Actors-turned-restaurateurs Anand and Poornima share the passion for food through their new bistro Zenzerro

Food is a passion that actors Anand and his wife, Poornima, share and together they have whipped up a new idiom of dining out for denizens of gourmands in the city. Zenzerro (meaning ginger in Italian), the couple’s fusion café at Carmel Towers, Vazhuthacaud, that’s a little over three months old, has become the hottest destination in the city for some soul food, mostly cooked and served by the duo themselves.

“I’ve always wanted to open a café, ever since I got interested in cooking, as a child growing up in Chennai,” says Anand. “My mother, Rajalekshmi, is a phenomenal cook, especially of traditional Tamil Brahmin fare. But she also loves to experiment with different cuisines and in the days before international cuisine became fashionable she used to make Chinese food – without many of the traditional ingredients. And that piqued my interest to learn more about the ingredients that went into such exotic dishes – what is galangal, rosemary, basil...? I started buying cookbooks, starting with Italian, going out of the way to familiarise myself with various cuisines, and trying out a few recipes for myself. Then around 10 years ago, I began taking cooking seriously,” recalls Anand.

The actor debuted in filmdom at the age of 17 with K. Balachander’s Vanna Kannavugal, the Tamil remake of Mohanlal-Mammootty-Rahman-starrer Adiyozhukukal (he played Rahman’s role) and in real life couldn’t be more different from the toughie, macho roles he is known for. “I am equally passionate about acting as I am about food. When the interest is there, it’s easy to carry them forward together. I have acted in over 200 films, in a career spanning 27 years. I still act, but nowadays only if a role interests me,” he says. Poornima has scooted out of view, post the photography session.

Anand met Poornima, who hails from Thiruvalla, on the set of a Tamil short film (“she was one of my two wives in the film; the other was Urvashi!”) and it turned out to be a match made in foodie heaven. “We used to run a small cafe Ann & Amm in Chennai, making bread and short eats and catering parties for those in our apartment complex. The response was great but it became too much for us and our small kitchen to handle by ourselves. We knew that we had to start a proper restaurant,” says Anand.

But why Thiruvananthapuram? Unlike Chennai and even Kochi, the city is not exactly a gourmet destination, let alone a place to ‘experiment’ with food... “The city and its palate is not what it was five years ago. It is slowly evolving as a gourmet destination. Just look at the variety of cuisines that are available in the city nowadays. People these days are willing to experiment with their food and are more aware of and receptive to different kinds of cuisine. Admittedly, lower overheads and a big enough space for a bake factory were a couple of the selling points when we decided to move here. Besides, Poornima’s home is here. It has taken us close to two years now to set up the factory and work out the menus,” says Anand. Poornima, meanwhile, continues to shy away from the interview, occasionally flashing us a cheery smile and a few giggles, as she bustles about the restaurant serving piping hot coffee and slivers of garlic bread fresh from the oven to customers who have started to trickle in. “She’s a whiz with desserts,” says Anand, fondly.

Indeed. Already her chocolate sizzler brownies, chocolate waffles, filled donuts, biscottis, kiwi-chocolate pancakes, fruit crushes and the like are the talk of the town! “Actually, at first Poornima did not like cooking. All that changed when she signed up for baking class some six years ago, around about the time she started cutting down on her acting career. She found that she has a flair for baking, making breads from scratch and experimenting with desserts,” adds Anand.

He himself claims to have no speciality cuisine when it comes to his own skills but says he likes to cook by instinct. “I see a drumstick and I think to myself what can I do with it? In soup infused with black rice? In salad with quinoa? I enjoy experimenting with flavours. At the end of the day it’s all about understanding ingredients and cuisines – the Kati roll of India and Mexico are almost the same, save for a couple of ingredients; sumac is similar to our kodampuli, basil to thulasi, galangal to manga-inji; you shouldn’t use olive oil for cooking Chinese… Once that’s sorted, then it’s all about matching flavours. My only aim is to serve tasty food,” he says.

Packed with flavour

With some 160 items from various cuisines such as Indian, Italian, Chinese, and Thai on its menu, Zenzerro is a cornucopia of delight. Must tries are the pizzas and pastas. Or better yet, just ask Anand and Poornima what the special for the day is and tuck in! Currently the restaurant seats only 20, but by mid December it will be shifted to a larger space on the same floor of the shopping centre, live music, bakery counter, bistro décor and all. It is open from 11.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Contact:09444380739