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Food and thoughts to share...

Seasoned actress Tanuja relishes all-weather offerings at India Habitat Centre's Oriental Octopus restaurant in New Delhi. Photo: S. Arneja.

DON'T BE taken by surprise if you get to know that Tanuja, the yesteryear bubbly and energetic actress can transform a bathroom into a kitchen and cook the best of finger-licking delights! "I don't know how to cook but I create all kinds of food," she declares. And if the film industry folks are to be believed, she breaks all rules of cooking and yet comes out with "excellent food". She did cook while shooting for a Raj Khosla film opposite Dharmendra in Goa long back. "Our rooms were small, there was no kitchen but the bathroom was too big. I transformed half of it into a kitchen, brought all masalas, vegetables, fish, etc. on my own and cooked, breaking all rules of ratio!"

And yes, she hates ordering a chef what and how to cook. "It limits their versatility. I believe in giving them a free hand while cooking," says the ever-chirpy Tanuja who might not be defying age through her face but does by her childlike demeanour.

At India Habitat Centre's Oriental Octopus restaurant, she is ready to accept "anything that the chef pleases". And the chef obliges by preparing some popular specialities like steam river sliced with Thai lemon herb sauce, Malaysian butter garlic prawns, vegetable green curry, fried rice noodles and more.

"Yummi," she enjoys the fragrant fried rice and tries the black pepper prawns too. "I love sea food," she says though her favourite remains "European food". There is one thing that leaves you impressed about a celebrity of her stature. She hates wastage of food, hence will not allow the persuasive chef to add even a single morsel extra on her plate.

"In India there is a criminal wastage of food, specially in five-star hotels. Those who eat here must get their leftovers packed and distribute it to the deserving. People feel shy to get the leftovers packed, instead they should feel ashamed to leave the food unfinished," she avers. She is not the one to merely preach. She practices too. "I get my food packed in case it would go waste. I don't even give money to beggars, I give them something to eat. I always carry some fruits in my car. Whenever I see a beggar, I stop and give him or her the fruits."

She also suggests how big hotels can avoid wasting food. "Hotel The Regent in Sydney has a system called `Tedegustation' in which the chef serves you with a number of food items in very small portions carefully selected from a number of menus for the main course. Each course takes 15 minutes to cook. Hence, it makes you taste everything but also leaves you with no guilty feeling of wasting the food. Why can't we have such a system in India?" she questions.

One can witness creases accumulating on her forehead as she seems worried over the wastage of food in the country, but the hospitable staff of this `members only' restaurant, with its calm ambience and almost understated, simple furniture that keep the lofty feelings at bay, proves to be a good healer for her. So this "chicken fan" repeatedly says, "Wow, excellent food, just yummi," and allows the chef to serve shredded chicken and phak choy in Chinese wine and braised vegetables in ginger wine sauce with chestnuts.

This avid reader of classics and a linguist who knows French, German, Spanish, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali apart from English and Hindi was a great admirer of studies and a rebel since childhood. "I was studying in Switzerland in St. George's School when I was called back to India to work in films for economic reasons. Nutan was no longer working, and mother was ailing. I had to run the family," she minces no words, saying that she wanted to study and not act in films but once she started, she tried to enjoy her work despite the fact that she "struggled for nine years to reach a recognisable position".

And now she is at a point where most of her contemporaries are either sitting at home or have fallen on bad days. "One must learn to move with time," she advises.

It is time for her to move too, but she leaves behind the memory of her charms lingers like perfume, and lots of praises for the Oriental Octopus!


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