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Of global sensibilities... and menus


Arati Menon Carroll  |  Mumbai 

Bunty Chand is a meticulous connoisseur. Her Nepean Sea Road home is resplendent with South-east Asian artefacts and Chinese art (purchased before prices hit the stratosphere). She procures her peppercorns and other spices from Cochin, her sweet chilli sauce from Thailand and grows a screwpine (pandan) plant because her cooking demands it, and her recipes are carefully typed and formatted to be printed out as index cards for each use.
As the executive director of the Indian chapter of the John Rockefeller-founded Asia Society, Chand has her hands full planning the year-round programmes in business and policy-making, culture and the arts. The society's global network is famed for its erudition. Chand's experience, from living and working in Hong Kong, Singapore and Washington to having a high-profile economist husband (Rajiv Lall is now CEO, IDFC), made her perfect as the head of an Indian centre.
The "Asia Society has had a fantastic two years. We're aiming for 50 programmes this year," says Chand, who's now pulling together a panel of Pakistani authors to discuss the "role of imagination in contemporary Pakistani literature".
Chand does find time, however, to treat her family to a medley of recipes accumulated from various countries. The Vietnamese chicken is a return caller to the dinner table; so is meatloaf and pasta. "I am very keen on good Indian cooking, but not so keen on the fact everything is overcooked till vegetables, for example, lose their colour."
So her cook, a former cook from a dhaba, has been badgered into stir-frying sabzis and not using tomato, garlic and onion as a base for "everything", even though the occasional mutton qorma and kofta curry is tolerated. "I love unusual combinations like methi and mushroom, but for me the most important thing is that food must look beautiful and taste healthy."
Perhaps that's why she's amused by her children's ready acceptance of "Indian" Chinese. "They grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore eating the best Cantonese food, but still want to eat momos in Bombay," says the purist.
The first places Chand explores in a new city are its farmers' markets. "But why is it that in Bombay that if you get out of a car, sellers presume you want to buy only zucchini and broccoli?"
The shelves of Chand's living room are lined with auction catalogues. The Lalls are avid collectors. Anju Dodiya, Arpana Caur and Krishen Khannas have made their way to the Chands' Washington DC home, dedicated to Indian antiquities and modern art.
We take our leave just as a bottle of Shiraz is popped open to air, Simba the labrador readies himself for the night and a Schumann sonata flits off the children's piano...

First Published: Sun, December 23 2007. 00:00 IST