Her dining with strangers

Charanya Chidambaram brings to India the concept of guerilla dinning, a culinary and social experiment.

Published: 17th March 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th March 2013 08:38 AM   |  A+A-

There is much joy in making food. There is more joy in sharing food. There is even more joy in sharing it with strangers. Charanya Chidambaram is a master of this kind of joy. All of 27, she’s fed quite a few tummies across the world and the journey is continuing. What started as casual dinners, when Chidambaram was teaching at Maastricht in Netherlands, soon became serious. She started hosting guerilla dinners and has brought them to India under the name Table Talk with CiCi.

“After completing my MBA in strategic marketing I started teaching and post-work, I started calling friends over dinner,” Chidambaram explains about her culinary sojourn. “Soon, I got bored of seeing the same old friends every now and then. For a change, I asked my friends to bring one person along with them, a person whom I did not know earlier. It was fun, but then I got bored again and I started inviting complete strangers to my dinners and it started getting better. I love the newness, the craziness in this deal. Besides, there is always a method to madness. People from different walks of life would gather under a roof and would inadvertently end up helping each other personally or professionally in ways more than one,” she says. “I hosted these dinners at my place as well as those of generous friends, who opened their houses and kitchens to strangers. The dinner would start at 7 in the evening and go on till late night. I opened my home, my kitchen, my living room, everything for the guests to make them feel comfortable, which amused some as they thought how could complete strangers have access to all these areas of the house.”

“The first dinner at Maastricht had expats, backpackers and artists on the table in 2011,” Chidambaram tells. Since then she has hosted 15 such dinners. Known among for spoiling just about any food she tried her hand at, Chidambaram says, “She read recipe books, watched food shows and learnt the art of cooking. I also started experimenting with various techniques of cooking and not cooking. Raw foods are on my hit list. I love experimenting with them and it is always a pleasure to play with the texture and shapes of raw food in a way that gives it the form of a complete meal. And it is healthy too. I also do sauces, slow cooking and braises. I have experimented with various cuisines like Japanese; I have cooked Colombian, South Indian and am steering towards Asian, particularly Vietnamese these days.”

“In between I decided to turn this concept into a world cafe which was my dream since childhood. A cafe which had food, people, conversations, scribbles of the table. I also pitched in my idea as a business plan for a competition but wasn’t able to convince the investors though they said they loved my idea. I also realised my attention had diverted from food to business. So, I decided to go into online marketing and do food for myself as a hobby. I continued with my dinners. Interestingly, when I said that to myself, the money started coming in. Earlier, I was charging 3 Euros for my dinners, which was just the cost of the ingredients. Friends starting telling me I should charge for my skills also. Some starting paying me more for the wonderful time that they had at my dinners. And from 3 Euros per person I started getting 30 Euros per person. In Europe, ayurvedic and vegan dinners were a big hit and so Indian food is well received. I did my twist on South Indian cuisine by sneaking in new ingredients and took it to a different level. I have also hosted glittering Diwali parties in Europe.”

Chidambaram goes on to explain how her supper club started in Delhi. “When I landed in Delhi two months ago, I knew I wanted to do my dinners here as well. A dinner with strangers in Delhi. But I choose my gatherings carefully. I do not want to blow it up and be surrounded with too many people as it takes away the charm of the dinner. I shot a mail to three different networks. One was a startup network, another, an expats network and yet another was a food network. Dinner was open to people at a sum of Rs.800 on raise-your-hand-first basis. I got quite a good response but some people ended up withdrawing at the last moment. I wanted limited and good diners, and it turned out to be exactly as I wanted it to be. The Table Talk in Delhi was held at freelance hub Moonlighting in Greater Kailash I. Austrian latkes, Asian chilli wraps and Japanese ochazuke were served for dinner and the guests got their own alcohol to share. Latkes are made in Austrian homes and ochazuke is a popular Japanese homemade dish and is not widely found on restaurant menus. The Delhi Table Talk menu was designed keeping in mind the widening palette of Delhiites. There has been a surge in the number of restaurants serving different cuisines from across the world. I provided the Delhi diners with the same; something, from various cuisines.”

Chidambaram wants to travel the world with her dinner concept and wants to create a delicious social network.

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