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August 2018, Issue"Cooking is an Art & Fun"

Anaida ParvanehPop Singer, Artist, Spiritual-healer, Consultant & Social Worker SodaBottleOpenerWala

Anaida was one of India's first pop singers. Over the years she has recorded singles, albums and performed live in many languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Arabic, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Greek and Persian and broke through cultural barriers with her music. She is not only the singer but also an artist, spiritual healer, cuisine innovator, consultant and a social worker. While traveling, Anaida always takes out time to study with spiritual masters looking for the common threads that bind us all together. Her burning desire to share these insights has led to Anaida's daily Podcast show focused on empowerment, mind/body wellness and spiritual growth. She also records meditation related albums for her listeners. She is also the partner in SodaBottleOpenerWala and created the Persian menu for the restaurant. In an exclusive interview with Ekta Bhargava, she talks about her kitchen and her journey. Excerpts.

What is your first impression when you hear the word 'kitchen'?
Yummm! Fun! Mom! are the words that immediately come to my mind.

What is the importance of kitchen in your day-to-day life?
A good, well lit, airy kitchen is very important preferably with a view. In India, builders seem to give very little importance to kitchens, apparently they feel maids cook so why bother, often the kitchens are smaller than they could be and not that fun to be in.
But even if you help in cooking, it's important to have a nice feeling kitchen. To me energy is everything. And I like myself or people who cook for me to be in a comfortable kitchen!

How are you maintaining your calorie intake?
That makes me laugh. I do workshops on food and spirituality in which I help people discover it's not the food that makes them put on weight, it is their relationship with the food. Else we are all built of same things, how is it that I can eat a family bar of Lindt chocolate & two ice-creams and not put on weight and a friend looks at the food and puts on weight? In my book calories do not matter, how you think and feel does! But that's a long topic to discuss…

Which are your favourite cuisines? Name couple of dishes you liked the most.
I love Persian food, I find it on a healthier side and very flavourful, I love Malayalam cuisines. Love Japanese too. I love food generally, though I avoid too much spice and oil dripping food because I don't enjoy it. But cook the same butter chicken in loads of ghee or butter and am happy to have a go at it.
I love Appam and stew, butter chicken, sashimi, Italian and I love a good Goan prawn or fish curry. My chef at SBOW Powai makes a parsi version that am totally hooked on.

Recall the first time, you made something alone in the Kitchen and how your family reacted after having the dish. Which dish did you cook? How was that experience? Did you miss anything in the kitchen on that day?
My mom was a super smart lady and very appreciative. She would praise anything you did to glory and that really works with me. She taught me early probably so I could help her, LoL! I enjoyed the creativity. I don't remember the exact first dish, because I was always making stuff that was my own creation and she praised each and every dish. I have no clue if it was as tasty, but she sure made it seem like it was.

Please elaborate the development in your kitchen from then to now.
I have two extra fridges in my kitchen only to store ingredients from all over the place that I constantly experiment with. My kitchen is always well stocked and sometimes with strangest of things. It's fun and creative to cook. Funnily, I thought I could play with multiple ingredients all the time. Most dishes that I finally create have very few ingredients!
To me cooking is an art and a mighty serious one, after all people literally consume your art! You are putting your energy into itand whether they are aware of it consciously or not, they feel it. Everyone feels the energy you put into your food.

How much time you spend in the kitchen? What is your menu like?
I don't have any fixed thing about anything in life. At my restaurant I spent a lot of time in the kitchen at the start, mainly because I wanted to make sure my team knows and understands my command over what I do. It's important to earn the respect of your team. Just because I am the boss I don't expect them to listen, I want them to participate and I wanted them to understand my abilities for themselves. After those initial few months cooking side by side with them I don't really spend that much time now in the kitchen except when am training staff for new dishes or doing something special. But when home, am always cooking something because most my experimenting happens at home, I want my music, my view, my fun and then I can experiment and create what I like. Cooking is supposed to be fun!
My menu is always changing. At Powai we have parsi food, Bombay favourites as well as authentic Persian cuisine which you won't get anywhere else in India for example a riceless Biryani (Oh yes, original biryani is from Persia, only meat and has no rice) that dish came to India during the mughal era and Indians added spice and rice to it to make a wholesome meal for the armies as the story goes. That version became popular with the name Biryani. "Beryani" in Persian means "roasted in fire" or I will serve you a vegetarian Haleem (yes we really do have one) or an oil less mutton Haleem. Or even a vegan Persian bowl. Or a magic soup that is tasty and super healthy. So you will get something for everyone. Only our Persian menu is without chilies, so we make sure weather you are Indian, foreigner, kid or old, there is something for you to enjoy!

