honey. And every single moment of wakefulness in the week before, every second of study I put in was validated when the first of them read their pieces, Rajesh read his description of Kaffir Lime. And then the rest of them came Ankiet, Ramya, Jayashree, Pooja, Prahniika, and my favourite, Shubham! each flooring me with their writing.

My ‘students’ came from different walks of life, with a variety of reasons for being there. Would they make money? was a question I was dreading, because that I could not guarantee. Surprisingly nobody asked that! The questions I got were, more along the lines of “How to research?”, “How to validate research, where to look for informations, how to taste the best at restaurants and of course the ethics of reviewing was a big issue. Which was great, because, they came from different walks of life, with different reasons for being there but they were unified by a love for food and a love for writing. Two things, that to my mind are essential ingredients in Food writing.

As I packed up after my workshop and all the way home and reading all the assignments that are coming in, I have made a commitment to myself to take this further. I am going to put in more time and keep the ball of foodwriting rolling. (Hope to update you with some exciting news on this fron soon!)

I would also like to say THANK YOU to Preeti Singh, Ayesha, Peter, Shakti and the Lit section of KGAF 2011 for giving Food writing this space (I thingk it is the first food writing workshop in India EVER), for just making this happen and for everything you all do behing the scenes to enrich writing in Mumbai and India.

Also a HUGE THANK YOU and big hug to Samar Gupta of Trikaya, Pooja Dhingra of Le 15, Mohit Khattar of Nature's Basket, Pinky Chandan Dixit of Soam and Vijaya Pastala of Under the Mango Tree for always coming forward and supporting all my hare brained schemes and machinations in the name of food writing!

To the students of my Foodwriting workshop at KGAF 2011, I have this to say.
You all have immense potential, WRITE. (eat and digest, of course but WRITE) You have so much to say on food and so many lovely ways of saying it, please, PLEASE WRITE!

If you know where you want to to, there will always be a road to your destination.

1. Please leave your comments/praise/brickbats/feedback/links to any posts you write in the comments field here.
2. I had the whole workshop videographed and copies will be available by next week or so for sale for anyone who wants one. (These will be at cost or a bit more.) So please leave a message here in comments if you are interested in a copy.
3. I will also create a Food writers group by the end of this week where I will review and critique all the assignements. If you have not sent yours in, PLEASE DO SO by Thursday 10 Feb or you will miss the bus. (AND TO THOSE LAZY ONES WHO ARE THINKING OF ABSCONDING, SEND THEM IN OR I WILL HAUNT YOU AT EVERY MEAL muahahahahaha....)

May you all write deliciously!

With much love,Rushina

Food writing workshop at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
Lets get the show on the road!
My lovely 'students'!
Jayashree reads out her piece on Exotic Ingredients. As an excercise in focusing on and describing flavour, participants sampled a variety of exotic new ingredients Trikaya Agriculture has launched in the market, namely Kaffir Lime, Dragon Fruit and Heart of Palm. The assignment was to write a paragraph on any one or these describing their flavour. I also combined them, adding a little chilli and salt to make a salad to demonstrate how one can play with color, texture and flavour for recipe development.
Dragon Fruit!
Kaffir Lime and leaves
The sweeter, jucier yellow Dragon Fruit.
The Salad
Ankiet reads out his piece.
I used Dark Chocolate (80%) to help participants learn to focus on flavour. Once words like sweet, great and delicious were thrown out, and more evocative ones such as sinister, seductive and sensuous ccame out. 
The second assignment for the day was thanks to pooja of Le 15 Patisserie, Participants were given a sampling of Wasabi Cream Cupcakes and Macaroons. They had to use their tastbuds and skill and everything they had learnt in the class to write an article in a form style and voice of their choice.
Talkona about Food Travel and Masala Trails.
assignment time!
Day two Eat Write Love! kicked off on a fiery note with a little armchair foodwriting. Samples of chilli based products were circulated to participants thanks to Mohit Khattar of Godrej Nature's Basket, the assignment was that they had to write about any three. The writing that came out of this was as fiery as the subject,
Habanero Tabasco sauce, Piri Piri Chillies, Moroccan Harrisa, Japanese Tobajan sauce.
The Aji Nori that caused a fire!
Stirring the La Costena, Chipotle in Adobo sauce into the Mayonais for a dip.
Piquant and spicy pickled Jalapenos
Reading about the origins of Chocolate from Cupbouard love a refernce book on how foods got their names. Montezumas prowess was what cause many chuckles.
The many books we showcased and Chilli Chocolate - the chilli sneaks up on you!
I wear my chillies on my sleeve!
My favourite shot of the day!
The second assignment of the day was Memoir writing. I served up my nostalgia dish from Soam for tasting and talked about why it was so nostalgia inducing to me. Turiya Patra Nu Shaak in which pinwheels of layers of Colocacia leaves are spread with Chickpea flour paste, rolled up and steamed and then cooked with ridge gourd and peas into a melange of piquant flavours. This is served with Biscuit Bhakri at Soam. Participants were asked to take inspiration from my story and write a passage on a dish that instilled nostalgia in them.
Assignment three explored 'Writing for Change'. This is an issue of note globally and a lot of writing today is in this genre, Participants were asked to taste Under The Mango Tree honeys and write a passage that incited readers to buy that honey, at the same time informing them about the benefits of consuming honey to the individual and the environment.
Reading from the Best food writing series, these annual anthologies have been an inspiration throughout my career for both educating on the variety of genres within food writing as well as to nap trends in food writing,


