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Art and epicurean practices have long been intertwined — whether in paintings and installations, relational aesthetics projects, or the grand tradition of “days of the long table cloth,” as Frida Kahlo described the meals she and Diego Rivera would organize for friends. When a community of creative practitioners comes together, more often than not, there is food involved — from the Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Cookbook, published in 1978, to the Artists Cookbook by Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum presented online during the COVID-19 lockdown last year, to Hyperallergic’s own What the Art World is Cooking series, featuring recipes by artists and art workers, cookbooks by and about artists have been as much about art practices, placemaking, and food politics as they have been full of straightforward recipes. The latest contribution to this popular genre is The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook, published by the Bengaluru-based independent publishing house, Reliable Copy.
Two decades ago, when founding director Suresh Jayaram started 1Shanthiroad Studio/Gallery — today, Bengaluru’s oldest running artist residency space — he knew he wanted to have an open kitchen. The idea of having a large space that could readily feed anyone that walked in, in need of food or company, used to be a common concept among most families in southern India that could afford it. Such practices were core to Jayaram’s upbringing, in both his grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens, making it inevitable that his own kitchen would later become a hub for creative people. “Food has always been a big draw at 1Shanthiroad,” he explained to Hyperallergic. Much loved is the Rum Punch, a staple at exhibition openings, ideally made with the cult favorite Old Monk rum, tea decoction, and other unlikely ingredients. The recipe heads the beverages section of the cookbook.
A little over seventy of the hundreds of creative people who have passed through Jayaram’s kitchen contributed recipes to the cookbook. Entries range from traditional old favorites like ragi mudde (finger millet balls) and baimbale (bamboo shoots) curry, to those requiring more specialized ingredients and elaborate processes, as well as some that are quicker affairs.
Jayaram notes that many of the recipes he added himself were from his mother’s archives. “All the contributors [to the cookbook] have eaten, cooked, or brought food to 1Shanthiroad,” he said. “Likewise, all the recipes in the book have at one point or the other been made in his kitchen.”
While it certainly wasn’t planned this way, it ended up being appropriate that the cookbook was released at the close of 2020, a year when friends and family could no longer gather around a meal — a year when, as Jayaram notes, the garden, the kitchen, and food all became important metaphors for hope. As socializing remains not entirely safe, the cookbook serves as a reminder of many a meal enjoyed in the company of friends and conversation.
Yet The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook does more than stoke nostalgia, hinting in some places at the violent politics that touch the growing, trading, cooking, and eating of food. The Bengaluru-based photo artist Pushpamala N notes a recipe for Gauri Lankesh’s Urgent Saaru, a soup-thin curry that used to be made in a jiffy by the slain journalist and activist. A vocal critic of Hindu fundamentalism and rising right-wing politics in India, Lankesh was shot dead in front of her home in 2017. Likewise, recipes for roast beef and beef tongue need to be read in a context of how the meat — an inexpensive source of essential protein for millions of people in the country — has been banned in nearly all the states in India amid a sharp rise in religious hegemony and the Hindutva agenda of right-wing politics. The latest ban has been in Karnataka. Apart from robbing a traditional food culture from a vast population, the ban severely affects farmers who are already reeling under debts and crop failures from weird weather patterns. (Ironically, India is among the largest exporters of beef in the world.)
Deliciously inclusive, The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook is indicative of the diversity of Indian cuisine. Its emphasis on plurality and homeliness — rare are the recipes that would be served in large restaurants — peppered with monochromatic illustrations of objects at 1Shanthiroad by Akshay Sethi, make this cookbook a valuable addition to any library, of cookbooks or otherwise.