This Onam, get transported to Ravi Varma’s timeless era through Artificial Intelligence (AI)-generated masterpieces coming to life via installations, visuals, and dynamic motion imagery. The Onam feast — Raja Ravi Varma’s Feast of Wonders — at The Bombay Canteenwill be an amalgamation of art, food and tons of lesser-known stories — all under one roof.
Lakshmi Chaudhry, Founder of Splainer, a daily news edition website, says, “Technology helps bring history to life — beyond static paintings or historical photos. This is essentially an event that links history — or memory — with food. And that’s what AI does: makes those stories from Kerala’s history visual that you can truly appreciate the wonder of what is on your plate.”
Hussain Shahzad, Executive Chef at The Bombay Canteen says that this is not a regular Onam Sadhya experience. “We have taken inspiration from all of Kerala, its communities and its cross-cultural influences which you will see on our menu,” he says, adding, “Our menu is a collaborative effort along with Chef Manu Chandra and historian and author Manu Pillai.”
The menu features a healthy mix of traditional as well as new-age or inventive dishes that have been inspired by the cuisine of Kerala but you may not find them elsewhere, states Hussain. “For example, dishes like the pumpkin erissery hummus, inji puli choux buns, Baileys payasam soft serve sundae do not exist in the cuisine repertoire of the State but our idea was to use traditions as guiderails and present them in a contemporary format.”
Each course will beserved with a story, narrated by chefs Chandra and Hussain, as well as Pillai. The dinner is anchored around Raja Ravi Varma for several reasons, says Pillai. “The first is, of course, that he is one of the best-known figures Kerala has produced, and the other important detail is his intimate connection to the Travancore durbar and royal circles — some of the stories we intend to highlight.And yet, he also broke out of elitist spaces, and took up art as a profession for which he was paid, something that was scandalous in his time.”
Onam is a Malayali festival, says Pillai and adds, “Hindus, Christians and Muslims celebrate it with their own traditions. Though today we are used to a standardised sadya, there was greater diversity in the past.”
The three-course meal will have dishes inspired by Nasrani Christian’s and Mappila Muslim’s Onam spread. This includes scallop carpaccio with tender coconut, pacha manga curry and puffed red rice; etc. There will also be ‘A Thali Of Unity’ featuring dishes like mung parippu curry, along with bone marrow and short rib ularthiyathu.
Storytelling via food
The idea of True South, a series of immersive dining experiences, came about in May this year when Sameer Seth, founder and CEO, Hunger Inc. Hospitality was talking to Lakshmi along with chefs Chandra and Hussain to bring the idea of storytelling and food together. “And that’s where AI art came into the picture, and we recruited artist Ari Jayprakash. Thanks to his artistry and technology, we have a totally new way to bring storytelling to life — that goes beyond a parade of historical images,” says Lakshmi.
Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings were handpicked, shares artist Ari Jayaprakash. “We delved into exhaustive research, examining themes, colours, and styles. Adding a contemporary twist to the mix, we’ve woven AI-generated art into the exhibit.”
This event is just the first in the series — with each future edition spotlighting a different theme, be it the Chola Dynasty (of Ponniyin Selvan fame), ancient traditional theatre like Yakshagana and more, shares Chaudhry.
Pillai promises “stories from across a vast swathe of time” and will unveil the hidden histories of Onam, as they unfold on banana-leafed thalis.
At The Bombay Canteen, 7pm to 10pm, August 29; ₹8,850 onwards.