Like most other things at 1Shanthiroad—an arts space in Bangalore—the kitchen is open to all. Suresh Jayaram remembers bright flavours from his childhood, and talks about how his family’s affinity towards feeding influences how he runs the studio.
In the introduction to The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook, the editor of the book, Suresh Jayaram, mentions that it involves 77 contributors across four continents. He writes, “It reflects the diversity of people who have passed through the doors of 1Shanthiroad in terms of culture, geography, and sensibilities. Inevitably, this has meant a smorgasbord of flavours, textures, ingredients, and methods.
For us At The Locavore, the book, published by Reliable Copy, is an exploration of so many wonderful ideas: the power of food to bring people together, the intermingling of art and food, and how our memories of food shape us as individuals. Read the book’s evocative foreword, written by Suresh Jayaram:
My grandmother, Krishnamma, and her niece Puttakka, lived in a traditional South Indian home with a large courtyard and kitchen garden which was constantly buzzing with activity. She was an elegant and saintly woman who was born in Mavalli, adjacent to the Lalbagh Botanical Garden. My grandfather, Varadhappa, was an agriculturist who owned vineyards and vegetable gardens in Hoskote (on the outskirts of Bangalore) where he grew ‘English’ vegetables. My summer holidays were spent with them and I have many vivid memories of my grandmother’s kitchen.
One of the earliest is of sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating from a small raised stool called peeta. I always looked forward to my visits to this house with excitement—to experience the open kitchen and rummage through her storeroom for seeds and knick-knacks, amidst brass vessels, lanterns, large pickle jars, and terracotta granaries. Every season I witnessed the collective harvest, swam in the water tank, and picked blue grapes that were sent to the city markets (to be made into sweet wine and jams for sandwiches).
The food tasted different in her home—simple and nutritious. The ingredients were foraged from the open maidan, like the freshly plucked spinach, boiled and garnished with chilli, garlic, and grated coconut to make the busdida saaru or soppina saaru that we would eat with hot ragi mudde. I was meticulously taught to eat the mudde under my grandmother’s supervision, instructed to dip the hot ragi ball in the curry and swallow without chewing. My relatives devoured this native delicacy with ease, but they were sympathetic and taught me the etiquette of eating without messing one’s hands and without wasting a morsel of food.
There were no machines and the only sign of modernity was an electric bulb. A variety of grinding stones (chakkis) were used to make medicines, spicy chutneys, and masalas for curries. The food was cooked on wood-fire, in terracotta pots glazed with use. The silver and brass vessels glistened in the light of the flame, etching the distinctively smoky flavour they lent to dishes forever in my memory.
My grandmother came from a strongly rooted tradition, where the entire process of cooking, serving, and eating was transformed into sadhana—a spiritual practice. Eating was considered a sacred act that nourished the body and soul, enlivening the web of life. In the village, after the harvest festival, a share of the produce was given away. It was not seen as charity, but instead as a way of life—dharma; to see others as oneself and the world as family—vasudeva kutumbham. The food was served on banana leaves and a shloka was recited before starting the meal. This ritual made the food sacred and guests blessed the host by saying Annadata Sukhi Bhava, which translates to “may those who provide me with this food remain happy.”
Krishnamma lived a hundred years and left behind many treasures for her grandchildren. To me, came a granite chakki that reminds me of her and the songs she used to sing while grinding grains in the kitchen. Her life of abundance was a lesson for us in spirituality, sustainability, and sharing. My mother wanted us to learn from her way of life which was simple and connected; a reality rooted in the living traditions of an agrarian household. These interactions and conversations have always stayed with me and were also a constant inspiration for my mother who inherited and embodied this tradition of keeping an open house.
My mother, Lakshmi Devi, was the first doctor in the family. She was married to Jayaram, a political advisor and socialist who relished food. I grew up seeing my father hovering in the kitchen, chopping onions, peeling garlic, or shelling peas. He was more of a rasika of food than a cook himself; his task was the shopping— he knew where to get the freshest vegetables and choicest of fruits from the mandi, and the best meat from his favorite butchers.
The kitchen in our house led to a backyard garden with fresh herbs, a few seasonal vegetables, and most importantly, a curry leaf tree—adapting the joys of my grandmother’s agrarian household to an urban setting. My mother would mainly cook on the weekends, employed as she was the rest of the week. While she was very particular about following exact cooking procedures and methods, she was also very good at improvising recipes using leftovers from the day before, mixing and matching things to make something that often tasted even better.
