Cook2Jhoom…the early days

When Shalini approached me to write a cookbook of healthy Indian food for Just Jhoom!we were at one of her instructor training workshops. I said yes immediately, without thinking it through. What was there to think about? I love Indian food, I love cooking and I quite enjoy writing. Furthermore, I already had a collection of recipes, mostly my mum’s, that were begging to be tidied up, compiled and shared with the rest of the world, secret ingredients and all (yes Mum, you read it right). Most importantly, however, I was very enthusiastic about Just Jhoom! and where it was going and I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to be a part of it in a way that would enable me to further explore and share my passion for all things food. Before I launch into the story of the Cook to Jhoom book as it has unfolded thus far, I’ll tell you a little about how I came to be a part of Just Jhoom! It all started almost 18 years ago in a little village in the Swiss Alps called Bluche…

Shalini and I were at college in Switzerland together. Hotel management school, not finishing school – naturally, neither of us needed finishing school! There was a Cultural Night every year where students would represent their countries, usually with a dance performance and/or a food stall. Being Indian Kenyan, I represented India in a dance performance my first year, and cooked food for a Kenyan stall in my second year. In my final year I was just a guest, happily eating and drinking my way through every stall. Shalini choreographed the first year dance performance as she was a trained Bharat Natyam dancer but also adept at Bhangra and Bollywood dancing, which we did that evening. It was such a fun night and our performance had everyone on their feet. The following year, the Kenyan food stall, comprising mostly Kenyan-Indian food like meat samosas and chicken pillao was also a big success. We didn’t know it then, but the seeds had been sown for our present day collaboration. Of course, it is a rather different sort of collaboration this time round. I’m dancing to her Just Jhoom! workouts on DVD here in Kenya and she’s testing my recipes for the Cook to Jhoom book in England. Dance and food are still involved, albeit in new, surprising and more meaningful ways!

After Switzerland, Shalini and I went in different directions, geographically and vocationally, before I moved to England in 2003.  Still in different careers, we continued to develop our individual passions. Shalini began with teaching Bollywood and Indian dance exercise classes in her spare time, before setting up her SB Dance company as a full time enterprise which did a range of things including school workshops, party events, projects for the city of London and Asmakam, a moving, original dance drama which played at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. I attended several of these events, as an observer and friend. I also watched as Shalini’s interest in dance and fitness developed gradually and intensively, culminating in the birth of the fabulous Just Jhoom!

All the while, I developed my own interest in food and cooking, primarily as a home cook in my spare time with a penchant for entertaining my closest friends. Is there anything more joyful than good food, drink, and company all at the same time? With good music and dancing involved too? I think not! Shalini was part of the good company more than a few times and always generous in her appreciation for the food! I was also very fortunate
to be in London where you can buy absolutely every ingredient under the sun, from bitter gourd (Karela) to pomegranate molasses to kaffir lime leaves. In London I learnt so much about different cooking traditions and they have all influenced my Indian cooking to some degree. Now I will be the first to admit that the health aspect of food never used to be my main consideration when it came to cooking and eating. I was and am still not willing to compromise on the tastiness of food which, for me, means strong flavours that make your palate sing. It could be as simple as a fine piece of cheese or as complex as a traditional biryani. So when Shalini asked me to write a healthy Indian cookbook, in my eagerness and enthusiasm, I did not hear the ‘healthy’ as loudly as I heard the ‘Indian’ and ‘cookbook’.  Well, I’ve had plenty of time to think about healthy AND tasty Indian food as I have written, practiced and photographed several recipes over the past few months since moving back home to Kenya. In my next post, I will tell you more about those early experiments in the kitchen for Cook to Jhoom.

13 Replies to “Cook2Jhoom…the early days”

  1. Jessika Nerlich

    Dear Cheku!!!!
    Fond memories. Mouth watering. Excitement. Eagerness. Proud. Happiness. Melancholic.
    So many emotions and thoughts I have right now.
    I agree with you! There is nothing like the combination of good food and good company! And saying this, I surely hope to share a meal with you one day in the future!
    I never thought I would get to know the writer & artist of a cooking book!!!!! Can’t wait to start the journey through your pages.
    Big kiss and all the success!!

    • justjhoom

      Jessica – you are so kind and generous. Thank you ever so much! I would love to share a meal with you and your lovely family one day. I hope it is soon. Thanks again my dear!

  2. Winnie

    A really engaging read, Cheeku. Not so sure I want to go ahead with my plan to write my book about a Kenyan Indian teacher in London! How can I compete with this?! I hope you really stick to this. If you have one constant in your life, something that totally relieves the stress and is a truly cathartic way to deal with all the crap, hold on to it, use it. Really wonderful. Win xxx

    • justjhoom

      Thanks WInnie – you are an incredible writer and storyteller – I will always want to read what you have to say. Thanks for your support sis.

  3. Harbir Anand

    Cooking has also been a passion in my life. And as you know, growing up in Kenya in an international school you are exposed to food from many cultures. Due to my allegies to onion and sensitivity to any chilli I generally stayed away from Indian food. My mum was surprised to find (in my uni years) that I had actually learned how to cook Indian food from watching her.
    My food is usually a fusion with some Indian elements (along with Kenyan, Israeli, Italian, Greek, French, Chinese, Japanese, and others). Recently in my life I have been involved with vegetarians, and the only way I know how to make a balanced vegetarian meal is to fall back on Indian food. It helps that both like Indian food. As much as I did learn quite a bit from mum, I didn’t always pay attention to the vegetarian recipes, so am reaching my depths in being able to create new and interesting dishes.
    I look forward to your blog and the cookbook, hoping to learn more about vegetarian Indian cooking, and the “Healthy” aspect will be more than welcome.
    Wishing you well in the endeavour, and eager to see the results.

    • justjhoom

      So nice to hear from you Harbir and I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. I always remember you being way ahead of your time when it came to your appreciation for food – you have always been so adventerous and experimental. I did not know about your sensitivity to onion and chillies. I use both in a lot of my cooking but I have also found a few recipes without onions that are so good and they will be in my book – chillies are always optional.
      You’re absolutely right, there is so much variety for Indians as far as vegetarian food is concerned. There are going to chicken/meat/fish dishes in the book – will be testing and photographing those in the coming weeks with mum as chief taster. Ronnie has also tested several of the meat dishes.
      In this first book, the emphasis is on simplicity and convenience as well as health and taste – we want the book to be accessible to as many people as possible.
      I really look forward to your feedback. Thanks so much Harbir!

      • justjhoom

        LOL! Hey not a bad idea Rena. They are heavy flour noodles and would lend themselves well to Indian treatment. Not sure how healthy it would be though! Will think on it. Thanks so much for your support Rena!

  4. Muno Asgher

    Cheeku, what an enjoyable read, and it brought back so many fond memories!! of course i know you write well but just wanted to say again how proud i am of you! It was full of detail and humour. loved it and looking forward to reading more! lots love muno

    • justjhoom

      Thank you so much Muno. You were and are so much a part of the journey as well. I remember working with you on the Kenyan food stall and making the mince for those samosas in those massive brat pans and then folding all of them into perfect triangles! Some really good times!

  5. Ronnie

    Hey Cheeku,
    What an excellent account of the events in your life leading up to the book. Many of us are eagerly looking forward to the launch and wish you the utmost of success with this new venture. With your passion for food, and your articulate and involved writing style, it is clear that the book will become an instant classic.

    Much love



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