It has been one year since I dreamt up the Bombay Cook Club, and I have been reflecting on what we have achieved in the last 12 months. We have successfully hosted more than 20 pop up events, sharing our knowledge of Indian cuisine and teaching our guests how easy it is to master simple traditional home-cooking techniques using lots of fresh, healthy ingredients.
A year on I am even more passionate about my journey to share my family’s approach to traditional Indian cooking and eating. Traditional Indian food provides such a great template for a tasty, healthy home cooked diet. It is packed with beneficial spices and aromatics, and combines a diverse range of fresh, natural and minimally processed ingredients into a flavour rich, multi-sensory eating experience. It is underpinned the collective wisdom of generations, a philosophy of wellness, and the founding belief that food is your medicine. It employs age-old cooking techniques and a wealth of cooking and eating practices designed to help you eat more mindfully.
In its focus on simple ingredients, Indian cuisine shares the hallmarks of many traditional diets around the world recognised for their healthy qualities. As Michael Pollan wrote in his seminal book ‘In Defense of Food’, “the specific combinations of foods in a cuisine and the ways they are prepared constitute a deep reservoir of accumulated wisdom about diet and health and place.”
And the relevance of this deep reservoir of accumulated wisdom is being proved every day. In the past two weeks alone, I have lost count of the times I have heard an essential ingredient in Indian food being singled out in the media for its health-giving properties.
Last night I watched Dr Michael Mosley test the hypothesis that turmeric is good for you in his Trust Me, I’m a doctor series. His team found that volunteers who ate the equivalent of a teaspoon of turmeric a day (as opposed to taking a turmeric supplement) saw changes to genes associated with ‘cancer, depression and allergies such as asthma’, finding that ‘turmeric is able to reset important components of our gene’s software’. The most fascinating part of the experiment for me was that it was cooking with turmeric, rather than taking a pill that made the difference, making it more digestible, or more effective when cooked with fat and other spices.
I’m also aware of recent research foreshadowing the anti-carcinogenic properties of chillies, how spicy food can help you live longer. Add this to our traditional wisdom – the potency of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, not to mention the healing power of aromatics like ginger, garlic and onion. Why wouldn’t you cook with these delicious ingredients more often?
And its not new science, traditional diets developed over generations, as a result of the collective wisdom of the community and a tangible connection with the food production process, from where it grew, to how it was prepared. The communities that followed these diets were often healthier than their descendants are today, in some cases longer lived.
A further similarity amongst traditional diets is how collective knowledge was passed down, from mothers to daughters, orally, through stories and through the multisensory practice of cooking. A method of knowledge transmission successful for centuries, and ironically the reason many of these age-old dietary practices are disappearing, as families and communities urbanise and disconnect from their traditional environments.
This is sad for so many reasons, most relevant of which is that with the disappearance of this repository of wisdom, many traditional communities are becoming more susceptible to modern, western diseases, like cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis.
Through Spice Mama, I want to make sure that some of this huge repository of wisdom is kept alive and continues to be shared, because our traditional way of eating remains a practical guide to how we can eat today and into the future.
At the Bombay Cook Club, we share my family’s traditional cooking and eating practices in an immersive way, in my mum’s kitchen, just as I was taught to cook, how mum was taught to cook, and how recipes and knowledge have been passed on for thousand’s of years from generation to generation.
 Trust Me, I’m a doctor: episode five, BBC September 2016