I come from a very humble background and I am also a Jain by birth. Birthdays were not really celebrated at home, it was just another day. When my children grew up and started going to school they made a big deal about my birthday. That is when I started realising, for my kids, my birthday was an important day.
Birthdays would still not have had much meaning, if it had not been for the personal struggles I went through. These struggles gave life a totally different dimension and made me want to celebrate every moment, every second by creating wonderful memories with loved ones. It has become a mission now to do everything I ever wanted in my life. In short, I want to tick everything on my bucket list be it learning Chinese, dancing the Salsa, attending every Grand Slam, going back to Novak Djokovic Tennis Academy for improving my serve, visiting Colombia or spreading the values of Jainism. Jainism has given me everything in my life and I want to offer these gems to the world.
Adoni is a very small village in Andhra Pradesh and I was educated in a Telugu medium school. As I moved to Bangalore, passionate about cinema, the world opened up to me like an oyster, slowly making its pearl visible. With time, I got married, my business grew and I was blessed with two beautiful daughters and a son. A growing textile business meant a lot of travel, not only within India but also overseas.
A delicious part of this travel was the exposure to different cuisines. My three stints at Harvard further brought the cuisines of the world to me. America is such a melting pot of cultures isn’t it! It is there that I got to know about restaurants which were highly sought after, for having Michelin Stars or Michelin Star Chefs. Michelin to me, like to most people, was just an American oops! actually a French brand of tyres. For the longest time I would even struggle to pronounce the word.
It was my son, a fine connoisseur of food who sowed the seeds of Michelin in me. He would make it a point to eat at Michelin Star restaurants when we travelled, introducing me to some fine dine. We’ve dined at Jean Goerges NY, Dashu Wujie & Shoukangyong in Hangzhou, Emporio Antico in Hong Kong and Ajiro in Kyoto to name a few. The entire experience of eating at a Michelin Star restaurant is therapeutic and almost spiritual. The treatment of food, the colors, the pairings, the plating and flavours; simply put nothing short of food nirvana.
This year has been very challenging on many fronts, with Corona rearing it’s ugly head. I had heard about Lore, led by Chef Ebenezer of Michelin guide featured ‘Nadodi’ and Chef Iyer head chef ‘Noma’. They brought curated fine dine directly to the comfort of your home. It was something that would bring much cheer to an otherwise bleak time. An exclusive evening with a few select friends and precious family members, on my birthday.
The way they conceptualized the meal just blew me away. Here was my entire life story on a plate, told through several courses. The first course went back to my forefathers from Rajasthan, with the quintessential ‘Dal Bati Churma’ served as ghee spheres with Dal Espuma and drizzled with a bit of jaggery. Playing with the color yellow to bring out optimism.
There were several surprise courses in between, like the turmeric momo suffed with soya and asparagus, simply heaven.
The next course, of course had to be from Bangalore, a city I made my own, for the love of cinema. It was Kosambari salad, beautifully orange in colour, to represent creativity. Carrot and Asti sorbet over a glee of carrots and Kosambari salad.
Another surprise course which followed, was my favourite mirchi puggi. Chilli fritters stuffed with Poha and coated with activated charcoal. For this surprise course the colour black was chosen to represent the phoenix. Rising from the ashes, to highlight my struggles, which gave me more strength to ‘make it happen’.
Course three was all about dreams, a journey from a small town in Andhra to globe trotting. It had elements from each continent Cous cous from Africa, Kimchi from Asia, Butter from Europe, Parker house bread from America and Leek & Potato soup from Australia. The key colour was violet to represent dreams. Purple cabbage reduction, with Leek & potato soup, coud cous stuffed kimchi cabbage parcels served with truffle butter and Parker house rolls. I wish I had taken a photograph, as nothing else would have done justice, to this magnificent world on a plate.
Green for the colour of fertility and prosperity, the next course was a play on Sarson Ka Saag. Stuffed ridge gourd with aubergines, served along with a sauce made of local greens and a green crumble of drumstick leaves. The green also depicted Pakistan my favourite country, for its warmth and hospitality to Indians.
Another dish ‘Ulavu Charu’ used to bring back childhood memories of my family and life in Andhra. I consider my family to be my biggest strength. This course took on the hues of red and horsegram kichidi was served topped with tomato leather and shimaji pepper mushrooms.
My hunger for spirituality and peace led to the creation of a desert using blue pea flower and blue berries. Both are antioxidant and the blue creates a sense of calmness and balance. Spheres of blue pea were placed over a blueberry cheese cake.
In the midst of food how could I forget Tennis and Wimbledon was brought on a plate as Strawberry Tartare and Whipped cream. Drizzled with a 25 year old balsamic vinegar from Modena. Last but not the least was the finale depicting mentoring and giving back to society. Indigo for wisdom was a bar of Manjari chocolate, a single origin Madagascan chocolate, served with a popsicle made of cherries and a prune false meringue. This brought the epic meal to an end.
It was a memorable birthday marking 2020, which will always be remembered as the Covid year. Spent in the warm company of family and friends. When I sat down later that evening, for a quiet moment and reflected back on my life, I realised that I had come a long way. There were ups and downs, the going was not always smooth, however the distance traveled was great. Even when it came to food, my discerning palate said Michelin. However if you were to ask me, you’ll find me standing at a roadside stall in Adoni, fingers dipped in a paper parcel full of hot, spicy mirchi puggi.
Snapshots from the evening
Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah
Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.