“Food for me is an emotion and that emotion is Indian”

Bangalore can lay claim on internationally renowned chef Anthony Huang who in his own words is a ‘thoroughbred Bangalorean’. His parents moved to Bangalore when he was one year old and he has grown up, studied and worked here, heading the kitchens of some of the top brands in the city including The Sheraton Grand, JW Marriott, Hyatt and The Oberoi. In this interview he speaks about his influences and his passion for Indian cuisine and culture

His parents moved to Bangalore when he was one year old and he has grown up, studied and worked here, heading the kitchens of some of the top brands in the city including The Sheraton Grand, JW Marriott, Hyatt and The Oberoi

Growing up in Bangalore and become a chef here, did you feel it was big enough for someone with your talent?

Anthony Huang: Bangalore has always been exceptionally kind to me. My first exposure to hotels was in Bangalore at a time where everyone called Bangalore a Tier II city and that I needed to move out of the city to really learn. My career took me in and out of the city and I came back to head some of the most prestigious kitchens. Guests in Bangalore are well travelled, unassuming (and in many cases as knowledgeable as you are). This obviously keeps you on your toes all the time, constantly innovating and making sure you are relevant.

You have made a name for your signature dishes with coffee. Did that idea take root here?

Anthony Huang: Having grown up in Bangalore, coffee is something that I take very personally and whose flavours I understand reasonably well. I am a huge crusader of trying to use locally available produce as far as possible and try and do my bit for the environment. There is no doubt in my mind that locally sourced raw materials are always the best option.

 This along with a desire to do something different and an opportunity to keep escaping from hotel life into a plantation got me started.

“I am a huge crusader of trying to use locally available produce as far as possible and try and do my bit for the environment. There is no doubt in my mind that locally sourced raw materials are always the best option. “

How was it working with Oberoi, Hyatt, Marriott and now Elior? How would you describe each of these experiences? How are they different?

Anthony Huang: Well my experiences with Hotels as a Chef gave me a lot of exposure, taught me new things and gave me the platform to try different things all the time.

Elior now gives me the platform to do similar things but on a much larger scale. I wanted to take a little break from hotels and try out something different. This job gave me the opportunity to set up a new facility, handle huge volumes and I am gaining from it personally in the form of learning something I have never done before.

You have mentioned in earlier interviews that you missed a lot of classes while at college. What is the role of Hotel Management schools in producing international standard chefs in India? Is work experience of more value?

Anthony Huang: Hotel Schools have progressed a lot ever since I have passed out of college. They are today supported by easier access to data, information and infrastructure. There were many things that we heard for the first time like Pasta and cheese. Today’s kids enter college having already tried at least 15 varieties of each, so they start of at a much higher platform so to speak. I have visited my Alma Mater “Christ College” and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to see the progress that they have made and the quality of students they produce.

Work experience and academic qualification go hand in hand for me. There are just so many things for a professional to learn besides just learning how to hold a pan and cook a few dishes.

Anthony Huang with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

You have cooked Chinese, Vietnamese and French food…. and also Indian. What is it about Indian food that appeals to you?

Anthony Huang: Well I am an Indian at heart and an Indian in my head. I have grown up eating some of the best Indian food in my friends’ houses and have always wanted to learn how to cook it myself at home. The memories of Indian food is something that reminds me of my growing years, of my friendships and bonds that I will cherish forever.

Food for me is an emotion and that emotion is Indian. The day I don’t feel it I just don’t enter the kitchen. Only happy chefs can make food that talks to you.

How does one create a clientele who will come back again and again for food in a luxury hotel?

Anthony Huang: Clientele in a luxury hotel looks for that one extra touch of luxury in a plate that a free standing restaurant cannot provide him. Today the gap has become narrower but still has some catching up to do. It could be simply sourcing the best and responsibly grown lettuce or getting your desserts made with the best chocolate. Everyone’s perception of luxury is not the same, the key lies in identifying that perception.

