Food lingers. Rolls across generations. Triggers wistful memories. But how does a contemporary restaurateur go about recreating these memories, if at all such a recreation is even necessary? It is easy to be a purist in these hyper-aware times, convenient to rubbish recipes that do not adhere to certain traditional and set standards. More so, when a regional restaurant caters to the cosmopolitan crowd of our urban hubs, things can get lost in translation within days. And when Indian regional cuisines demand a separate elbow room of their own, the challenges are manifold – critics and patrons are filled with disdain, their verdicts unforgiving.
American environmentalist Winona LaDuke once said – “Food for us comes from our relatives, whether they have wings or fins or roots. Food has culture, history, story. It has relationships. It is more than something you just buy at the store, something that just doesn’t have a stamp on it.”
Is it reasonable, then, to judge food from the superficial yardstick of commercial digits and profits? But money needs to be made. In a pandemic world, the F&B industry is in dire straits – every penny counts, and the only language investors understand is the one where RoI numbers are on the upswing. In this light, wouldn’t it be something akin to magic if a golden balance is struck?
Kishore DF, the owner of The Tanjore Tiffin Room (TTR), leans back on his chair as he reminisces about his childhood in front of a steaming pot of railway chicken curry before us, “I grew up in Madras. Rudimentary upbringing. Classic Tamilian background. I left home when I was 17, and since then I haven’t looked back. I was done with Tamil Nadu.” All of Kishore’s previous stints have catered to the upwardly mobile, affluent crowd. Potpourri was Mumbai’s only experiment with a street European-continental bistro when it opened back in the 90s, and Lemon Grass was the city’s first South East-Asian bistro. “As you get older and you are done with all your stuff, you get back to your roots. As a city, Madras never attracted me because I have been away from it for far too long. But the food was always essential to me while growing up, it wasn’t just another chore,” he says. TTR’s Bandra outlet is adorned with Kishore’s family photographs, some dating back to the 1940s – community dinners, handwritten recipe books, little Kishore in front of vintage cars, women of his family posing regally for the camera’s unassuming shutter. And yet, it is not just these beautiful sepia-toned pictures that lend TTR its homely vibe, but the fact that it also has the bridal sari that Kishore’s mother wore at her wedding, framed beautifully in glass on one of the restaurant walls. He has even named one of the dishes, ‘Padmini’s cutlets’, after his mother. “South Indian food, particularly in Mumbai, was filled with stereotypes. Fish, of the Mangalorean kind, or the idlidosas. Where was the diversity? Where was authentic Tamil food?” And so, began a sporadic journey of seven years where chefs from Mumbai kept visiting Kishore’s house in Madras to learn his family’s recipes. But would the reckless, quick-to judge, fast-footed people of Mumbai accept this intensely personal abode of love? Surprisingly, yes. The original Versova joint has a steady stream of loyal patronage, favourable word-of-mouth has permeated across the city, and banking on its popularity the Bandra outlet was opened, as it too, was welcomed with love. “The only thing I am proud of is not the food. What makes me happy is how I have not compromised on my sensibilities at all. In my eyes, TTR is as authentically Tamilian as it gets.”
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