Lost but not forgotten

In his new show, ‘Lost Recipes’, celebrity chef Aditya Bal takes a step back in time to rediscover age-old recipes that have disappeared into the pages of history, writes A Varsha Rao

Aditya Bal in a still from ‘Lost Recipes'

India has always been a land of food and foodies. Traditionally, food has been a common binding factor that brought together families and friends. Recipes have been handed down for generations in families and have formed the base for many fond memories. But there have also been certain recipes that were left behind in the past due to changing times and evolving cultures. As the world stepped into the age of modernity and digitalisation, many age-old dishes were left simply forgotten.

But celebrity chef Aditya Bal is on a mission to unearth these recipes through the second season of his popular show, Lost Recipes, on Epic Channel. The 10-episode season will see Chef Aditya explore ancient dishes from Hampi, Vizag, Darjeeling, Bodhgaya and Maharashtra, among others. Calling the show a unique experience, Chef Aditya believes viewers will be transported back in time through the series. In an exclusive conversation with Deccan Herald, he talks about the show, his love for food, and more:

Tell us about the show ‘Lost Recipes’.

Lost Recipes focuses on bringing back the recipes lost to time. Apart from food, the show also sheds light on the people, communities, stories and history behind the recipes. We want to take the viewers back to a time when such recipes existed, and help them discover a bygone era through food. These are all old recipes that have been lost to time due to various reasons such as the availability of ingredients, the processes employed and so on.

Also, in the olden days, recipes weren’t documented. Cultural and historical reasons have also contributed to the disappearance of many dishes. Food is the mirror of our society, and as society evolved, so did the food. Today, convenience is of utmost importance. With the advent of modern cooking techniques, a whole range of old techniques and cooking have disappeared.   

How different is the second season from the first one?

In essence, it’s the same. Except that, this time around, we are focusing more on the visual aspects of the recipes and their interpretation. We want the viewers to feel like they have been transported back to a time when such glorious food was cooked. 

How would you describe your experience on the show?

I consider myself to be fortunate to be doing this show and sometimes can’t believe that I am getting to cook recipes that are eons old. In every episode, I felt like a door to the past had been opened through a long-forgotten recipe. It was a different world back then when people took 10-12 hours to cook something without taking any shortcuts whatsoever. 

You explored Hampi during this season. How was that experience?

Hampi is such a beautiful and historical place. It has a certain energy and beauty to itself that is very charming. We cooked two very distinctly different recipes with one recipe dating back to the 1100s, and the other even before that. It was incredible. Now, these dishes are so old that they don’t have a name. We tried so hard to figure out their names, but there was no direct reference to these dishes anywhere. But I can tell you that one dish that I got to cook was from the 1100s and the reference to this dish was found in a book written by the early kings of the dynasties ruling Hampi. After cooking and tasting it, we realised that it could very well be the forefather of modern-day gulab jamun. But can we definitively say that it’s indeed gulab jamun? No, because, again, there’s no definitive proof. The other recipe that I cooked was very special because I cooked it with the first family of the region, and again, it was a unique recipe for which even they didn’t have a name.

An age-old dish from Puri
An age-old dish from Puri

What does food mean to you?

Food is a central life force that connects us all in an intimate way. I feel we take it for granted because it’s always there. But there was a time when it wasn’t as easily available to us as it is now, which is why I think we need to value it a lot more. 

What do you think about the food scene in India today?

You know, people have been going on and on about globalisation in food and how it has changed the entire food scene in India. And they are right. Youngsters in the country definitely have a taste for food from outside the country, but I feel that eventually, everyone starts to come back to traditional fare, comfort food, regional flavours, basically Indian cuisine. We are actually ‘discovering’ our own food now and realising that there’s a whole lot of mainstream Indian cuisine. Indian food is not just about food from the north and south anymore. We can see a lot more businesses taking things back to the roots, maybe with a contemporary spin. But the flavours that we want are our own. The food we eat has to strike a chord with us, evoke some kind of nostalgia in us. There was a lot of clutter, even a loss of identity a few years ago in the food scene of India, but now, a lot of people have realised that our own flavours in any way — traditional, contemporary or modern —  are what people want.

Has Indian food made its mark globally?

Yes, of course. Indian food can be found everywhere across the world today. For instance, take Gaggan Anand in Thailand, who is doing molecular gastronomy of Indian food and he’s had a great spell of success with it. Indian restaurants have popped up in North America, Europe, Australia and they are all doing well. Many modern Indian restaurants are produce-driven, employ modern cooking techniques, and have given a contemporary spin to desi food. And people are loving it.

What are your favourite ingredients?

I love simple ingredients. I am a big fan of all kinds of chillies and garlic. I also like oils, especially olive oil and mustard oil! And of course, how can I forget ghee?

Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs?

You need to be extremely tenacious. It’s not an easy industry, you need to be in it for the long term. You can’t just get in, make a killing and quit tomorrow. The food industry doesn’t work that way. It’s physical and brick and mortar most of the time even if you are using technology. You need to really enjoy the process, it’s a long journey.

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