Published: 03rd August 2020
How Akash did a Tamil version of the Julie & Julia challenge with Meenakshi Ammal's recipes across 100 days
Akash Muralidharan did a 100-day challenge on Instagram to revive vegetables that have somehow fallen off our plate and the results were amazingly delish!
In the 2009 film Julie & Julia, Amy Adams’ Julie Powell — based on the real-life blogger — replicates Meryl Streep’s Julia Child’s — the famous cook who brought French cooking to the American household — 524 recipes in her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She sets herself up to the challenge of doing so in 365 days. Inspired by the film, Chennai-based food designer Akash Muralidharan decided to do something similar. He found S Meenakshi Ammal’s cookbook on Tamil cuisine, Samaithu Paar, a staple in most vegetarian households, and decided to recreate the dishes over a period of 100 days.
Speaking about how and why he decided to do this challenge and post about it on his Instagram page (@akash_muralidaran), Akash says, “Ever since I saw the film, I wanted to do something like that. When my grandmother passed away and we began clearing some of her things, I found Ammal’s cookbook among her belongings. It was given to her by her mother when she married my grandfather and came to his house. The book was published in 1951 and has been in her family since then.” But when Akash opened the book, he was surprised to find some unfamiliar ingredients like Thummatikkai (country cucumber) and Koorkankizhangu (coleus potato). “I always prided myself on the fact that I knew a lot about Tamil cooking. But these vegetables were something that I’ve never come across. That’s when my mother and I decided that we had to showcase them somehow and spread awareness that these vegetables also exist,” recalls Akash.
So while there are some vegetables that you’ve probably never heard of, like snake cucumber, there are also some that you’ve probably heard of but don’t eat enough of. “I did a small survey of 150 people in my locality where I asked people to choose the vegetables that they most frequently use in a week from a list of vegetables I found in the cookbook. Most people chose common vegetables like potatoes, beans and peas,” says Akash. This helped him choose the vegetables for his challenge and then, along with his mother Sundari, he embarked on his 100-day journey that began on March 2. However, the lockdown played spoilsport. “We managed to cook only 45 of these recipes as it became impossible to source some of these vegetables during the lockdown. In fact, we had to source some of the vegetables not from markets but from the kitchen and backyard gardens of our relatives and friends,” says Akash.
So, how did he manage to make the challenge his own? Through art, of course. “I requested my friend Priyadarshini to illustrate the cover of each Instagram post with the vegetables used and then, imprint a watercolour of the same on a page of the recipe book. Since we wanted to promote these ingredients, we decided to post the original recipes as well even though we couldn’t source some of the vegetables. But we needed to tell people that these were out there,” explains the 25-year-old, “We wanted people to understand the importance of such cookbooks and how it upholds our culinary traditions. The more we lose such iconic books the more it affects our culinary landscape.”
Some other recipes/artwork from the challenge: