Renowned Chef Kiran Jethwa is a third generation Kenyan born in Nairobi. Born to an English mother and an Indian father, Jethwa was influenced by two cultures which is not only reflected in his upbringing but also in his dishes. To broaden his palate, Jewtha loves to travel and discover new cuisines across the world.
Being an avid traveler, Jethwa has travelled all over the world, from the US, to Italy, France, South Africa, South East Asia, South & Central America and Australia. Jethwa has now come up with a first of its kind show, Spirited Traveller, which aims to explore the most authentic and exotic beverages across India. This exclusive new series captures the adventures of Jethwa as he travels and uncovers unknown, unexplored beverages across India. You will see the chef travel from Kolkata to Goa, Sikkim, Varanasi, Nagaland, Nasik, Delhi and Coorg to name a few. The show is being telecast on Fox life channel.
Talking about his childhood, Jethwa shares some of his food memories. He says to Guardian 20 “Growing up in Kenya, my greatest memories were food cooked at home. Those are some of my greatest memories. My father passed away few years ago. He used to cook on Sundays. And every Sunday he would do some sort of Gujarati curry or Indian curry on barbeque in balcony. He would cook really slowly and showed me how to make it. He also taught me how to use different Indian spices and how they worked. I got to know all these at a very young age. I learnt to cook Indian food with my father at a very young age. When I was twelve years old, I had a school trip with my teachers, I remember I had cooked a fish with Indian spices. My teachers were so surprised to see that a 12-year-old child was able to do that. I have been cooking ever since.”
According to the chef, he got such a comprehensive knowledge of the culinary world through training a lot, reading a lot and watching a lot of food shows on television. He thinks that travelling is the greatest experience one can have with food because one gets to see, touch, smell and experience food from all over the world. “I have travelled a lot and I can say that travelling is the biggest asset,” says Jethwa.
Jethwa whose cuisine is highly influenced by Indian dishes and who loves to experiment with Kenyan dishes and Indian ingredients thinks that Indian cuisine is seriously misrepresented in the world. He says, “Having travelled to the different parts of India, there are very specific regional delicacies and identities in the food and it doesn’t get represented well outside. I think Indian cuisine is amazing and it is one of the top cuisines in the world. It is totally delicious and amazing use of ingredients and it is incredibly varied in different regions. And it is one of the best.”
“And in Varanasi, I tried thandai with bhang. I also experienced some non-alcoholic drinks like jal-jeera, and in Delhi I tried Kanji. So, it was like a discovery of Indian drinks. I came to know about the drinks here and their place in society and this history was fascinating.”
Talking about his new show “Spirited Traveller”, the chef says, “It was the brain child of Fox Life. It’s a travel show across India to explore and cover Indian traditional beverages — alcoholic and non- alcoholic and people who makesthese indigenous beverages. It is also one of the ways to see India through a different lens and understand more about Indian culture, food and beverages. So, it is very uplifting and discovering India through completely different lens.”
Jethwa who is trying to showcase Indian cuisine through his show had a great experience throughout the shoot. “I went to different tribes and came across different groups of people and looked at their different drinks. For example, butter tea and chang from Lepcha tribe which was absolutely delicious and discovered local age-old traditional cuisines like Naga food Zegithana. And in Varanasi, I tried thandai with bhang. I also experienced some non-alcoholic drinks like jal-jeera, and in Delhi I tried Kanji. So, it was like a discovery of Indian drinks. I came to know about the drinks here and their place in society and its history was fascinating,” says Jethwa.
But was it difficult to explore unexplored beverages across India, he says, “It was challenging but the research was done by Fox Life’s team and production company so it made it easier. But as everything and logistics were done by the team, it wasn’t that difficult.”
The best thing he found out in his journey was the drink in Coorg and with Naga people where they boil and make a very thick mustard paste; which has a very strong flavour but is incredibly delicious.
Sharing his experience over discovering the age-old secrets behind the local age-old traditional cuisines like Zegithana, Naga food, the chef says, “These ancient food and beverages are fascinating because you see how people work with their surroundings, their land and what is available to them. Naga people are a perfect example of that. They have perfectly adapted to the environment and their cuisine is also adapted to it. And it shows how cuisines are a part of a tradition.”
Having also explored the cultures of the smallest of towns and tribes in India, Jethwa communicated with the help of translators most of the time and he often tried to understand their body language. He says, “When you understand someone’s body language, you can communicate a lot. And I have always been very good at it.”
Jethwa believes that in all the fifteen episodes, every drink was a discovery for him. “My favourite would be Lepcha drink, thandai and jal-jeera, old delicious Kanji. Viewers would love to watch and would also learn a lot from it,” he concludes.