After graduating in commerce, Soma Raj Pillai turned to the art of cooking

It was after recovering from health complications, that Soma Raj Pillai realised how significant a role food plays in keeping good health. And having been a foodie all her life, Soma decided to start her own initiative, The Kitchen Canvas that brings together the spheres of food and health.

“I wanted to spread the message that healthy food can be tasty and so I began working on recipes. My signature preparation is biriyani which is cooked with an array of spices without any oil,” says Soma. Each of her recipes is accompanied by an elaborate presentation using spices.

“My USP is the spice combination which is stone ground and dry roasted and tailored for each recipe. I change my spice combinations depending on the season. I consider cooking as an art and the kitchen as my canvas.”

Soma is deeply inspired by traditional Indian cooking methods. “Many times I use clay utensils or even copper or iron utensils. I also use slow cooking process because cooking on high heat will remove all the nutritional value from the food. One of the most important ingredients while cooking is salt and so I always use rock salt because it’s full of minerals and is healthy unlike processed salt which is high in sodium.”

Most of this knowledge is passed down from her grandmother’s knees, her travels across the country as the wife of an army official and also from the tradition of Ayurveda. Soma also designs diets and offers guidance on nutrition to friends and family. Though she doesn’t have a formal background in either subject, she says her experience and her passion has given her a lot of insight into the subject.

“Anything sour or acidic like fruits, curd or pickles should be consumed by sundown. Dinner should also be eaten as early as possible because the body metabolism becomes low after sunset. The body clock is adjusted to the movement of the sun.”

Spices, she says, are also an important part of Ayurveda. “If you catch cold in Kerala, they give you a hot cup of rasam packed with black pepper, which in fact is full of antioxidants that build immunity. These are the little things which we are giving up in today’s world. We would rather mix a sachet of readymade soup.”

Soma now plans to expand her “Kitchen Canvas” to an entrepreneurial venture that she calls a “soulful endeavour”, eventually expanding into a restaurant, so that she can spread the message of food and health. She is now open to serving anywhere from birthday parties to homes, provided the caller is open to her ideology. “I can’t force anything on anyone, I believe in putting forth my message gracefully and subtly. That’s why I decided to introduce preparations instead of preaching so that people taste and then follow the ideology.” She is saddened by the fact that most food served today doesn’t come without its share of chemicals whether in the form of food colouring or MSG. “I want to change the mindset about food. I know it’s a big challenge. Using these techniques, I hope to make simple, wholesome and tasty food. Even within the average household, processed food, like ketchup, has become a part of the meal. But with recipes like fresh green chutney, which I always have a fresh stock of at home, my friends have told me that they don’t even think about ketchup anymore.” Contact Soma at thekitchencanvas@gmail.com.

This column features those who choose to veer off the beaten track.