While her father Arvind Swami is an actor par excellence, she never felt inclined towards the camera lens. Her passion for food and the culinary sciences has made her a popular figure in the Chennai food scene. She specialises in European cuisine and patisserie and isn’t afraid to experiment with different flavours and textures. Her forte is curating exclusive recipes and menus for various hotels and restaurants in the city, but her occasional fine-dining pop-ups are the talk of the town. JFW spoke to the talented 27-year-old chef about her odyssey with food :
About her childhood and schooling.
I spent a significant portion of my childhood in Chennai before completing my education at Kodaikanal International School, a boarding school tucked away in the Nilgiris. Following that, I pursued fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before relocating to London to complete the Grand Diplôme at Le Cordon Bleu. Through the years since I’ve continued to do post-graduate courses at both their London and Spanish campuses during work breaks as I firmly believe that these courses contribute to my professional growth and keep me up to date with current gastronomic ideologies and practices.
What kind of food do you think truly defines your style of cooking?
It has taken me a considerable amount of time to discover my true direction, given my background of classical European training, a South Asian upbringing, and a deep immersion in the world of art. My style is undoubtedly an amalgamation of these influences. I blend the flavours from my memories with contemporary European techniques, presenting them in a way that is uniquely honest and creatively my own.
Who or what inspires you?
My experiences always serve as my primary source of inspiration, whether it’s a place I’ve visited, a sound I’ve heard, art I’ve engaged with, or a feeling I’ve experienced while interacting with my surroundings. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly, but it’s a deeply instinctive process for me. However, if I had to choose a person whose spirit I greatly admire and from whom I consistently learn, that person would be Madhu Krishnan.
What goes on behind curating a menu for one of your pop-ups?
I always start by immersing myself in what I want a menu to express, whether it’s capturing the client’s ethos or sharing a personal narrative. Once I outline these concepts, my focus typically shifts to seasonality and selecting the appropriate ingredients that align with the vision. From there, I craft flavour combinations that form the foundation of each dish. This process is deeply intuitive for me, and if something doesn’t quite click, I start over until it falls into place. The final stage, plating, relies heavily on how the elements interact visually on each plate. I experiment with different arrangements before settling on the one that brings everything together harmoniously.
Is the culinary industry welcoming to women?
Every industry has its own set of challenges and dynamics, and the culinary world is no exception. One crucial lesson I’ve learned is that the values and principles of a workplace can only be truly upheld if they are embraced and championed by the top leadership. Fortunately, this realization seems to have spread and taken root. It is truly heartening to witness and be a part of a positive movement where many prominent and senior chefs are dedicatedly transforming the inner workings of the culinary sphere. Their efforts are bringing about significant and much-needed changes, creating a more inclusive, supportive, and progressive environment for all involved.
Her favourite dish that she makes herself.
My favourite dish to prepare for myself tends to vary depending on the day and the context in which you ask me this question. There are numerous techniques and flavours to explore, and the dishes I choose to work with recreationally often reflect my current state of mind. On days filled with energy and vibrancy, I might opt for creating an intricate and technique-intensive pastry to indulge in. However, after a long and exhausting week, I find solace and comfort in the simplicity of stirring together a warm bowl of bolognese before immersing myself in it, face first.
What’s your father’s favourite dish that you make?
My parents are biased towards my handmade pastas; they can’t seem to get enough of them.
Her favourite place to eat in Chennai.
I find the greatest pleasure in dining at people’s homes as I find that the best food is always at a home. Fortunately, my closest friends have the best ‘food-homes’ in the city. The meals are often accompanied by stories at the table, and parents who are ever-ready to feed us. While I have a special fondness for South Indian cuisine, Italian cuisine holds a place in my heart.
On the work front, what’s next?
I look forward to the ongoing creation and involvement in my Culinary Consultation projects, as well as the opportunity to be part of intriguing Pop-Up events and workshops. Alongside these commitments, I value the importance of taking inspiring breaks to pursue my creative interests and expand my knowledge. These experiences allow me to rejuvenate and return, bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to infuse into my work once again.