Very little did Nimmi Sunilkumar know about cooking when she got married at the age of 20, sooner than she had expected, immediately after completing graduation. Her husband’s was a joint family where cooking and serving food was a celebration. However, Nimmi was not among those who would give up on criticisms. She wanted to cook ‘tasty’ food and thus began her quest for thani nadan (authentic) Kerala recipes. As she delved more into the cooking process, her knowledge about the ingredients, cooking methods and even the exact time required to cook them that will yield a lip-smacking dish got deeper and deeper.
She also understood that the healthiest and easiest option to stay connected to one’s food culture was to avoid wasting ingredients and cooking simple food, without adding too much into one recipe and making it a tough dish to be attempted at a household kitchen.
This belief persuaded her to promote regional cooking and amid the criticisms and challenges that she had to face, Nimmi decided to go ahead and her talent has now surpassed borders. The self-taught cook, cookbook author and blogger is now representing India in various global platforms which acknowledge authentic regional cooking and people who promote the same. Her latest international recognition is the Best Show Kitchen award at the Gourmand Awards 2019 held in Macao, China, which is a feat achieved by acclaimed chefs of the world after a lot of assessments. Nimmi was invited to Macao on the basis of the show kitchen that she showcased at the Village international de la Gastronomie held as part of the Gourmand World Summit, an annual culinary event, held in UNESCO.
Nimmi attributes her success to the unconditional respect she has for the regional ingredients and the cooking methods that persuaded her promote regional cooking, which has in turn brought her the accolades. “The Gourmand Awards is the ultimate recognition that one can receive in the food and beverages sector. This is probably why they are called as the Oscars of Gastronomy. I overwhelmed and humbled by the respect Gourmand team has shown to me because the genuinely feel that it is the consideration and respect that the expert team has for our cooking that they have bestowed on me for trying to promote it. When I started cooking 8 years back, I just wanted to come up with more and more authentic dishes from Kerala cuisine that are not usually tried at households but are a treasure of taste and health. Once I started understanding the health benefits of various ingredients and how it can be boosted by regulating the time that we cook it I thought it might be documented and therefore wrote a book. But that did not turn out the way I wanted it to be. So I published my second book Lip Smacking Dishes of Kerala that gained popularity. It was just another way to promote my book that I applied for the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2013-14 held in Beijing and surprisingly won the 3rd Best Local Cuisine Book in the World award. That was extremely encouraging for me to work hard towards presenting the authentic flavours of our country to the world. I wrote another book, 4o’Clock Temptations of Kerala that won the Best Indian Cookbook in the world award at the 2015-16 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Yantai. I was surprised when I got an invitation for the show kitchen at the Village international de la Gastronomie,” laughs Nimmi adding that her family didn’t believe her when she first told them about the invitation.
In Paris Nimmi had prepared a basic Kerala sadya that was appreciated by the crowd for the variety of ingredients and unique taste. “Many prominent chefs around the world were present at the summit in Paris and told me that they had never tasted Indian cuisine the way I had presented it. It made them keen to know more about the regional cooking of Kerala and the health benefits this method of cooking style has. I can say that it was one of the kind experience that has made me focused in what I do,” says Nimmi observing that she did not give it a second thought when she got a chance to collaborate with the World Food Programme team from Armenia at the Chef’s Kitchen at Macao. The programme which concentrates on eradicating hunger by serving simple yet healthy food to children has been promoting regional fusion cooking for many years. At the Chef’s Kitchen, Nimmi was asked by the team to prepare Indian-Armenian meal, which Nimmi says was not difficult as she believes that food is never restricted to a particular place and that the ingredients are same. “It’s just that with the change in the composition the taste might differ and different dishes which taste more or less the same have different names in different countries. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot be made by people in other parts. I used Armenian rice along with some vegetable to cook an Indian vegetable Pulao. An authentic Kerala Potato curry with coconut milk got an Armenian twist when I used Armenian tomatoes in the curry. For the dessert, replacing cinnamon from the sweet rice and adding some cardamom gave it an Indian flavor.
Everything was basic and healthy. I feel this is what food should mean for everyone,” adds Nimmi.
When asked about her future plans, Nimmi says that it was a dream come true moment when she was invited as the guest of honor to the le Cordon Bleu, the world renowned cooking school in Paris and was asked to join the university as a faculty. “I had always dreamt of learning cooking and becoming a professional cook.” When I got a call from the university to take demo classes, I was overwhelmed and had silently prayed if I would have got a chance to study there. But they have invited me to join as a faculty, its beyond what I have dreamt of,” says Nimmi who is working on her fourth book where she will be showcasing various dishes from the local cuisine of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The cook adds that it is also an effort to help the women of the villages of these areas to revive their local cuisine....