From my last post, you know that I’m off to eat the world for the next little bit. But, let me rewind a little.
I fell in love with food when I moved to a little place called Kelowna, in British Columbia, Canada. Imagine lush farms, orchards and vineyards surrounding a lake, the smell of ripe fruit in the air, hot summers, and fresh, in-season produce, that’s picked for you in the morning and on your plate by the evening. I’m very lucky to have discovered such a pure way of eating. You eat the seasons; you taste the colours of the rainbow. Throughout my 6 years in the restaurant industry, I’ve built relationships with our fishers, farmers, winemakers, dairies, breweries and distillers. I knew how our produce was grown, whether it’s been sprayed, if it’s organic and how the animals are treated and raised. Most importantly, I knew our farmers by their first names – they were actual people. When there’s so much care being placed in creating something and there’s a relationship, there’s a whole lot more love in the end product. When there’s a family-run business, I tend to automatically lean towards them because I’ve been proud to be a part of my own family-run business. It just means so much more than a faceless chain. And throughout the years, I discovered that I had kitchen powers. I’m just a person that loves food and what it represents, and when you’ve been fortunate enough to share your love of food, that is in fact, special.
Food has been my outlet. I don’t have culinary papers, but I do have a lot of ideas (and a pretty random and curious mind). Through hard work (burns and stitches), I’ve grown. Food has helped me heal when I’ve lost love ones, has helped bring people together, and has helped me make a small difference to people’s lives.
For a long time I was lost – I moved as a 24 year old from England. Without getting deep, a lot of stuff happened. We opened a farm-to-table Indian restaurant for the very first time, without ever working in a restaurant before. When chefs left or hard times came, we found a way, because that’s what we do, we find a way. We recently closed the restaurant because we thought it was time for us to live life. Our priorities were shifting, and our experiences gave us a more mature and realistic perspective on business and on life. Working 6-days-a-week and 12 to 16-hours-a-day was tough, but it’s a familiar story within the industry. You lose yourself, you get cranky, you don’t eat because there’s just too much to do, and there is no stopping the stress or the amount of work, especially when it’s your baby. It’s not a failure to decide to sell the business: it’s only a failure if we didn’t learn anything from the experience. We made a difference, changing perspectives of Indian food and family-business, even if it’s been in a small way. Despite all the bad stuff, I still love food (and thank you alcohol). I love to tell stories with food, which is why The Paisley Notebook happened.
I wanted to remove all the crap things about the industry: the lack of staff, long hours, complaints and the 1-day off, and strip it all down to just my love of food. My Granny used to say ‘if you cook from your heart, people will come’. That’s what I’ve held onto during my 2 years in our kitchen. And despite feeling emotionally, mentally and physically burnt out, I still found time to experiment, to push boundaries, to challenge myself. Food is something that is new to me and really exciting because I’m constantly learning. I don’t know anything really, but at the same time, I now know a lot. I was able to connect people with where their food came from and could tell you every ingredient in each dish. Together we shared stories, transformed awkward strangers sitting next to each other on a long table, and witnessed the almost ceremonious action of passing of food around the table – we had an experience and created a memory together. That’s the magic and power of food. That’s what I strive for. After all, my background is in marketing.
I think part of the reason our restaurant was unique was the fact that we’re the most non-brown, brown family around. We’re not religious, we were raised to have an opinion (which, at times, my parents regretted), but it worked. We had a broad way of looking at Indian food. I was born and raised in England, and my Mum and Gran always found time to cook a homemade meal from scratch for us nearly every day. I was part of this food culture that I never even knew about, until recently. When we moved to the Okanagan we supported our local farmer’s market. We were elevating home cooking. We cooked with the seasons, so our recipes were carefully put together with the housewife that taught us in mind. We kept the core base of a sauce the same, but we tweak things with western techniques like braising, smoking, reducing down sauces, cooking fish as a fillet, instead of completely bastardising Indian food. My sister is WSET certified, and paired Indian dishes with local wines. ‘Bartender Brother’, became a mixologist and created Indian-inspired cocktails. Then Mum and I ended up in the kitchen. As a family-run business, you figure things out, and you find a way. A little fishy once told me to ‘just keep swimming, swimming, swimming’, and ever since I’ve been quietly figuring things out. Now all I think about now is food. And, I was surprised I made Western Living Magazine’s ‘Top 10 Foodies of the Year’ last year. I’ve been part of a food education initiative called ‘Growing Chefs’ for over 2 years. For 7 weeks we taught kids where their food came from, got kids trying different vegetables and fruits and shared our love of food. It honestly was the best start to my day. Even though it was my only day off and I had to be up and in class by 9am, we made a difference. We even snuck a few Indian items in there for the kids to try.
Food is a basic human right and put simply, food is memories. When I cook certain dishes, taste a particular ingredient, or discover a certain smell in the air, it unlocks memories. Food was a way for me to be closer to my Granny, who passed away before she got to see me in my whites. But when I taste her dishes, I remember things. Which isn’t surprising that a homemade meal, made from scratch, with a whole lot of love, is my favourite type of food. The plan is to travel around and ask people about their food memories, and tell their stories. I’ll be helping out at food banks and food based charities around the world, helping farmers, learning how to cook different local dishes, and scouting local life.
Work and the restaurant have been my life. But, that’s not life. I’ve been trying to put myself back together again, and I think there’s no better way than with food. It’s only then, can I start figuring out what to do next, but for now I don’t need to make a decision, or worry about making the right decision. All I know is that it’s going to be something related to food. Like Dobby the House Elf, I am freeeee. I’m (sort of) young, single, the lease for the apartment is up, I’ve put my belongings in a storage unit, plus I don’t have a restaurant anymore.
I know I need to do this trip alone – no constraints, no obligations, just me, a GoPro and my notebook (plus a pen).
It’s time to have an adventure and HAVE FUN. Next stop: up in the clouds.