Couple of spices do all the magic

Having grown up in a family of six children, in a small village in Kerala, chef Arun Kumar has sweet memories of his childhood. “Every holiday we used to be packed off to our grandparents house. It was a great pleasure to spend our holidays in the ancestral homes (called Tharavad) amidst sprawling paddy fields and fruit orchards,” he says, remembering the idyllic rural life.

“Both our grandparents’ homes -paternal and maternal were very near and we used to have group storytelling sessions after sunset,” he mentions, adding, the nights were frightening “with no electricity and flickering hurricane lamps accentuating every shadow!”

One source of joy to Arun and his siblings during these holiday trips was the preparation of food – both inside and outside the kitchen. “Both my grandparents were pure vegetarians, but felt that since we kids had come from town, we might be missing out the non-vegetarian in our meals.”

The extended cooking arrangement thus mushroomed outside the old ancestral kitchens and it was here that one of the cooks would prepare lamb curry in a peculiar way. “Its taste remained with me for years,” recalls chef Arun.

Time passed and his passion for food grew. “It was during my travel to different parts of India, to make documentaries that I became fascinated with South Indian food and got down to tracing the cook who made that lamb curry. Though he had grown too old, fortunately his son, who is also a cook, helped me with the recipe,” says the chef as he unravels the engaging tale slowly.

“But when I got the recipe, I thought something is wrong.” His confusion arose from the fact that the preparation was quite simple. “One just has to balance three things -  the addition of fenugreek at the right time, use of onions for gravy and careful roasting of red chilli and coriander since they burn easily. I prepared the dish and got the exact taste in the very first time.”

Since a paternal grandmother is referred to as achamma in Malayali, what could have been a better name for the dish than ‘Achamma’s Lamb Curry’

Within no time, it became a hit with his friends and later at his catering service too. “When I joined Zambar in Lite Bite Foods, I brought this dish on the menu. And even today it sells the most at all the outlets. I believe certain childhood memories remain forever and manifest themselves in many ways!”

As told to Henna Rakheja by chef Arun Kumar from Zambar

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