A Desi Italian Cook Book with Soul | Ritu Dalmia

If you go into a book store in India looking for a recipe book, you will find many books about the Indian kitchen and a few imported ones on foreign cuisine. An Indian made Italian recipe book is something a little out of the ordinary. Italian Khanna, Ritu Dalmia's 'desi Italian cook book with a soul', recently published by Random House India, is an attempt to show how easy it could be to cook Italian in India.

When I first heard about the project from Chiki Sarkar, the editor in chief of Random House, I was a bit hesitant as I was told that the budget for the photographs was very small. She wanted photographs of the kitchen, of dishes and of people eating, something I estimated in about 6-7 days of work. Never the less, I wanted to meet Ritu and see what she is all about, and see how I feel about the project. We decided to all meet for lunch and discuss the options. Ritu came first , after all it was her own restaurant, and it was love at first sight. She is a fun and energetic soul running a few very successful restaurants in Delhi, the most famous one is of course DIVA in GK2 market. By the time Chiki had arrived I already knew I would be happy to work on the book but the concept was still not decided.

We had a great green salad, raviol (I had two portions), and penacotta with a strong espresso. Chiki and Ritu were discussing the number of images that they wanted and I suddenly thought it could actually be very simple. I suggested that we do it the 'Italian way'. Organize a big Tuscany-style lunch for about thirty people and I would shoot the entire book in one day, starting in the kitchen in the morning with Ritu cooking, then take a few pictures of dishes and then shoot everyone eating and enjoying a winter lunch. This would enable us to get all the images that we need and also fit the budget. They loved it!

It was just before Christmas and we had to get things in motion fast to avoid the winter fog that would delay the project by a few months, so we scheduled for three weeks away. A location was found in one the farm houses outside of the city and the guests were invited for a Sunday lunch. It was wonderful.

I started with Ritu at her home kitchen very early in the morning, shooting with available window light and trying as much as possible not to interfere with her work, moving around her and getting the feel of the kitchen. From time to time I would take a ready dish to the other room and shot the plate in the sun coming from the open window. I used a few small mirrors to fill in the dark shadows but no artificial light. I wanted to keep it simple and real.

When we finally reached the location with all the food and people started coming, I switched to a longer lens (80-200/f2.8) and shot the entire lunch like this. Close up shots of the food on the table as well as the people talking and enjoying the party. by 4PM we were having desert and the I had what I wanted.

Dear Sephi, Italian Khana would not be what it is without your gorgeous pictures. Love you!

~ Ritu Dalmia Celebrity chef and restaurateur, Author of Italian Khana