Where Mumbai's foodies converge

Published: 16 November, 2019 07:00 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

Exclusive: A year after she announced the news, actor-turned-chef Tara Deshpande's culinary studio at Nariman Point is finally ready. But it's less a business venture and more a community initiative

It's hard to get Tara Deshpande to talk about herself. She has so much else to share — about a cookbook from the 1900s, an untraceable Bengali lady called Mrs Dey whose book is nothing short of a slice of culinary history and about how you should avoid the New Jersey airport if you're looking to smuggle kadi patta into the US. "It's filled with Indians, so they will have stalks of kadi patta at the customs desk, wave it at you and ask if you're carrying it. You heard about that man who got caught trying to get paan into America, no?" she asks, breaking into an unembarrassed giggle.

Sitting across from her in her neither-sprawling, nor-ostentatious-space, which overlooks the pristine streets of Nariman Point, we are trying to get the actor-turned-chef to speak about the genesis behind her eponymous culinary studio, which has been in the works for more than a year ("You know how it gets with permissions," she says) and will open doors to the public today. But her mind wanders, to times long gone. She starts by telling us how it all can be traced to wanting a space for her vintage cookbooks, a 15-year-long passion/obsession that began with discovering culinary relics at yard and estate sales in the US, where she lived in the 2000s.

"I just wanted it all to come together somewhere, you know?" she says animatedly, while reaching for a ginormous, yellowing book with an intact spine — it's a 1000-pages fat treatise called The Epicurean. "This was published in 1910 and it's a first edition, but my oldest cookbook dates back to two or three centuries before. It was written by Charles Ranhofer, the head chef at Delmonico's in New York and I just love the detailing. Look, look," she says, pointing to intricate illustrations of ingredients and table layouts.

The culinary studio will host classes, pop-ups and talks

While a personal library and workspace were always on her mind, with time, it dawned on Deshpande that this city's robust and ever-growing community of foodies needed a comfortable converging point. "I will be hosting cooking classes, but I didn't want to just do demos. I want people to come here and actually cook. We will also have a vintage cookbook club, and how it will work is, we will pick a book each month, discuss it, and then cook from it," she informs, adding that smaller events for four to five people, classes by other foodies and chefs and pop-ups are on the cards, too. "Can you see this divider?" she asks, signalling towards the rear wall of her office and continues, "There's a room behind it, which I am yet to renovate. Once that happens, I will break this wall down so we can have a sprawling room for talks and panel discussions."

The family-owned property that used to be an investment firm — a semblance of which lingers in the office-like studio with a segmented aisle set-up with three rows of cooking stations — however, feels less like an industrial, culinary space and more like a home. "I am not a businesswoman," she concedes. But for someone who has a strong network in this city, thanks to her career in entertainment, and who has successfully helmed a catering business in America for nine years, how can a restaurant, café or F&B establishment not be on the cards? "I am scared," she confides. "You can call me up at 2 am and ask me to start baking cupcakes and I will be game for it; but it takes a very different personality to start a restaurant."

It is probable that unlike the other experimental culinary spaces that have mushroomed in Mumbai of late, you won't receive dedicated reminders or daintily packed gift hampers inviting you for events, because what Deshpande is trying to do is backed less by entrepreneurial goals and more by genuine curiosity. "I wanted a place where everyone could come together. I enjoy posting and engaging [with my followers] on social media, but I like meeting people more because you learn so much from speaking to them. How else will I find out about some random fact about nolen gur?"

Upcoming events
Meal with Masterchef Australia Sandeep Pandit
ON November 21
Christmas cookie decoration for kids
ON December 14
Winter Goan tapas with Avinash Martin
ON December 15

AT Tara Deshpande Culinary Studio, fourth floor, Atlanta Building, Nariman Point.
TIME 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
CALL 9711961446

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