There’s something strange about the world we live in. On the face of it, individuals today are connected to more of the global population than at any other time in the last 500 years. But delving beyond the surface, we are less likely to discover new things in the world because while the world is ‘connected’, it is really a worlds within worlds within worlds – like a cosmos of niches, a galaxy of micro-cultures. Which means that unless something is in my immediate world, I am unlikely to find it because the micro-world is so detailed and immersive that it sucks me in and keeps me there.
As an example, I am a WordPress blogger. And I am connected to other WordPress bloggers. And in the deluge of WordPress blogs, I will discover a good percentage of exciting new writers and writing-driven communicators who communicate in the WordPress world. These won’t necessarily be the most innovative or exciting or interesting in the world, but might be so in the WordPress world. It gets more less likely to lead to a discovery of great artists if I am looking for great artists, photographers or cooks or athletes or video artists or singers. Because there are separate worlds and platforms for the best of those kinds of communicators (YouTube, MySpace, Pinterest … being only the most recognised in respective spheres, there are several much better communication platforms for even nicher forms of artistic communications).
But every once in a while, the different worlds collide – often through a generalist ‘world merger’ like Facebook, and then voila! one discovers a new star from a not-so-distant galaxy. Like recently, I clicked on the link within a Facebook post of a dear friend, and read a blog by a young chef-in-the-making, Altamash Gaziyani. All of 20, Altamash is studying at The Culinary Institute of America, New York. An alumni of Mumbai’s Poddar International School, Altamash has been cooking since he was 12, has been a columnist, dabbles in pottery – all of which I have learned from his ‘Resume’, which is on his website!
I read that blog piece (Patience) and made a note of the fact that he had a dotcom website of his own (which meant he meant serious business). And over the next few months, I forgot about the whole thing. That blog was a great piece of writing – I mean, if I had been looking for writers or a chef, I would have contacted him immediately. But I wasn’t. The next piece I read was brilliant (A Woman’s Touch) – for an insight into culture and cuisine. It was personal, witty, informative and it painted an intense experience-landscape that was at once universal and yet spoke to me as an individual. But I wasn’t looking for great food writing either, so it was a while before I went back for the third time. And that’s when I found the Altamash Gaziyani I figured existed: Irreverent, honest, and delivering the performance his different talents indicated he could deliver. The piece was: “An Awful Way To Eat”.
In “An Awful Way To Eat” Altamash abandons – deliberately and objectively – his inhibitions and says what he wants to say and says it in the manner he wants to say it, balancing facts and information with societal notions of right and wrong. He banks on his professional knowledge and deep life-experiences, and then marinates both in factual information to construct an argument that is compelling, and beautiful at the same time. He abandons his inhibitions of what colleagues, friends and people might say (political correctness) to stand up for what he believes to be right. And then, he exhibits how one ought to use an emotional argument: for humanitarian reasons, resting on factual grounds.
And all this he does effortlessly in a conversational tone, without being offensive, without being patronising – just a delightful, thought provoking piece of writing on the use of Offals in cuisine. Yes, offals.
Offals have a respected place in culinary history. The Larousse Gastronomic, that pinnacle of French culinary literature, used to have the most exhaustive of offal recipes – it probably still does. Two of the most famous offal delicacies are Foie Gras and Caviar. But’s the hoity-toity end of offal consumption.
More importantly, offals have always been a much needed staple in economically challenged strata of society – all over the world. And as The Guardian has highlighted on occasion, offal-based food are an economic and sustainable source of food. A point that Altamash makes quite poignantly with a lament on hunger in the face of offal exports.
His next blog, Messy Eating, was incisive and ironical – it balances his professional thoughts on hospitality and his personal (therefore, universal individual’s) thoughts on the experience of cooking and eating. It is delightful to watch the way Altamash thinks of the industry, the need for the industry, and then moves to his own preference for meals in cosy settings.
“When In An Oxford” is an intense walk through every day English life, the simplicity of English food, and the coming to an understanding about the role of food (and therefore its cuisine) in the English way of life.
And then there’s the reason why I am writing about this young chef and writer. His latest blog, ‘Recognition’, posted 4th April, 2017.
‘Recognition’ is the artistic equivalent of a breakthrough, the 2010s creative equivalent of The Message (GrandMaster Flash and The Furious Five, written and performed by DJ Melle Mel and Ed Fletcher). Recognition is an article on the importance of meaning of being recognised for your work. Its sheer brilliance lies in the way Altamash has constructed it – it is a series of short diary-like posts (from 2010-2017), each providing a searing in-the-moment insight into work, skill, motivation, environment and performance. The genius of the piece lies in the fact the Altamash begins with the end, and ends with the beginning – adeptly underlining the circular and ever-evolving nature of learning and its impact on performance. He uses the same technique in Breaking Down but in chronological sequence, so that you start at the beginning and get up to speed in present time (when his learning of an essential truth is complete). Together with ‘Breaking Down’, ‘Recognition’ represents an evolved, new-age technique of written story-telling that conjures up cinematic images of the story across time. I can easily see this being turned into a movie. Maybe he will make it himself.
Over the past few months, I have come to realise that this kid could be anything he wants in life because he presents his thoughts (at risk to the ’image’ people may have of him) to the brutal judgment of his peers and colleagues and the wider world – an honesty that allows him to state analysis without the fear of being dismissed as judgments.
PS: Check out “The Danish Girl” on his other website (www.altamash.in).