The Hunger Artist
Q If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? A I’d be a chef. I’d travel, and cook what I observed. Cooking makes me happy.
Q What is your memory of food? A I grew up in Khagaul, in a middle-class environment with limited comforts and rationed necessities. When we ran out of curry, we would improvise. We would mix mango pickle with barbecued red chillies and then add cut garlic pods. It would taste divine with chapati. I still crave the food served in Bihar for wedding and funeral functions like the shraadh. They would serve it in steel or brass buckets, and I loved the simple fare: aubergine curry, tomato chutney, yellow dal...
Q How do you cook? A From memory and observation. For example, when I first went to South Korea in 2000, I stopped at a roadside eatery where an old lady was cooking noodles with lettuce and red paste. I took photos, and when I returned, I tried cooking it (I finally found the red paste in a shop in Gurgaon). I improvise a lot while cooking. One should never cook when one is tired; cooking is like yoga.
Q Would you ever open a restaurant? A It has been a dream of mine to open a restaurant for the past 15 years. But I don’t want to open it in India. I want it to be a concept restaurant—like the art I make. It is all about who we are, our dreams, where we come from and where we are going.
Q What do you carry while travelling? A I carry spices to cook for people I might meet on the journey. On the way back, I carry spices, culture and photos and videos of food and the process of cooking it. I see it as carrying things forward.