“Sometimes it really makes me feel that these street vendors are the True keepers of our culture. We were completely blown away by the fact that she refused to take a penny for the vegetables that Chef Kuan picked up because she considered him as a guest to her country. I’m sure that these are the memories that he is going to take back!! So proud of her.”

What about your family. Do they like Indian food?

Anthony Huang: My family loves Indian food as much as I do. In fact my 15 year old daughter’s favourite food is “Ragi Mudde”. That says a lot I guess.

How much of food is authentic to cultures. We have ‘Gobi Manchurian’ being more famous than any other Chinese dish, but it is not authentic Chinese food. What are your thoughts on this?

 My thoughts are very simple. Some intelligent guy was able to identify what the masses wanted and made sure everyone went home rubbing his tummy. What’s the harm? I believe that a Chefs primary job is to keep the people he is cooking for happy.

“India led the world in science and medicine because society and rulers respected and supported science and scientists” 

Biologist Dr Gangadeep Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow to the 360-year-old Royal Society, London. Kang was part of the Royal Society of London’s announcement of the list of 51 eminent scientists elected to its fellowship in the year 2019.

A professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, and executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, Kang has been working on diarrhoeal diseases in children for over 30 years and has helped develop Rotavac, India’s first indigenous vaccine against the rotavirus that causes severe diarrhoea.  Her research focuses on enteric infectious diseases and the consequences of intestinal infection on immune response, gut function and nutrition in children.

Over the past 20 years she has built a strong inter-disciplinary research and training program, where young faculty and graduate students are mentored before embarking on independent research careers. She leads a multi-disciplinary research team that conducts comprehensive and complementary studies in the description, prevention and control of diarrheal disease using state-of-the-art tools in the laboratory, hospital and the field. The laboratory has studied human and bovine-human reassortant rotaviruses in children with gastroenteritis in hospitals, the neonatal nursery and the community. Complementary studies on water safety, vaccines and treatment trials have evaluated interventions to effectively prevent or reduce diarrheal disease. Her work has led to practical interventions to prevent diarrhea, and continues to lay the groundwork for further interventions in the form of treatment techniques and vaccines.

Biologist Dr Gangadeep Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow to the 360-year-old Royal Society, London. Kang was part of the Royal Society of London’s announcement of the list of 51 eminent scientists elected to its fellowship in the year 2019.

In an email interview with Aparna M Sridhar, she speaks about the role of India in the world of science

Ancient India had been in the forefront of science and technology and medicine. What do you think should be done to revive the scientific temper among youth?

India led the world in science and medicine because society and rulers respected and supported science and scientists. Today, we need to understand that without investments in science and technology, no nation becomes an economic power. This investment needs to be all across the spectrum, including encouraging curiosity and exploration among our young people. Training of teachers, well equipped facilities and time set aside for exploration are important for school and college students, but society as a whole would benefit from high quality museums.

What does becoming Fellow to the Royal Society, London mean to your work?

I think this is an important recognition of the importance and impact of the work that we have done for children’s health in India. Too often, Indian media denigrates work done in India and ascribes all kinds of ulterior motives to researchers.

My team and I have worked hard for over two decades to build relationships with the communities we work with and for, and this recognition of the quality of the work we have done together makes us feel good that our contributions are being recognised.

Why has it taken so many years since the first Indian male scientist was made a fellow for a woman to achieve the same?

Indian women are not encouraged to stand out or stand up for themselves. Things are slowly changing, so I hope that we can accelerate the pace, so that soon there will be as many women as there are men.

What is your opinion on the status of public health in India? How does this impact on the impression that the world has of India?

India has a very long way to go with improving preventive, promotive and curative health to all of its population, and although things are improving, particularly with new programmes, our trajectories are much lower and slower than many countries that were similar or worse off than India not so long ago. India’s poor investment in public health and lack of equity in health has been a matter of concern within and outside the country.

As a very influential Indian scientist, what is your message to the rest of the scientific community in India.

We need to focus on ambitious, high quality research in whichever field we choose and where we are in the spectrum from discovery to impact on society. Scientists need to communicate outside their own circles and speak up and stand up for science especially when there are nay-sayers who capture public attention.

Grammy Award Winner Ricky Kej on creating music from the heart

By Aparna M Sridhar

Bangalore based musician and composer Ricky Kej won the Best New Age Album Grammy for Winds of Samsara. The album brings out parallels between Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela with lessons on conserving the environment. Ricky quotes Mahatma Gandhi’s translation of the Ishavasyam Idam Mantra where he says ‘there is the divine in every single atom of the universe, whether that atom goes on to building something that is living or non-living,’ which means that one has to co-exist not just with all life but with all elements of nature. To Ricky this is what needs to be brought out through Indian music:

What kind of Indian music can win a Grammy award?

There are only four solo Indian Grammy award winners. There’s Pandit Ravishankar, he has won two Grammys and a Lifetime achievement award and his was not a collaborative effort. Second was Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt and he was the leading artiste on that album. Third was A R Rehman, he was the only composer in Slumdog Millionaire and he won two Grammys for best song and best score. It was pop music but it was Indian with a lot of classical influence. It had the sitar and a lot of Indian vocals. My Grammy was for my album Winds of Samsara, which was with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman in the Best New Age album, but I was the lead artiste. There are others who are part of an ensemble or maybe part of 12-13 artistes on an album which is in itself a huge honour.

“My music is very cause driven, so for me the Grammy gave me a greater platform to further the cause of protecting the environment.”

How did the award change the course of your life?

One has to look at the platform that the award gives you, to do bigger and greater things. My music is very cause driven, so for me the Grammy gave me a greater platform to further the cause of protecting the environment.

The awards for music are different. In India you have sevaral awards for films. Internationally too, you have the Oscars, the BAFTA, the Cannes, the Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Sundance Award. For music there is only one award – the Grammys.

There is no award in the world that comes close to the Grammys for music. If you look at the other awards, in Canada the biggest award is the Juno award and you have to be a Canadian to win the award. You have to be a South African to win the South African music Award. In India it’s the GIMA awards you have to be from India and the music has to be recorded in India. It is only with the Grammys, which is like the Olympics of Music, anyone from anywhere in the world can win the award.

In your Grammy acceptance speech you quoted Asatho ma sath gamaya. What inspires you about that phrase?

It’s a beautiful phrase of darkness to light. That album was about the ideals of peace and tolerance. I collaborated with a South African musician. So we brought out parallels between Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela but from an environment perspective.

How does the use of big national icons help in sending out a message through music?

The problem with big icons is that they come with the faults of being human… many many faults most of the time. The idea is to go with what people have said rather than what they have done in their lives. Right now Michael Jackson is coming under so much scrutiny because of the recent documentary. But Michael Jackson was one of the first few musician environmentalists in the world. He made the Earth Song which became so popular that it reached the masses in a way in which even a love song or pop song does not reach. People started thinking about the earth and the planet. There are things that Michael Jackson has done that are of absolute greatness. It is the same with every leader.

You use a lot of Sanskrit in your music. How do we put out correct ways of pronouncing Sanskrit words in World Music?

The only way is to put out equally amount of content ourselves. Atleast our culture is represented correctly most of the time. If you look at Zulu culture… South African and East African cultures have been bastardised, at a different level altogether, where people are doing chants of Ooha Ooha and stuff. When it comes to Greek mythology, that too has been distorted. The only way to stop it from happening to us is for us to put out our content. We need to popularise our content. That is why I use a lot of Sanskrit. The Grammy winning album had a lot of Sanskrit in it. My latest album Shanti Samsara is almost 50 per cent Sanskrit. These albums are mainly marketed abroad, they are not marketed in India. So people atleast can come to know what the authentic way of doing things are.

Can Indian music be popular among teenagers across the globe?

Ofcourse. If you go to a Vishwamohan Bhatt concert in the US, it is mainly youngsters who are in the audience. When I perform in the US, in Europe in Australia and other places, we do have a lot of English lyrics along with Sanskrit. I have seen the eyes of the audience light up, and mine is mainly a youth audience, as soon as they see a flute player or a sitar player doing an alaap or an improvisation piece. That is what captures their imagination.

How does one create music that has lasting popularity?

In India 99 per cent of all content is basically created by Bollywood. So every song that is created in India is either a love song or an item song. That comprises most of the music that comes out in India. Musicians are not making music from the heart. Musicians are not creating music based on their own personalities or their own beliefs.

“I have seen the eyes of the audience light up, and mine is mainly a youth audience, as soon as they see a flute player or a sitar player doing an alaap or an improvisation piece.”

In the film industry here, people are under pressure to produce upto four films a year. In the Kannada film industry people produce 12-13 films a year. Even if you are doing four to five films, it means 20-25 songs a year. This means every two weeks you have to come up with a song and you have to promote the song. Everything becomes an assembly line.

In the West too there is commercialisation but the artistes there are producing music that they are creating. Musicians abroad make an album every two years. They are not under pressure to create. So their music reflects their personality. When you listen to Adele, you know what kind of a personality she is. So is the case with Beyonce or Britney Spears.

In India you have Vishal Dadlani, a good friend of mine, a strong supporter of gender equality but his most popular song is Sheila Ki Jawani. He has even written the lyrics for that song. Basically it’s a misogynistic song, extremely violent towards women, it does not define him as a personality and I cannot imagine him sitting down and listening to it. So why is he making music which is the exact opposite of his personality? That is what the film industry does to you.

Another example is Shankar Mahadevan. I consider him one of the greatest singers in the world. His most famous song is Kajra re again a very misogynistic song. You may say that these musicians do their own independent music — either Vishal doing rock music or Shankar doing classical stuff, but the fact is that the music you do for the film industry far outweighs what you do for yourself. So much so that your legacy is going to be your film music not your own music.

I don’t want to make music that will define me as a musician but is not from my heart. That is why I will never be a part of the film industry.

So how do we create the space where musicians can put out their own music and be successful?

If you look at the greats like Pandit Ravi Shankar, or Ustad Zakir Hussain,  Anoushka Shankar, Fazal Qureshi or Ali Akhbar Khan all of them had to move abroad because they realised that their music is not getting much respect over here. It’s not that they started doing Western music. Pandit Ravishankar would be playing with the Beatles but he would still be doing classical music. He was true to himself, he was true to the kind of music he was making.

In India, music is not a monetisation medium. It is not a money making medium for film makers. It is a publicity medium to get people to buy movie tickets. The music is released a month before the film. Producers need the music to go as far as possible, so then the content creators of music don’t bother about piracy.

The music too has become very commercial where the main hook line has to come within the first 30 seconds of a song, and people don’t have the patience to let a song grow on them. Earlier there used to be pride of ownership when it came to music. People would buy CDs, LPs, cassettes. Later it moved to MP3s where music was stored on their phone and now it’s come to a point where people only want to stream music. Everything is volatile. So the shelf life of a song is less than thirty days to three months.

We need to get royalty and residuals for music. We have to create a system where money comes every time a film is screened like it happens in the US and elsewhere. The producer needs to feel that ‘I can create a few things which will be enough to secure my living’. The pressure has to come from musicians to stop piracy and ensure standards.

If I am an independent music maker, how am I going to sell any music because so much free content is thrown everybody’s way? Gone are the days in India where in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s where people would actually look outside and try to discover new music. Now it is a period where people are being bombarded with music and so they take in whatever comes their way. I believe that change can happen in India only when more and more musicians start making music independently. In the West the big names are not composing music keeping popular trends in mind, they are just creating music and that music happens to be successful. It touches people because anywhere in the world people can make out whether that music is honest or not.

Music and Conservation

How did your passion for conservation begin?

I am not sure whether my love for nature led to my music or my music led to my passion for the environment. For me it has been one and the same. As a child when my parents and friends would run away from seemingly dangerous animals like snakes, mice, I was always drawn toward them. I would look into the eyes of the animals and see the personality in every single animal. For me it has never been their world and our world. It has always been our world. I have always had pets, cats and dogs, birds and lizards. They have always been a part of my world. An animal has always been an individual for me.

