Nimi Sunilkumar – award winning cookbook author | food blogger | culinary demonstrator | food stylist
The story of Nimi Sunilkumar will fascinate you. It’s a story about how passion becomes a vocation, how a husband can be the best critic, but also the driving force, and it’s the story of the successes of cookbooks on the authentic cuisine of Kerala written by Nimi.
Nimi Sunilkumar – A Chef’s Portrait
The authentic cuisine of Kerala, India
Nimi, today you are an author, food stylist, culinary teacher, freelance writer – where does all your passion for cooking and food come from?
Even though I loved to cook when I was in school, it was not as crazy as I have put it up now. I started taking cooking seriously after marriage. My husband is like the best food critic that I could have at home and I started cooking to basically make him eat. When he kept on criticizing, then I thought I should get better at it. I started picking every single recipe that I could get hold of and soon it became my passion. I love to research on food quite a lot and am pretty crazy on trying out and coming up with new recipes.
When and how did you start to “commercialize” your passion?
I come from a family background with a lot of restrictions. All the women in my husband’s family were meant to be just housewives. I started my blog first in 2009 and it was by the end of 2009 that I started with my first cookbook. It was not at all intentional. I started my blog on the suggestion of a friend of mine who introduce me to the world of blogging.
One day my husband came for lunch, he saw me writing down a recipe after trying and he teased me asking why i couldn’t write a cookbook if I was so keen? I accepted it as a challenge and that’s how I got started.
There are thousands of cookbooks on the market. What is the secret to succeed?
When I wrote my first book, I didn’t even know how to come about with it. I self-published my books. When I planned to write the first thing that I wanted to cover about was the actual Indian cooking. I know that there’s a lot of competition in this field that I have chosen. I have always tried to write on what I strongly felt that should be shared to the outside world.
Your book “4 o clock temptations of Kerala” was the winner of the “Best Indian Cookbook In India” in 2015 and also won the “Best Indian Cookbook In The World”. What did you do differently than everyone else?
The book concentrates on the traditional snack time recipes of the state of Kerala. Teatime in itself has quite a number of snack time recipes that are unique in many ways. We can even call snack time as a meal time.
The book “4 o clock temptations of Kerala” is based on the tea time snacks of Kerala. The name of the book is the literal translation of “Naalu mani palaharam”(4 o clock snacks) in Malayalam language. My earlier books have been more as reference for introducing readers to the world of Kerala cooking. It is a mix up of recipes from breakfast, lunch, snack/desserts.
The book “Lip Smacking Dishes of Kerala”, awarded with the title “The Best Local Cuisine Book in India” for the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2013, also won third place for ” The Best Local Cuisine Book in the World”. What is this book about?
The book is actually a capsule form for people to understand what Kerala cooking is. It has recipes from breakfast, lunch, snacks and desserts. People are of the notion that there’s only one kind of Kerala cooking which is a misconception as there’s a huge difference in the cuisine regionally.
Are you planning more?
Yes, I am currently planning on two other cookbooks which are on two different regions in two different states of India. I would like to bring out in my books the essence of Indian cooking.
With your books you are already successful, what about video formats? Are you planning something in this direction?
Yes. I also have a youtube channel “Nimi’s recipes” where I do share recipes and also do tv shows at times.
It is said that you are obsessed with trying dishes in your own kitchen lab. What are your latest creations?
I love doing fusion of recipes. Normally I start by trying out the original recipe and then I try by.
What are the latest trends in the Indian cooking scene?
We have had a lot of influence of cuisines from other parts of the world in modern Indian kitchen.
Do you work with less known spices? And if yes, with which creations?
Yes, sometimes I do. Every region has its own set of specialties when it comes to ingredients and I love learning more of them and trying them in different recipes.
It might have been my biggest risk – Nimi Sunilkumar on the change in her career
With your book “Lip Smacking dishes of Kerala“ you competed with 187 countries and yet it became the “3rd best local cuisine book in the world” representing India at the Gourmand world cookbook awards held in Beijing. China and India, the vast countries of the world – have you ever tried Indian-Chinese fusion dishes?
