|Manali Jagtap-Nyheim and Claire Fisher at Ganapati South Indian Kitchen, the venue for Mahatma Thali and Claire’s Kitchen, a multi-sensory festival that runs from September 17 to October 29 at Peckham, London
For a man who, after a five-day fast unto death at Pune’s Yerawada jail in August 1933, weighed just 40 kilos, a passion for food seems out of place. Yet, starting September 17, chef and owner of London’s award-winning Ganapati South Indian Kitchen, Claire Fisher will serve her guests The Mahatma Thali — a 12-item banana leaf meal.
Launched ahead of Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, the meal is part of Mahatma Thali and Claire’s Kitchen, a multi sensory exhibition organised in collaboration with Kolhapur-born artist Manali Jagtap-Nyheim and curator Cristiana Bottigella Strocchi. Here, guests can tuck into a desi thali, buy Jagtap’s mixed media works and enjoy an installation inspired by the stainless steel utensil rack synonymous with most Indian kitchens.
Priced at £14.50, The Mahatma Thali includes dishes that use fresh ingredients that were a favourite with Gandhi. Unknown to many, the hunger-striker was in fact, passionate about food, and spent half his life researching the ‘perfect diet’; one that would nourish India’s growing population.
Flipping through books he wrote, including Diet and Diet Reform, Key to Health and My Experiments with Truth (17. Experiments in Dietetics), Jagtap-Nyheim identified key ingredients around which Fisher designed the thali.
“He worked with his own diet, and practiced what he preached before moving to the idea of maximum nutrition at minimum cost for the nation. Gandhi understood that food distribution and sustainability were fundamentally connected to people’s eating habits.
He went beyond ‘you-are-what-you-eat’, and conceived a strategic vision for India. A balanced diet makes healthy people, and sustains agriculture. A healthy population and thriving agriculture makes for steady growth,” says the artist.
For Fisher, who sees herself as a link in the food trade chain, this was an opportunity to review the choices one can make within the food industry, and what customers are offered.
“It’s (the thali) sure to pique a Londoner’s curiosity. Whether they are familiar with Gandhian philosophy or not, they will take a bit of the Mahatma’s message home,” she says.
Curator Strochhi agrees. She sees this as a participatory art project, where both the ‘host’ and the ‘audience’ have assumed an active creative role in processing and consuming the thali.
“Food reflects the needs, dreams, and values of a society. Each community has developed over centuries, its own culinary culture: the way we cook, eat, select ingredients, the rituals before, during and after meals, make up a culture. Eating is also a political, ethical, religious and economic act,” she says.
For Jagtap-Nyheim, participating in the project meant experiencing the warm comfort of home. A 10-year-long London stint that’s made her grip on tradition a distant memory, urges her to create ‘transference’ art.
In this case, she fuses Gandhi’s politicised passion for food with the popularity and integration of Indian cuisine into British culture.
The kitchen rack installation sits in a nook of the Peckham restaurant, with sounds of a typical Indian kitchen filling the air. On an annual trip to his hometown in Kerala, Aboo, senior chef at Ganapati, recorded the clanking of utensils, the sizzle of tadka, the pressure cooker’s whistle, cats purring, and women of the family giggling in his family kitchen.
“As a transference piece, it takes me back in time, and enables me to share the experience with others,” says the artist.
• He worked with his own diet (...) before moving to the idea of maximum nutrition at minimum cost for the nation
How Gandhi took to goat milk
Although Gandhi is associated with vegetarianism, he abstained from milk for six years, considering it an animal product.
In 1917, when he was bed-ridden, doctors said he had no option but to consume it.
Since he was adamant not to break his vow against cow’s milk, he agreed to drink goat milk. Thus began his now-famous goat-milk diet
What’s on the menu?
The Mahatma Thali (£14.50) appears petite, just like the man who inspired it. Tiny katoris carry compact portions, with a fluffy poppadom crowning the steel plate — the ideal frugal meal Gandhi would have imagined.
According to him, a model meal for Indians should include goat milk, brown rice, dry cereals, seasonal raw fruits and vegetables, jaggery, pulses and pure ghee (in small portions). The thali has allowed chef Claire Fisher to play around with indigenous ingredients.
When she couldn’t find tulsi at London’s stores — a key ingredient in Tulsi chamandee — she substituted it with Thai basil. The meal carries a subtlety of flavour brought on by a hint of mustard seeds and fresh coconut, and serious crunch thanks to fresh vegetables, ginger and dry fruit. “The idea was to keep it simple, and not let a particular flavour or dish overpower the others,” says Fisher.
• Salad with fresh herbs, tomato, barley and almonds tossed with goat’s cheese
• Moong dal with lightly tempered okra
• Rasam with freshly squeezed lemon juice
• Moru Curry — a yogurt dish made with goat’s milk and raw cucumber seasoned with mustard seeds and green chilli
• Raw cabbage, carrot, spinach, fresh coconut tempered with urud dal, curry leaves and mustard seeds
• Nutritious red rice
• Wheat roti with fresh methi, and green chilli roti smeared lightly with pure ghee
• Inji pickle made from fresh ginger, chilli and tamarind juice
• Salted chilli marinated in mustard seeds
• Tulsi chamandee — a dry chutney made from Thai basil, fresh green chilli and coconut, roasted daaliya and ginger
• Fresh coconut, moong dal, jaggery-infused payasam
Londoners need a lesson in nutrition
In the West, food that fills you, but does not feed you is far more affordable than food that actually nourishes. In the UK, 70 per cent men and 63 per cent women are overweight or obese. Over the last 20 years, cases of obesity in the country have tripled