Hang

My brilliant friend

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on April 06, 2021

ILLUSTRTION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

It’s been over a year since the epidemic began reshaping all our lives. Amidst the chaos and despair, some of us have used this time of widespread tragedy to rebuild and repair parts of our own lives. One of these is my friend, the poet-journalist Peter Griffin.

He began a Facebook group that is now called Simple Recipes for Complicated Times. His aim, he said, was to overcome a lifelong inability to cook. The pandemic had resulted in the loss of his house-help. He was suddenly fed-up (no pun intended!) with his own sense of helplessness. Yes, of course he could find work-arounds through neighbourhood networks and friends but he wanted to push past his own boundaries.

It was such a seemingly modest idea but it thickened into substance like a hearty stew. Peter is rich in friends. A number of them are accomplished foodsmiths. But the challenge he had set his large circle of Facebook followers was to share SIMPLE recipes. He wanted sensible instructions that even someone like himself, a self-confessed non-chef, could follow. He wanted photographs and perhaps videos of food being made. He insisted that respondents must reject the urge to steal images and menus from other sites. He emphasised many times over that the goal was less soufflé and more dal and rice.

My reason for being fascinated had two parts. One was that I too am a self-confessed kitchen-klutz. I hoped that I too might pick up a trick or too. The other was the spectacle of watching the opposite of a cooking show. Instead of gawping at famous and sometimes infamous chefs whipping up astounding confections, we were going to peer over Peter’s shoulders as he fried eggs and burnt rotis.

By hindsight, maybe it’s inevitable that such a group would do well. But I would say it’s because of Peter’s friendly-but-serious personality. He wasn’t trying to prove that he’s a Ramsay Whatnot in disguise. He made it clear right from the start that his knowledge of food preparation would fit inside a level teaspoon. I remember being completely amazed that anyone would set out to make an omelet in a rice-cooker — but that’s what he did.

One year later, Peter is not merely making dosas with casual ease but his modest little group has swelled to include a few thousand thoughtful, insightful and, most of all, practical chefs along with their wonderful and tasty-sounding recipes. Now he is planning to turn his idea into a fortnightly online chat-show during which guests can swap ideas, techniques and easy-to-use recipes from the comfort of their own familiar countertops and home-kitchens.

For me, the best part of Simple Recipes is just the pleasure of knowing that it’s POSSIBLE to improve. Even I have progressed from burning coffee to making edible food while following recipes. Maybe — who knows! — one day I too can aspire to making a dosa and eating it too.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on April 04, 2021

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