A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Devi Raju

I interviewed Devi, who runs the amazing Touch of India and Touch of India Express restaurants, and wrote a 650-word piece on her for this week's Free Times. I wish I'd had more space; she gave me a lot to work with.

Of the most interest to this blog was the fact that she doesn't taste the food she's cooking. Here's the relevant unedited section of the interview (I cut this way down for the article):


Eva: Do you keep notes about what you put in each dish, or do you have recipes you've written, or is it just all in your head?

Devi: All in my head. That's why it won't taste the same every time you eat it!
I don't have fixed menus because today it may be hot, tomorrow it may be cold, you don't know what...
And plus I don't taste my food.

Eva: I wondered about that, cause you're a vegetarian, right?

Devi: Even vegetables

Eva: So even the vegetables you don't taste...Why's that?

Devi: So that's what we practice in India. We used to offer food to the god when we cook some days, like prayers days. If you’re practicing sucking your fingers all the time, if you taste the food, that is not going to be good to offer to god.
That is the reason we practice when we are gone to mother in law's house, we don't eat food until we feed the family and we later.... Some days offerings may come, priests may come, someone come to eat, and that's why I never eat my food first when I cook.

Do you feel like that affects your cooking somehow?

Devi: No, I don't know, I don't know the taste because I'm cooking that much and I don't know the difference.

Like if someone is there, my son, my daughter in law, my husband there, they will check, they will taste for me. Me, no. I never taste my food.

Eva: So does it surprise you sometimes when you do eat it?

Devi: Nah. But I know when I cook, like the items, when I cook, it's going to taste good anyway. But the item...If I like, like if I do the okra, if I say oh, I like that okra, I like that okra because it tastes so good to me to eat that, then I'll eat afterwards. But not in the beginning.

It won't surprise me at all because I know when it looks good.

When you look you can tell the food usually. That's why I don't have to taste anything to know whether it's okay or not.


It reminds me of something you said to me once, Mom, about being able to smell when food has enough salt in it. Similar thing: Devi can can tell by looking whether the food is right.

I do find myself tasting the food I cook less all the time, but I still usually have to taste for salt. Maybe it's because I use different salting agents -- sometimes fish sauce, sometimes table salt or coarse-ish sea salt, and usually of varying brands, so always different. I don't know; I always have salting problems. Maybe I need to look and smell more.

By the way, Lawson has been a customer of Devi's for many years. He once told me that years ago he was eating some meat or poultry dish at Touch of India and Devi asked him how it was; she had never tried the dish, even though she cooked it, since she was a vegetarian. So that was one line of questioning I wanted to pursue in the interview, and luckily she wanted to go there, too.

This was the first in what will become a series of interviews with local food people -- restaurateurs, farmers, caterers, what have you...I hope they're all so much fun.

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