CHENNAI:A pinch of motivation and encouragement from her spouse was all that Kripa Dhevi Dharmaraj required to get her journey in cooking started. She has been exploring her culinary skills since the age of 23. "Coming from a middle-class family, I was not a pampered child. The kitchen was not my space either. My mother had spondylitis and she couldn't roll out pooris. So poori and masala was the first dish I trained myself in, to help her. As long as you have the time, put in the effort with creativity, it is not a tough job at all," says the founder of MC's Lunchbox, who prefers cooking at home rather than dining at a restaurant.
Despite being a vegetarian, Kripa feels that she has eaten more varieties than what her child is exposed to these days. "Kids of this generation easily get attracted to the ads on television and keep trying out the same food or cuisine over and again. Secondly, biryani used to be a special dish fifteen years ago. It was made only during festive occasions but now it has become a regular affair. The minute when food is readily available, it loses its authenticity," says Kripa. We all know that grandmothers and mothers are the souls of kitchen and treasure house of recipes. Kripa made sure she learned the hospitality and art of cooking and serving by hand to her visitors. Secondly, their perfection and consistency in every dish is something she admires and has imbibed into her cooking routine. "If there is no one ingredient then I cannot pull off the dish perfectly. This is also something that I follow at Lunchbox. Every meal has to taste the same. Even the way a fruit is cut or served makes a difference," she tells us.
Once a picky eater during childhood, Kripa is now very specific about following healthy portions of food. While her family is non-vegetarian, she is a vegetarian by choice. "I've learned to cook non-vegetarian food, without tasting, for my husband. Chicken biryani and 65 were my first attempts. I follow every step of the recipe and cookbook. There are a few messed up dishes like the fish gravy that my husband would sportively eat and give me constructive feedback," says Kripa. Her favourite is the family kongu coconut curry that is native to her hometown Salem.
That aside, as a mother, Kripa keeps a checklist in mind while packing her son's lunch box. "I don't appreciate packaged or preservative junk food. His box will have a combination of paneer wrap, biryani, brownies, curd rice and more. This is for him to get accustomed to all kinds of food," she shares. A five-course meal spread across the day is mandatory at her home and breakfast is never skipped. This helps her kid with good immunity power, ability to learn better and get into more activities. "If kids are fat that necessarily does not mean they are healthy and it's not the other way round. This is a common stigma and my concern is more of increasing obesity among children. I always tell parents, don't go by common misconceptions, the kid is perfectly fine," says Kripa whose biggest inspiration is British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. "If this revolutionary icon can bring in so many changes in the eating habits of people in the US, I can also contribute my bit for a healthy living," she adds.
Meanwhile, she has recently introduced diabetic-friendly meals for the senior citizens at her company MC's lunchbox. Brown rice, idlis made of kattuyanam rice and millet varieties are the latest ones on the menu for breakfast. "Senior citizens are some of the most responsive. They know to appreciate better. They call up and give us feedback on a regular basis. They're happier because food that was available during their time period is revived and brought back to this generation," she says. Kripa's team is already planning to set up more franchises. "The two challenges we are trying to solve are - serving hot food and attending to more orders," she shares.
Serves a family of four
Best suited with dosa, idly, roti, parota and paniyaram
Fennel seeds: 1 table spoon
Cinnamon sticks: 1 or 2 medium
To fry with oil:
Small onions: 4 to 5 pieces
Cinnamon sticks: 2 small pieces
Cloves: 2 pieces,
Onion: 1 medium
Tomato: 1 medium
Chilli powder: 1 table spoon
Coriander powder: 1 table spoon
Fried gram: 2 to 3 table spoons (defines the thickness)
Salt to taste
Oil: 4 table spoons
Turmeric powder: 1 tea spoon
Ginger garlic paste (Optional)
Paste: Dry fry the cloves and fennel seeds until the aroma arises. Keep it aside. Add one tablespoon of oil to sauté the small onions. Keep it aside.
In a blender: Add the desecrated coconut, fried gram, chilli powder, and coriander powder. Add the dry-fried ingredients and sautéed small onions. Blend them by adding the right amount of water to make it a paste.
Finishing: In a pan, add oil, sauté cloves, cinnamon sticks, onions, ginger garlic paste (optional) and tomatoes. Add turmeric powder. Make sure that the paste is not too thick, as it would thicken further when it boils down. Allow it to boil until the oil separates.