The secret recipe of giving

Advaita Kala | Published: Sep 22 2013, 01:46 IST

SUMMARY Dinners for charity are yet to find a foothold in India. But if there is a celebratory cheer, giving becomes a joyful act and something that is transferred to the eventual recipients.

Charity doesn’t need to be miserable,” says Anand Kapoor, the founder of Creative Services Support Group (CSSG). It is a hectic time for Kapoor. He is moving between Mumbai and New Delhi, while adding the finishing touches to the third edition of his annual fundraiser. This year, the theme is the interpretation of food through art, and it’s bigger than ever. With four charity dinners (two in Mumbai and Delhi each), that is, gastronomic experiences, he is looking at a sellout reservation book.

The approach to these charity dinners is circled around the idea of joy, a celebration of the act of giving. According to Kapoor, there is no need to show a video of people suffering. Our everyday lives provide enough visuals of that, and to such an extent that we are prone to get desensitised. Instead, if there is a celebratory cheer, giving becomes a joyful act and something that is transferred to the eventual recipients. The CSSG focuses on youth in creative arts. There is hardly any infrastructure in place to support young people when they turn 18, nothing that will help them break the poverty cycle. These youths enter the world disadvantaged not only by their poverty, but a lack of education and very few prospects. The creative sector is one area that can absorb these people if they have received the right training, be it apprenticing under a chef or learning pattern-cutting with a fashion designer. Empowering them with a skill that lasts a lifetime and a mentoring/buddy programme that sees them through this professional journey is the aim of the CSSG.

This year, nine chefs are part of the gastronomic extravaganza, seven of them Michelin star chefs and two hatted (Michelin Star equivalent) from Australia. Each chef will present a course at the grand dinners and an additional twist to the evening is the participation of students from Delhi’s College of Art. Each chef has sent a student a photograph of his/her dish for the evening, which, in turn, will inspire a painting that will be an interpretation of the food in water colours. Each of these paintings will be for sale and the proceeds will go to charity.

This year, the opera company Glyndebourne joins the artistic feast and the artist Carl Warner presents autographed editions of his foodscapes, the onion Taj Mahal being one of his more famous interpretations. It’s such a clever mix of food and art that one can’t help but wonder about the preparation that goes behind creating these one-of-a-kind meal experiences. It takes 12 months and more, Kapoor tells me. He has been working on putting this together since October last year, and all for charity. A simple idea that began with a conversation about what a narrow perception the outside world has of the creative sectors in India led to this.

Avant-garde dining concepts, like the floating buffet, are part of the experience this year. Five-hundred balloons with packages of food will be let into the dining room and once the package is picked, the balloon rises to the ceiling. It’s a dining experience like no other. But then to curate dinners for charity these experiences are needed—those that delight and can be talked about.

Kapoor has struggled with putting this together and executing it. The first year, there was a loss and the second year, they broke even. This year, he hopes to raise at least R10 lakh. It would seem like a modest sum, keeping in view the experience being provided and the guest list, but he is determined to see it grow, to build it into an annual experience worth having. In a lot of ways, these dinners, so popular in the West, are yet to find a foothold in India. In many ways, his is a job of not only creating awareness, but appealing to a set of people who have the money, but not necessarily the inclination. Food, he tells me, is a great connector. May the strings of the heart that lead to the purse open more easily.

Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad