Recently I had an unusually exciting Friday night. As I frantically switched between the chicken curry and chocolate chai affogato recipes, I sensed something searing. The culprit: the paper tabs on Lipton tea bags that I added to a pot of boiling water for the chai. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to let them hang over the sides, as evidenced by the fact that they were on fire.
Fortunately, the crisis was avoided. On my laptop screen, a dashing 40s were doing the same tasks without breaking a sweat. I was watching Bollywood Kitchen, an interactive performance co-produced by the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and the New Yorks Hypokrit Theater Company. The man on screen was Sri Rao, an Indo-American screenwriter and author of a 2017 cookbook of the same name, which collects his family’s recipes and associates them with Bollywood movies.
Two evenings a week, Rao, broadcasting live from his stylish Manhattan kitchen, prepares a few dishes from the book for a distant audience invited to cook. There are three tiers of tickets: the first provides streaming access and recipes, the second adds a Bollywood box, containing most of the necessary non-perishable ingredients, and the third includes the ability to appear on camera yourself and to chat directly with Rao.
As a second level participant, I was delighted to find, in my Bollywood Box, tiny plastic jars arranged in a cardboard version of a masala dabba, a traditional Indian spice tray and neat piles of carefully labeled plastic bags. There was also a shopping list and schedule, to prepare your set up before the curtain. I spent a meditative, albeit surprisingly exhausting, afternoon chopping onions, chicken thighs and cilantro, steaming basmati rice, chopping garlic and ginger, and grating cucumber, to fold in yogurt, with cumin and chili powder, for the raita.
I was lulled into a momentary relaxation, at the start of the show, with an extremely delicious cocktail called Mumbai Mule (vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime juice, punctured with ground coriander and cumin and tossed over ice cream) and a great bowl of popcorn. According to the instructions, I had sautéed the grains in a paper bag provided in the microwave, then smeared them with butter, lemon juice, salt, cumin, paprika, cilantro, chili and pepper. garlic powder.
While cooking, Rao spoke dreamily of his childhood, in Mechanicsburg, Pa., And his early passion for Bollywood musicals and the portal they opened to India, where his parents had emigrated, interspersing memories with film clips. In my kitchen, everything was copacetic until he got curried. How did the oil in her pressure cooker already sparkle? How did he brown his turmeric-sprinkled chicken so quickly? What did I do with this bag of coconut powder? Next thing I knew, I was twenty minutes late, tea bag tabs on fire.
It didn’t matter much that it distracted me from Raos’ monologue. The strength of Bollywood Kitchen lies more in the format than in the theatrical content. While Raos’ impulse to tell his family story seemed sincere, and the film clips fascinated me, the connections he made between the two were vague and the show’s themes were generic. I wondered if his best material hadn’t been exploited; Not only is he a longtime mega-fan, he’s also the only US-born Indian to have written a great Bollywood movie, Baar Baar Dekho, as of 2016.
Still, there was solace in the shared kitchen and in the food itself. If the ashes ended up in my chaibrewed with cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cardamom pods and fresh ginger, they would go unnoticed; the finished tea, with whipped milk and cocoa powder, was perfectly calibrated for the sweetness of the vanilla ice cream I poured it over. The chicken was plump and flavorful, and gave me something to look forward to the next day when it tasted even better. (Bollywood Kitchen tickets, $ 40, $ 95 or $ 175.)
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