chandhana said...

Hi Rushina,

The snapshots makes me feel why am I not in Mumbai? I would love to have the video....

Swati said...

Hi Rushina,

I missed your workshop at Kala ghoda. Can I get a copy of the DVD you making?

Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

Wow, would I have loved to attend that workshop! Next year, maybe! Looks so good!

Sunshinemom said...

I gather you had a very exciting day:). Enjoyed reading the post. Wanted to make it today but could not.

pushpee said...

Thank u Rushina, I really enjoyed the workshop, both the days and my blogpost is the proof that food-tasting was the fun part.....I blogged at http://chat-with-pushpee.blogspot.com/2011/02/kalaghoda-workshop-eat-write-love.html
thank u so much

Rajesh Mehar said...

Rushina, thanks for a lovely workshop. Everyone knows about the ubiquitous restaurant reviews, but to understand that there is a world of food-writing out there that is way beyond the restaurant review was the best part of your workshop.

Of course, the free macarons and wasabi cupcakes and chipotle-pepper-mayo dip and single-flora-organic honey came a close second! *SLURP*

SHUBHAM477 said...

let me know when you have other workshops.......

Sanchi said...


I would love to attend this workshop.. Please let me know if you have any further


Renita said...

I missed it...would love to have a copy of the videos. I would also be interested if theres anything more about food writing.

Nadia said...

The photos seem great... would have loved to attend it :)

We mentioned it on our kala ghoda blog post too.. cheers!

Poorva said...

Hi Rushina, I have recently come across your blog, and got to know that you have been around for a long time and have come a long way. Its great to see your hard work being rewarded in so many different ways.
We have two similarities, one and the most obvious is the connection with food and second is that you are a Virgo like me. I would love to have a copy of your workshop, I am from Delhi. Keep up the great work.

Vandana Rajesh said...

Feel so bad I was not in Mumbai this time during the kala ghoda fair. Have grown up in Mumbai and am in love with this beautiful city that doesn't cease to surprise and inspire. Your blog has been a great inspiration with so much to read about food.

Prahniika Borkar said...

hi Rushina,
i totally loved your workshop. but can u pls send me the url of the food group you created because i cant find it anywhere :S

All Talk and No Action said...

Hi Rushina,

I missed the session! :-(

Can u pls share the details (cost, etc.) if one wants to buy?

also,pls share the link to the group you have created.


chandhana said...

Hi Rushina, eagerly waiting for the videos.... understand that u are busy in completing your book.... all the best for the book and do let me know once you have the videos available...

kam said...

It was a memorable and fun workshop - the best I have attended at Kala Ghoda! Singing your praises all the way.