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Cook and be done with it

Cookery classes are no longer lessons from your mom. State of the art courses are yours for the asking, says ANJANA RAJAN

STRAIGHT FROM THE GURU Nita Mehta giving tips to would-be chefs Photo: S. Subramanium

The space age may have reached our kitchens, care of the microwave oven and ultra-high temperature packaging, even as the astronauts reaching for Mars survive on energy capsules. But that doesn't mean the science of food has changed in any revolutionary manner. A proliferation of types - fast food, traditional meals, picnic packs, low calorie snacks, diabetic desserts, healthy heart recipes - notwithstanding, the basic tenet remains the same: those who live, must eat. And if you must eat, someone must cook. So, just as restaurants, big and small, will always be in demand as long as people continue to require food, so will cooking skills.

What's better than giving a man the proverbial fish? Teaching him to fish, of course. Maybe that's why well-heeled men are lining up to learn how to cook fancy meals under the watchful eyes of celebrated chefs. After all, the complete man, the caring metro male is the kind of guy women love to praise. No wonder, when Hyatt Regency in South Delhi organised sushi making classes, star pupils vied with each other to impress not only the instructors but also their own wives.

Recalls a PR executive of the hotel, "We get a lot of expatriates and socialites attending the classes. There are a lot of men too. Mostly young couples." The hotel has also conducted barbecue sessions in the past.

Hard to imagine the glitterati sweating it out in the kitchen, but she continues, "Oh yes, we call it hands-on cooking. The sushi sessions were attended by Mohit Burman and Pranav Ansal among others, and in the teppanyaki section, where the cooking is done in front of the guests, they cooked for their wives."

At The Oberoi too, where sushi chef Augusto O Cabrera takes classes for select batches of not more than six clients at a time, there has been a sprinkling of men among the batches, which include diplomats, architects, leading designers, says a PR executive. Planned on a monthly basis, these classes grew out of popular demand, she says.

The hotel provides a sushi kit and all the ingredients to those who sign up, and the feedback has been "fabulous" with clients incorporating their new skills into their home life, teaching their staff or throwing parties on their basis.

Marriage skills

Hubbies happy to enter the kitchen are perhaps increasing in numbers, but girls expected to know how to cook before they get married remain part of an unchallenged majority. Says Nita Mehta, a cooking and nutrition expert who has been teaching various types of cuisine in Delhi for the past 20 years, "This is a fact of life in India, but my aim is, even if students join my class out of compulsion, their interest should develop. My main interest is to pull them into cooking."

Invariably, they do get pulled in, says Mehta, who recently started a culinary academy in South Delhi. "Out of a batch of 50, 40 will definitely come back for all the other courses," says this author of several cookbooks who teaches food varieties such as Mughlai, desserts, sandwiches, salads and the like. "That's why I keep adding new courses," she says.

Mehta's USP consists of her state-of-the-art demonstration lab equipped with three cameras and a TV screen to provide close-up views to the students, who can number up to 70 in a batch, besides fast track courses that take a maximum of three days. The charges are Rs.1000, 1500 and 2000 for one, two or three days respectively.

Mehta hopes to register soon and start professional courses too. But soon the biggest foodie of all might be giving her a run for her money. On the cards by early 2007 is the Jiggs Kalra School of Culinary Arts, to be run by Jiggs Kalra, recently inducted into the Gourmet Hall of Fame, and his son Zoravar. Yet to finalise the land deal for the institute, Zoravar describes it as aimed at producing "the finest chefs in the land" specialised in various types of cuisine.

Closer in time, the Hyatt Regency's latest offering is a bakery session on July 23. From 3 to 5 p.m., the Regency ballroom will play host to a set of glamorous guests learning how to make muffins, cakes and other baked goodies. This cosy monsoon recreation comes for Rs.950 per head (800 for Hyatt Club members), inclusive of taxes and a high tea.

Why spend so much for a couple of hours, one might ask, when cookbooks abound in the market? It's all a question of vidya that emerges from the mouth of the guru being a better bet for the student. And in this case, that revered mouth might well be the route to the heart of someone special!

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