How does one bring in Indian values in promoting the environmental conservation through music?

India has been very reverent to forest and wildlife for the longest period of time. If you look at European countries or America, all the mammals have gone completely. We have huge problems when it comes to human and animal conflict simply because we still have forests and animals. For us everything has always been about co-existence where you look at Vasudhaiva kutambakam.

Today people see it as only as co-existence between the entire human race. But in the Vedas, it is coexistence not just between all life but co-existence between all entities living or non-living. Mahatma Gandhi had translated the Ishavasyam idam Mantra and in his translation he says there is the divine in every single atom of the universe, whether that atom goes on to building something that is living or non-living. Which means that we have to co-exist not just with all life but with all elements of nature. And this is what needs to be brought out through Indian music.

The music of the spheres

For astrophysicist Priyamavada Natarajan, both science and music help us reach out to the sublime, and music is as much about moods and emotions, as modes of thinking.

Music, mathematics, and science have always gone together, not just in the physics of sound and the mathematics of pitch and frequency, but in the lines of inquiry that open up to cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists, and the like.

Take a top scientist tackling the most advanced problems in astrophysics — like the mysteries of dark matter and the true nature of black holes — and a deep passion for classical music, with its notes, sounds and rhythms resonating and echoing with the most elemental forces of light, mass and energy over the vast infinities of space and time, and you get Priyamvada Natarajan, professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, Connecticut, one of America’s most prestigious, “Ivy League” institutions, and the very first woman to receive a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cambridge University, UK.

“Music is very much part of my life. I can’t really describe it,” says Priyamvada from the US.

“There isn’t any real time aside from when I am in my office, when I don’t listen to music. If I am meeting students, colleagues, or reading, I actually don’t like to listen to music as background. But music is something that I am involved with when I am actually working on problems, it is very powerful to me. And I listen to everything and anything. I am always living with music.”

Priyamvada has role models not just from her immediate genetic pool (both her parents are scientists) but also from the pool of music, past and present. She is inspired by the personal lives of musicians whose genius and accomplishment equal the best in science.

As a consequence, she has a dominant musical self which she believes is as integral to her as her love for science.

Music streams ideas into her all the time, segueing into science seamlessly. And she firmly believes that in the brain they are connected.

 “The kind of neural activity that you can see in the brain when you do mathematics and when you play an instrument are very similar. And I think there is some real connection beyond just the general patterns. There is a deep connection with the level of abstraction that you have with mathematics and music — possibly more broadly with science, but definitely with Mathematics,” she says.

At the age of 17, after finishing schooling in New Delhi, Priyamvada went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – itself a rare accomplishment for a young girl in 80s India.

Priyamvada Natarajan is a professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, Connecticut, one of America’s most prestigious, “Ivy League” institutions, and the very first woman to receive a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cambridge University, UK.

Before the move to MIT, at a time when “American global culture was not as prevalent in India as it is today,” Priyamvada, with her good singing voice had learnt not only Karnatic and Hindustani music, but also dance.

“When I was growing up I was very much rooted in Indian traditions. I loved MS Subbulakshmi, whom I worshipped. I listened to ghazals, I listened to Farida Kahnum, one of my favourite singers,” she says.

After landing at MIT, she made time for music, even as she gained rapid strides in the field of astrophysics.  If, even today, women are rare in science, they are even rarer in astrophysics — her professors and peers recognised early her facility for large numbers and abstract problems, her succumbing to the “allure of the night sky,” and the unique yearning to enquire into the deep mysteries of outer space, far away from the conflicts and drudgeries of mundane existence.

She enrolled for a music appreciation class and also started to learn to play the piano. Life at MIT was also about adjusting to a very different culture. She coped with the transition by getting into Western classical music and opera.

“I landed in an extremely high-brow culture with these deeply intellectual people. So I had to find out — what were the bones of this culture, what it was about. I believe music is a cameo of any culture. And so I dove into Western classical music.”

