“People who love to eat are always the best people,” said celebrated chef Julia Child. Indeed, hardcore foodies radiate an unmistakable joie-de-vivre, which transcends their love for good food to all other fine things of life. Sameer Gupte is one such foodie.
Gupte is a known face among the gourmand circles of Maharashtra. An enterprising businessman and Chairman of the CKP Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he has been instrumental in bringing the food and culture of this Maharashtrian community to the mainstream with his venture, The CKP Food Fest.
In conversation with this multifaceted personality:
Many people are not aware of the history of the CKP community...
The Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu (CKP) community migrated to its present home, the West coast of India, from the Indus Valley. We identify as a Kshatriya (warrior) clan, but our ancestors gave up the sword in favour of the pen. For centuries we have acted as aides, ministers and advisors to kings. Even today, men from the CKP community dominate the bureaucracy. Our surnames- Karkhanis, Chitnavis, Pradhan, Gupte, Gadkari- are all bureaucratic titles given by rulers.
Perhaps because of this heritage, our community is predominantly into service. There are very few entrepreneurs.
While we are characterised by the valour of Baji Prabhu (Deshpande) and the tenacity of Balasaheb (Thackeray), our homes present a more amicable picture. Our kitchens are ruled by women who are excellent at cooking, and enjoy sharing their delicious food generously.
Gupte with his mother, Kanta Gupte. facebook
CKP cuisine has a loyal following of its own. What is it about your cuisine that makes it such a favourite?
Unlike many Hindu communities, non-vegetarian food is an integral part of our cuisine. Also, given our coastal domicile, we also consume a lot of seafood.
However, the gifted CKP women have ensured that food is never monotonous. There are innumerable ways of preparing fish, prawns, crab, as well as animal meat. The ladies jealously guard the special CKP masala (spice blend) that goes into our food. As such, each preparation is distinctive and unique.
We also enjoy vegetarian delicacies. A recipe called Valache Birde (bitter bean stew) is peculiar to CKP cuisine. Another speciality is ‘Kanavle’, which have both a sweet and a savoury variation, prepared with Keema.
Ninaav, our traditional sweet, literally means ‘no name’. It is said that after preparing so many delicacies, the women ran out of ideas about what to call this sweet, and so it became ‘nameless’!
How did the idea of a CKP Food Festival emerge?
CKP food has mostly been confined to families and extended circles. The most it spread was through neighbours asking for a sample of a traditional dish the lady of the house would prepare. Gauging the response of people who enjoyed our food, I thought it was high time this cuisine reached the masses.
As a foodie, I believe that food can only be enjoyed when it has the local flavour. Just as one cannot find authentic Nagpur Saoji food in Mumbai, CKP food tastes best when prepared by a trained hand who knows the nitty-gritty of the cuisine.
It is with this idea that I started marketing CKP food, in 2014, with the CKP Food Fest.
This is an innovative model to promote regional culinary practices...
Indeed. It brings a variety of cuisines to food-lovers who would otherwise be able to enjoy it only when they travel. Since I started, there have been more such events, centred around CKP food, in and around Mumbai. While I am not associated with those, it is for the best that such festivals are helping our food gain more traction.
Tell us more about your team.
Ours is a team of eleven, and everybody is family. We have a head chef of Nepali origin, but in the years that he has been with us, his skill and perfection in cooking rivals any CKP lady’s. My mother, wife, aunt, daughter, are all involved in the planning and execution of the venture, and so the food you enjoy at the CKP Food Fest is literally like the meals we have at home.
What are your plans for this initiative?
We have organised the food fest in Thane, Pune and now Nagpur. Next we are going to Vadodara, where there is a sizeable Maharashtrian population. We hope to make our traditional food accessible to as many people as we can, in the future.
Our best wishes to Sameer Gupte for his venture!
Title image: facebook