Yes, I have. The actual Chinese cooking is very different from what you taste in India as Chinese cooking. What we have served here are basically Indochinese recipes which is more like the Indian version of Chinese cooking. After being to China, it has really pushed me further to understand the difference and have in fact motivated me to try their cuisine.
Your career began with a bachelor’s degree in electronics & communications. How did you make the change in your career to turn your passion into your profession?
I was married into a family when I was 20 and being a very traditional family, all the women were house wives. After marriage, I continued my passion for freelance writing for a few years. I developed a passion for cooking in my attempt to make my husband eat what I cook. In 2009, on the advice of a friend I started my food blog but by the end of that year I wrote my first cookbook.
Cookbooks were never on my list of things to do. One day as my husband was having lunch, I was writing down a recipe. He looked at me and teased me why I could not write a cookbook if I was so keen on writing. It might have been my biggest risk by accepting the challenge by bringing out my cookbook single handed. After printing I ask my husband when to have press releases and he was not keen on it and ignored the whole part. I started selling my books in just two shops in Munnar and on my blog.
After writing the book I had the feeling that a book is not enough for a person to learn how to cook. I thought of starting my classes and mentioned to my husband. He was of the opinion that we set up a kitchen in one of his family hotels and think of it. Six months passed on and nothing much happened.
What happened after that?
In 2012 one day, I designed a flyer took it to the tourist office next to my home and to my husband and told them that I was starting my classes the next day and if there was someone interested to let me know. The next day a lady comes to the tourist office asking for cooking classes and she decides to come for the classes. She recommends the class to another lady who come to join for the class and days later another couple joins. It started off very slowly, but now my classes are listed on lonely planet, trip advisor and I was mentioned on Huffington post, Facebook, Stuff news portal.
My 2nd book “Lip Smacking dishes of Kerala” published in 2013 went on to win the 3rd best local cuisine book in the world in 2013-14. My third cookbook 4o’ clock temptations of Kerala which was first exhibited at the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2015 went on to win The Best Indian cookbook in the world for the year 2015-16 and I was in China to receive the awards. For the past three years, I have been representing my cookbooks at the Frankfurt book fair. In 2017, at the Frankfurter Buchmesse I had the opportunity to do a live cooking demo on the theme “Food from Kerala” and in the same year it was a great honor to have an invite as a guest to the “Le Cordon Bleu” in Paris.
When cooking, you focus mainly on the traditional Kerala cuisine. How best to describe traditional Kerala cuisine?
The books that I have published are on Kerala cooking but I concentrate also on developing cookbooks on the authentic tastes of other states, too. The state Kerala itself means Land of coconuts so I would say that we try to say that our cuisine has the coconut being used in different forms.
What are your traditional Kerala dishes?
Paalappam, Aviyal, Mathanga payar erissery, Beetroot pachadi, Meen mulagittathu, Kappa kuzhachathu…
In April 2012, you joined HRS as a Culinary teacher for the school kids. What is your experience out of this time? In April 2012, you joined HRS as a culinary teacher for the school children. What is your experience from this time?
I joined the High Range School in 2012 as a culinary teacher for school children as well as a Dietician or Diner in charge of the food served at school. The idea of providing hot and healthy food was of the administration. We serve lunch for around 1000 children every day at the school and I am in charge of training the cooks (they are basically bus attenders) to provide a healthier meal by making it compulsory for children to have more veggies in their diet. I also used to teach cooking for children as a part of the work education program. It was a whole new dimension to work and cook on a large scale and to make the kids get used to veggies. It was a very tough time that I had to surpass during my start.
Many people love the Indian cuisine. And many foreign chefs want to better understand Indian cuisine. Are there courses for foreign chefs in India to learn more about Indian cuisine?
As there’s been a huge demand for Indian cooking there are many people who run classes including myself. I myself have had many chefs who work in restaurants for my classes.
Since you are a very energetic and passionate person, what are your next projects?
I have a few projects in line to run some classes outside India on the regional cooking of India as well as on traditional Kerala cooking in some institutions and for shows. I working on two other cookbooks also which will be covering the regional diversities in cooking in two different states in India which is a part of my Annapurni project (this project will be research in bringing out the authentic Indian tastes).
Thank you so much, Nimi. These were wonderful insights in your culinary journey!
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