Modes and moods

Today, depending on the work she is doing, Priyamvada picks the music. She is comfortable in dealing with phenomena involving large time scales and distances that cannot be apprehended by the senses. Frequently, the calculations she is tackling are the mechanical kind, a series of never-ending steps, where she knows what the next step is but not the final answer.  In such cases she listens to music that is “very agitato, very brisk.”

Then there are the bigger challenges, where en route to discoveries and new answers, the problem has to be first set up.

“You don’t even know if you can solve this, and you don’t know how to pose it — and that’s where, for a lot of the work that I do, there’s creativity.”  At such times, she gravitates to more measured, reflective, music.

“So for every mood when I work, or when I am thinking, there are particular kinds of music, I almost use music as a priming cue for myself not just in terms of mood but beyond that — into a mode of thinking.”

Priyamvada is being noticed for her key contributions to two of the most challenging problems in cosmology — mapping the distribution of dark matter and tracing the growth history of black holes. Dark matter and dark energy dominate the universe, but we know very little about it, beyond seeing its effects and influences. It has a lot to do with going beyond what we can deal with directly. Just like in music.

 “Music has the ability to transport one, to transcend your day to day life and to feel and live in a way that is beyond the mundane. I feel music of every kind is very sublime,” she declares.

And so is work, when one is deeply connected to it. “I have the same sensation when I do the work that I do. Part of the motivation for the things that I do… like working with these large numbers in the cosmos, is that I like to be transported away from the earth. I don’t like the world the way it is — inequitable, unjust, messy. One of the attractions is that my work offers an escape from this sort of messy, conflict-ridden world, to this sublime place, with the numbers that I deal with. To me music does something very, very similar. It transports me to different realms and definitely affects my state of mind.”

She decided very early not to get confined by traditions, which abound even in science, and instead went on to be among the few women to “map the detailed distribution of dark matter in the universe, exploiting the bending of light en-route to us from distant galaxies”.

Musically she has tried to imbibe and learn from every form she has come into contact with. When she moved from MIT to Cambridge, UK for her PhD, she again went into a very traditional culture.

“That was when I got started in opera. Earlier, I had gone to Europe as an undergraduate and I went to all the opera houses, I went to La Scala and listened to Pavarotti. I went to every opera house in every city I went to as I had a Euro rail pass.”

After coming back to America, she got into jazz in a big way, because there were a “lot of things happening in jazz.” One of the fresh new voices in jazz, pianist Vijay Iyer, whose music she enjoys, is both a friend and fellow physicist.

Despite the moving around… all the flux, she says there are some pieces of music that will always stay with her. One is raga Hamsadhwani, “a ragam whose very meaning – sound of the swans- is as beautiful as its sound. It is the same ragam in both Hindustani and Karnatic traditions. That to me is part of the appeal. Plus it is one of the most sublime ragams I have ever heard. It sounds beautiful in the voice. It sounds beautiful in any instrument that you play.”

Then there is Bach’s Chello suite. “If I am ever really really down all I have to do is to really play that. It lifts my mood.”

Scientists need to question the status quo all the time …that makes for progress. In music, classical music, tradition is a sacrosanct.

“Science by its very nature is a very different beast. Science is provisional. Science isn’t fixed in the way sampradaya and traditions are for either musical traditions or dance. Our state of understanding of any phenomenon in science really depends on data and empirical observations. With more accurate data your current understanding is likely to shift. It can either refine your current understanding or it may completely upend a theory… show the need for a completely new theory.”

In some ways, she believes however, music is similar.

There are some things about sampradaya which are “worth continuing and keeping alive obviously and probably there should always be a set of proponents who are guarding traditions. But at the same time you need variations; you need room for improvisation, because in an art form, as we have seen with a lot of art forms, if there isn’t room for improvisation, the art starts to die out. It’s hard for the next generation to feel no room for creativity because every time you perform that is a creative act, even though the notes are enshrined, the ragam is specified and all of that. Your rendition is a creative act, but to not have room beyond that, to improvise, I think is restrictive. “

Allowing for improvisation will also change audiences. “One of the things that I find, when I come for concerts to India in the winters, is that a lot of the younger people are not there in the audience. I think we need to reclaim them, get them back.”