In fact, her food acquired a legendary reputation and family and friends would travel great distances to come and eat her famous coconut-based curries, biryanis, coconut rice with mutton chops, vegetarian curries, prawns, and fish. She always remembered what each person enjoyed the most and made it a point to cook their favourites when they visited. In the summers, aunts and cousins would pour in, helping my mother grind fresh masalas for sambhars, rasams, and curries, pickling vegetables and spices, and drying condiments and papads in the sun.
I was assigned the role of the taster and I learnt how to savour flavours and understand complex dishes by tasting them and trying to figure out what was missing. I did not write down any of the recipes, but instead memorised them by observing my mother, grandmother, uncles, and aunts in the kitchen. Recreating them in my own kitchen became an art I perfected by recalling these memories and cooking each dish again and again till they matched my recollection of tastes and smells. Although I could never match their skills in the kitchen, I inherited from them the love of cooking and serving.
When I built 1Shanthiroad, I imagined it as a revolving salon for artists; a public- private space—an extension of the open house tradition that I grew up in. Very often I hear visitors wondering if there are any demarcations within the spaces at 1Shanthiroad, but these have been consciously blurred to produce multiple possibilities.
For instance, the drawing room opens out to two courtyards which act as spillover spaces from the public gallery. One is shaded by a benevolent badam tree and the other has a mezzanine floor hovering over the space. These courtyards draw the winds and have become the spaces for people to congregate, collaborate, and create.
The kitchen in my house is small and compact, designed according to my needs by my architect Meeta Jain. It was never meant for cooking lavish feasts for large groups of people, but its open plan makes it a part of the modestly-sized living space, allowing for a sense of informality that is part of the ethos of 1Shanthiroad. An old Kanjeevaram saree hangs as a screen, a kind of homage to my mother, witnessing these endless collaborations. Those interested pop into the kitchen to help cook, and the openness allows artists and visitors to become a part of the ritual of stirring the quintessential rum punch, making dips or chutneys, or chopping for salads.
Since its inception, the food at 1Shanthiroad has been made by Devi Raju, the cook initially employed by a friend who rented a space downstairs. She has been supported by Mohanavathi V (Mona), the caretaker and an integral member of the 1Shanthiroad family. Whenever there is a show opening, performance, or lecture in the evening, I also cook something quick, mostly a snack. I have realised that I don’t want to grind masalas or get into tedious ways of cooking, but rather prefer to cook quick food that is tasty, nourishing, and can be prepared in large batches. I tend to make things that are easy and light on the stomach, like stir-fries, soups, salads, and dips—and these staples of mine are the ones that have become my contribution to the cookbook.
Of course, the occasional curries learnt from my mother seep into my kitchen, and I have also borrowed from her a way of cooking quick meals from leftovers. As a result, the menu at 1Shanthiroad is eclectic, and these days largely vegetarian, as per my preference.
There is one large dining table in 1Shanthiroad where people gather to eat, which morphs into a work table just after the meal. A private dining experience here is rare, as it only occurs when I am alone. As a result, my home has been called a soup kitchen, railway station waiting room, an art-ashram for crazy creative beings, and a home for lost souls and hungry stomachs. It is difficult for me to cook for just one or two people because here I have gotten used to cooking for more than ten people at a time. The belief that more is good has stayed with me, since guests pop in unexpectedly quite often.
Food is a lubricant that makes things move and sustains 1Shanthiroad as a growing community of people. It brings us together and sparks conversations among different cultures. I feel that without the shared meals, 1Shanthiroad would not be what it is today—an extension of my mother’s house of plenty and an ever expanding akshayapatra that brims with the spirit of sharing and generosity.
Never for a second was it imagined that such a small kitchen could feed so many that come and go, each bringing their own stories to share. Making space for art would have never been possible without this kitchen, which became the studio where we use all our senses. Cooking is unmistakably an art that involves the whole body and in turn we become a part of it. My mother, who lived downstairs, once came up to the studio and gave me the greatest compliment I have received. She said, “you are continuing the family tradition of cooking and feeding everyone.” There’s no life without food and this pot of plenty keeps overflowing with the grace of my family who encouraged me to live this bohemian life and to keep my doors open for the world to pass through. Many have asked me what the secret to the food is. The answer is simple—the secret is sharing.
This is an excerpt from The 1Shantiroad Cookbook published in 2020 (Reliable Copy).