Ammi is Pressy’s way of paying homage to Nirmala, and to relive the beautiful and wholesome memories.
Prasanna ‘Pressy’ Pandarinathan’s journey from being a well-known model to a photographer to now a cookbook author is a reflection of her childhood growing up days in a traditional Tamil South Indian family. The book Ammi is an anchor for heritage, tradition, and nostalgia for love and loss. It is a celebration of love and transforming even simple dishes into glorious meals. Nirmala always had a deep love for cooking; something that only intensified after the untimely death of her youngest child and Pressy’s brother. It was then that the idea for Ammi was born, when Pressy decided to record her mother’s timeless recipes in a book. Nirmala’s last few years were happily spent penning down her most treasured recipes from the different regions she’d lived in, a process which immersed herself and her family in memories from her life-long culinary journeys, which inspired her art of soulful cooking.
The book is divided into ten sections – each providing an abundance of recipes for Vegetables; Eggs; Poultry; Meat; Seafood; Bakes & Grills; Rice & Noodles; Pickles & Chutneys; Desserts; and Spices, Stocks & Masalas. Replete with resplendent photography – both images of dishes taken by Pressy herself, as well as archival images of her mother and family – the book will feel just as much as home on a coffee table as it will in the kitchen. Ammi is Pressy’s way of paying homage to her beloved Nirmala, and to relive the beautiful and wholesome memories that she and her family shared with her mother. It is also a reminder of how deeply food can affect us, and how much warmth and joy it can bring to friends and family, as they gather around a well-laid table.
How did you come up with the idea of documenting these recipes?
This book is an ode to my late mother. She was a gourmand. She loved cooking & experimenting. The best way, I believe, to preserve her memory was to document her recipes and share it with the world. Cooking for her was a catharsis & she emoted via her food. It was also a promise I made to her that I will document and get it published
Since the book is an amalgamation of mother’s recipes spanning India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Europe. What similarities in these cuisines?
Most of them are comfort home foods. Easy to make. They are markers to her journeys in life. My father was posted in various places as he was in service, my mother travelled with him everywhere. Her recipes are witnesses to her travels and her life journey.
What is your fondest memory of your mother’s kitchen?
The energy, the bustle and aromas of her kitchen. The warmth it exuded. Even today the aromas of her dishes are a trigger to many fond memories. She was uncompromising in the quality of her output. She won many hearts via the stomach.
Tell us something about your growing up years? How much influence did food have on you?
Food was the centrality of our family. We were a family of 7. Meals were family time. My father likes his meals to be prepared fresh - it was a different era. Ours was an open house, myriad friends, relatives & work colleagues were in and out ever so often. Our kitchen was never idle. A lot of it I took for granted all the delicious food and thought that’s how it should be, until I left home.
What’s the idea behind the title of the book?
Ammi in Tamil means grindstone. It’s symbolises the love and labour of cooking. It also goes back to the time where meals were prepared afresh with ingredients procured locally, fresh and organic. It’s symbolises slow food.
With so many food photographers in the market, how do you keep yourself different, unique and visible?
I think I have a different eye to looking and shooting food. The fact that I lived in so many different countries, makes me look at things in a different perspective. My influences are varied and cross cultural and this shows in my work.
Which one is your comfort dish from the book? Can you share that recipe for our reader?
The tangy mixed vegetables with dosa is a killer. I love the combination.