Live to eat

Sep 21, 2011, 10:28 IST | Amrita Bose

... Is an adage food expert and consultant Karen Anand takes to heart. She compiles twenty years of her gastronomical experiences around the globe in one book titled Good Food Good Living and tells us what it takes to be a gourmand

... Is an adage food expert and consultant Karen Anand takes to heart. She compiles twenty years of her gastronomical experiences around the globe in one book titled Good Food Good Living and tells us what it takes to be a gourmand

She grew up in London on nostalgia for Indian food in the 60s and 70s thanks to her foodie expat parents who would fantasise endlessly about Indian cuisine far away from home.
The love for good food remains a lifelong occupation for Karen. After 15 books and three cookery shows down the line, Karen returns to form in her new book Good Food Good Living, a compilation of essays and columns written for various publications in the last 20 years.

Some of us might have experienced some of the good food and living mentioned in the book thanks to the world getting smaller everyday, but Karen urges you to venture out into the not-so-known quirky hole-in-the-wall patisserie in Paris or an open air bistro in Italy or where to find the signature Black Pepper Crab in Singapore or where you could shop for the best of ingredients for putting together an elaborate meal.

Every chapter is followed by a couple of easy-to-do recipes from the region. We did get slightly grossed out with the chapter dedicated to Foie Gras and the extremes to which the French go to acquire this sinful p �t � by indulging in gavage or force feeding. Karen even got invited to watch a force feeding session, which she fortunately refused.

The author manages to create a quaint picture of bistros and patisseries and often claims in the book that the most authentic and best of meals can be had at homes of people and with friends.

She also helpfully shows you how to choose everything from meats to breads, cheese and wine in the book. In a freewheeling chat with The Guide, Karen tells us  what she likes to cook when she is not playing food expert, what she detests eating and some of her memorable  food experiences.  

How did the idea of the book come about?
A couple of years ago, probably one rainy afternoon when we were clearing up the office, I suddenly realised that I had been writing for over 20 years and had accumulated a huge amount of work which might be interesting. When I looked through the various files, in which luckily I had kept hard copies and cuttings of my columns from the Independent, Bombay Times, Saturday Times, Elle, and so on, I decided it's time to catalogue some of the work and put things into some sort of order. Much had to be retyped since they were saved on the old Word Perfect discs which are redundant today. I got in touch with V Karthika at Harper Collins who instantly expressed an interest on compiling this work into one or more books. 

Why the emphasis on haute cuisine and good living?
I think India has always been interested in good life and good food. There are just more people today who have access to it. By the way, I don't equate 'haute cuisine' with the 'good life'. 'Haute' implies fine dining and non-accessibility. Good living can be enjoyed by anyone. It could be a BBQ on the beach or a fish curry and rice at a shack in Goa. If the fish is perfectly fresh and the experience of BBQ memorable, then to me, these are great moments in life which may not necessarily be 'haute.'

In the introduction to the book, you claim that you are not really a good chef but you appreciate good food. How do you think you fare as a cook rather than a chef?
I didn't say I wasn't a good chef! I meant that I am not a chef by profession or training. However I have had the good fortune of working under some great chefs for short periods of time and I do think that I have creativity more than great skill which has worked in my favour for many years now. This means that I can constantly improvise which is self satisfying. However writing is my first love and it's nice to be able to juggle both.

Do you think travel is essential to form a world view about good food?
Yes, for sure. No amount of reading or internet browsing can replace the smell of a croissant as a Parisian bakery opens early in the morning.

When not travelling or sampling food what do you like to cook or eat at home?
Simple food - soups, salads, grilled fish or meat. Good quality ingredients prepared very simply. 

Of of all the experiences you mentioned in your book, which one was the most memorable?
This is a difficult one. Looking back through the book was quite an eye opener. I had forgotten many of the articles I had written and some of the places I had been to. Compiling the list of articles, which is about 10 times more than what was finally chosen for the book, made me realise how many fantastic people I had met and the wonderful experiences I had through food. I was even reminded by a friend at his 50th recently about an orgy of food that I apparently hosted when I was in my last year at university in England. It seems that the meal started at 11 in the morning and went on past midnight. I can't remember much about it or what I served but everyone else seemed to. 

Tell us something about your relationship with  food that we don't know about?
I detest eating green capsicum or green bell pepper or whatever other name it goes by. This vegetable should be banned.  It makes you burp and has no particular flavour. It does nothing to enhance any dish except may be with a bit of colour. I don't know why we grow them. They are only tolerable when cooked - stuffed with a filling of spicy potatoes or in the French dish ratatouille when they are smothered with tomatoes, and herbs. I am also not a fan of fast or processed food for several reasons which are too long to go into just now - for health reasons as well as culturally to preserve tradition, heritage and the art of eating seasonal and quality ingredients.   

Good Food Good Living by Karen Anand is published by Harper Collins and is priced at R 250. Available at all leading bookstores.

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