During album shooting, have you and/or your team members missed the homemade food? How do you overcome that? Please narrate any funny happening on food/kitchen during shooting location?
Oh my God, when I first moved to India there were hardly any options for food other than Indian and Chindian! (what I call Chinese Indian) and I don't eat pungent and too spicy food. It was so hard, often I would be suffering from stomach aches that lasted all night, that's how I started cooking healing food, using my training in "Tebb 'e' Sonnati" (Iranian traditional medicine, similar to ayurveda) to combine ingredients that are good for a specific reason and then figure out how to make them tasty. That's how "magic soup" was born, it was my solution for not falling sick with constant traveling, shivering on stage from cold in Udaipur one day, next day dehydrated from heat in Cochin, my schedule was crazy. Like this I kept creating healing dishes that became popular with friends. They are the ones who coined some of the names, they call and say, am unwell, please send some of that magic soup you make, and then the name stuck.
I prefer home food any dayandthat's what I try and give you even at my restaurant. My Persian menu is about comfort food!

Who motivated you and how come you entered in the food business?

That happened purely by accident.
Dabbling in new forms of art. Expanding ones skills. Acquiring new ones. Inspiring others by example. Those are the qualifications one could choose to strive for. As an artist, I enjoy creating immensely add to that an insatiable appetite to learn and experiment. From music, art, writing, designing, choreography, singing, directing and painting to carving, it has been a delicious journey already and then, it got more delicious with food!
AD Singh of Olive group has been a friend for long and he asked me to do a Persian food pop up for them. I met with the country head Mohit Balachandran and my only criteria was that the menu be actually authentic (I can firmly say that there is no representation of authentic Persian food and often even when I have gone to pop ups with Iranian chefs flown in, they had still Indianized the food and no one would know better. Even the iconic Berry Polo that you eat in Mumbai is a creation of say Britania cafe, very delicious but not authentic at all) one can also say when you type Iranian food in Zomato, none of the so called restaurants listed serve anything close to actual Iranian food. It always baffles me how anyone can claim anything and they don't even check on authenticity and then claim to be an authority site on food!
To my great happiness, Mohit was very supportive and in fact he said they were interested only in authentic. I mean, think about it, I put a "rice less Beryani" on the pop up menu and he said go for it. In fact he encouraged it. I like people who have a feel for things in their business and he is one. We served a no oil or hot spices Haleem in the Hyderabad pop up and it won in "11 Handi" festival in Ramadan. In Hyderabad, next I did a veg Haleem there. What fun! you have to have guts for that and he has plenty. And each time it was a super hit.
Originally I only took up the pop ups for fun. I had a three month break between two projects and thought why not have fun and add one more thing to Wikipedia? Olive group is respected both for the position in the market and being generally lovely people to work with so why not? And then things took a life of their own. The pop ups that were originally meant for a week/ten days all stretched to one and two months each in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad and one bigger smash hit than the other. So Mohit asked me if I would join and partner with them and start one in Powai. I had enjoyed working with him, I had so loved getting involved with food, it felt right. And that was that.
Cooking is such an art and as Irealised an extremely powerful one. People Literally "consume" your art. It has turned out to be so exciting that I have actually postponed music projects much to my international managers annoyance to focus on this more strongly and catching up with the rocket speed its moving at.
This is one art form in which am getting to use quite a few sides of me. That's the awesome part! It keeps me interested with its variety just like music industry did. From the actual cooking and creation of dishes to presentation, to learning more about the business side of things to marketing, events and so many other things, there is so much scope. It keeps me so busy that has turned my head into a virtual kitchen. It's a seriously powerful medium of art and am so excited it fell into my lap the way it did. Another thing I enjoy immensely is doing projects that gives something back and the group fully supports me on that. That’s the thing, we have an amazing team and we are rocking.

Which are your favourite Restaurants?
I enjoy Olive, our own sodabottleopenerwala because it's quirky and fun. I enjoy specific dishes from different places. Am hooked on lucky biryani from lucky hotel Bandra, love the edamame dumplings at Yauatcha. I enjoy even a Tibbs frankie when in the mood. Certain places get certain dishes really right.

Who is your favourite Chef?
The one who's in a good mood and cooks me a super meal.

My favourite chef is our own chef Hemant Sonar. He is an awesome chef, he is a great leader and a wonderful person to work with. He is an all rounder.

What is your message on kitchen for our readers?
Tune into your heart and follow it. It has all the answers.