What a devastating day yesterday was. I was at home, on medical leave due to excessive eating of spicy chicken Varuval that I cooked on Sunday that literally backfired in the early morning, when I was informed that the one of the most important persons who was influential in my cooking, Chef Jacob, had passed away. And he was only 38.
Saturday 1.30 pm is the best time of the week for us, as Sun TV (channel 211 here) airs Aha Enna Rusi, a cooking show hosted by this maverick chef who specialises in Southern Indian cuisine, especially the traditional ones. It is divided into three sections. The first section is his, called Jacob’s Kitchen and that’s a joke, the title.
We are not invited to his kitchen, but rather the various outdoor locations where he sets up his little stove and does the cooking there and then. He’d be by the waterfall, in the middle of a plantation, in a boat cruising by a river, and in one episode, I kid you not, right in the middle of a famous railway track!! Nonchalantly talking to us, giving tips, while we viewers nervously lookout for the goddam train to come.
Second segment takes us, again not in his kitchen, but to various family homes, where a member, sometimes two (husband wife/ mother daughter/etc) show us their home specialties, followed by our beloved chef tasting and appraising the dishes.
Third segment sees Chef Jacob with a bunch of kids, where he teaches them basic dish (usually involving bread), and get some other kids to judge the dish and awards the winner with prizes and crown. Rather than this, my wife and I enjoy the outtakes at the end of the show, of this segment, where Chef Jacob has fun with the kids.
The main highlight of his first segment is that it commemorates all those Hindu, Muslim and Christian special events. He’d be there, at those temples, churches or mosques, explaining the history behind the event, background of the holy place, and cooking suitable dish for that event.
Like most South Indian Christian/Catholics that I know, and generally in India, I believe, he’s never shy from participating in Hindu rituals, praying, and, in fact, cooking special offering for the Hindu gods and goddesses (do note, that Hindu gods and goddesses all have their preferences, and he obliges with something extra). Likewise, excited enough to cook Briyani in front a famous mosque for the muslim brethrens (recent Haj festival), and that too, confessing that he has always been fascinated with Muslim cooking.
Its ritual for us, to be there at 1.30pm and watching the show. In fact, that would be the time sometimes we’d have our lunch in front of the TV, just to get more flavour in my poor cooking, I guess. If we had to go out at that time, we’d wonder, “What Chef Jacob up to now, and where (not what) the heck is he cooking?”
Last eight months or so, my wife started teaching part time on Saturdays. I continued our ritual watching the good chef with my son, Nevin. And when she comes back from work, one of the first things she’d ask would be, “What Chef Jacob is up to today?’
His dishes range from the very normal to very traditional, and I always look forward to the complex traditional types of dishes. In the show last week, he made a nifty fish curry by not using a fish but banana flower – fantastic for someone like me might be full vegetarian one day but still misses fish curry.
Alas, all that ends (they might have one more episode next week with him, but I don’t think I can hold back my tears watching it). The show might move on with another chef, who could be good, but memories of watching Jacob would remain entrenched that we may no longer want to follow the show.
The TVland is full of celebrity chefs now. Some are genial, good natured guys and gals, and then there are some bastards who think that being rude means they are in command. Fuck them; there will be, and are better chefs than these attention seeking sons of bitches (so far the gals are fine).
But Chef Jacob’s warm personality (as my wife puts it aptly), his keen interest in the history of the dish he is preparing, his generous sharing of the information and history of the location that he’s in (still baffled why he’d want to talk about the railway track and cook in the goddam middle of it), his easy chemistry as an elder brother to the kids, is something that can never been seen again.
Good bye, brother. We all love you. No matter where you are now, talk to those in charge and find the most weirdest location for you to cook for those fellers. And now, away from human beings, the pollutions, the erosion of great manners (in your profession), and all those nastiness that will remain and grow in this mortal world, I trust you are now cooking in peace. Thank you for everything.