This month’s interview takes us into the food-blogging world of Ayushi Gupta, creator of The Foodie Diaries. Having begun life as an Instagram account, the endeavor has garnered such a following that Ayushi expanded it to its current form. Watching this source of all things tasty and imaginative continue to evolve is a joy I felt compelled to share, and so I was happy to be granted this interview. Ayushi talks with me about eating throughout London, England and Bombay, India and a recently discovered “hidden gem” of a restaurant, as well as the personal inspirations driving the great work being done on The Foodie Diaries.
Flavorful World: You speak of “living between Bombay and London” on your blog. Besides the myriad regional variations of Indian cuisine that have established a respected presence in London over the past two decades, what would you say is the most interesting (and perhaps least expected) example of overlap between the two locations in terms of available cuisine?
Ayushi Gupta: Indian street eats! Dishoom was the first on the scene, bringing the feel of a post-colonial Bombay cafe to Covent Garden with street-style fare on the menu from chaat (savoury snacks) to vada pao (potato fritters sandwiched in a bread bun). They even offer Thums Up, the cola that generations of Indian kids have grown up on!
More recently, I discovered a hidden gem in Spitalfield, Inito, serving up made-to-order rotis (essentially a flatbread that is a staple in the Indian diet), alongside a build-it-yourself option that you can customize with grilled meats, veggies and chutneys. Like a Chipotle, but for Indian wraps! And with the choice of protein fillings, quite a bit healthier than the roadside rolls in Bombay, stuffed with masala and deep-fried potatoes, that we used to tuck into as children (and still do from time to time…)
FW: What treats can we next look forward to seeing explored in your Kitchen Inspiration series? Where did you find your most recent source of personal inspiration with regard to cooking in your own kitchen, and how did the meal or dish that you produced draw upon that inspiration?
AG: Without giving too much away, I am hoping to feature well-recognized eateries and chefs in the Kitchen Inspiration series, with a view to sharing their signature recipes but also their tips and tricks for a healthier approach to cooking (without compromising on taste). I’m particularly excited about collaborating with one of my favorite restaurants in London on ideas for a guilt-free brunch with a super-food twist…
My most recent kitchen inspiration was actually a fantastic Buzzfeed article on “29 Vegetarian Classics You Should Learn How to Cook”. I tried the suggested recipe for a edamame hummus, perfect for a refreshing and protein-packed snack after work! The article is available here in case you’re interested.
FW: Before it was a full-on blog, The Foodie Diaries began its life on Instagram. What have you found to be the main differences, for better or for worse, between operating it as an Instagram account and as a blog? How do those differences inform your creation process in terms of adjustments you’ve had to make resulting from the format shift?
AG: If I’m being honest, the Instagram account has essentially become part of day to day life – it’s quick, easy and all the more fun to post pictures live as they are taken. And my friends have now (grudgingly) accepted that the camera eats first, which is really supportive.
Developing the blog as a website is much more time-consuming and far removed from my professional work as a Consultant. Each post requires a great deal of thought, detail and pictures. The last one has been particularly challenging. With Instagram, I try not to bombard my followers with tens of pictures from the same restaurant, so the focus has always been on capturing just the one or two shots perfectly. But with the blog, I now need a broad and diverse set of photos from the interiors through to all the dishes eaten, to really be able to provide a flavor of the place. I can be quite a perfectionist, so much so, that at times I’ve gone back to the restaurant to retake the picture, or on the odd occasion asked them to send me any photos they may have on file. I’m hoping to hone my foodtography skills by taking a photography class in my spare time.
FW: A recent outing found you enjoying a dessert of Japanese-style French toast. Building on this idea, re-envision the traditional breakfast food of your choice as a supper entrée. What dish do you choose, and how would you alter its standard recipe to make it more suitable for serving in the evening?
AG: Mini pancakes, with a savory, Indian spin! Made with oatmeal, semolina and yogurt, and with grated carrots and diced tomatoes added to the batter to lend a bit of texture. Garnished with mild tomato salsa. Breakfast for dinner is always such a good idea.
FW: What is the most recent “hidden gem” of an eating or drinking establishment that you’ve come across outside of London or Bombay? Where is it located, and what menu item(s) led you to declare it thus?
AG: On a recent trip to Dubai, a friend tipped me off about Chez Sushi. What a find. You can custom-make your sushi roll, choosing between brown or white rice, the main fillings, toppings and dressings. It’s unbelievably fresh and as a vegetarian I was spoilt for choice with the number of ingredients on offer. I ended up making several trips back to their pop-up at Kite Beach for the Dubai Food Festival, just to experiment with different combinations. A definite winner was avocado, asparagus, carrots and tofu rolled in brown rice and coated with tempura bits and sesame seeds, indulgently dipped in spicy mayo. I’m getting hungry just reliving the memory.
FW: You describe your sweet tooth as “insatiable”. Tell us your favorite indulgent dessert to eat without regard for its lack of nutritional value, and on what occasion(s) you are likeliest to have it. Tell us your favorite dessert to eat that is actually healthy for you, and on what occasions you are likeliest to have it.
AG: The cheesecake at JW Steakhouse is my guilty pleasure – incredibly creamy, yet sitting lightly on a crumbly Graham cracker biscuit crust. I’m most likely to pick it up to take back home on a Sunday evening from the Park Lane Market at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Even their smallest portion is essentially a mini cake, perfect for battling my weekly case of Sunday night blues.
Healthy desserts on the other hand are a daily affair. I usually end the evening with a bowl of nice cream – frozen banana chunks and blueberries (best if frozen overnight) blended with a splash of milk and a spoonful of raw cacao, topped off with desiccated coconut and goji berries. I’ve actually started preferring it’s natural sweetness and flavors to that of store-bought or regular ice cream.
FW: As someone who frequently dines out, what food/beverage service trend(s) would you most like to see take root in the near future in your local area, and why? What food/beverage service trend(s) do you feel have overstayed their welcome in your local area, and why?
AG: It would be fantastic to see a raw food eatery set up locally. While I’m not one to follow a raw lifestyle regularly at all, I really appreciate the creative process underlying the food preparation. My most recent experience with raw food was at Wild Food Café in Neal’s Yard – each dish was a riot of flavors, colors and textures.
On the unwelcome side, we could perhaps do with less commercial food and coffee chains in the neighborhood. While they’re nice to pop into once in a while, there’s lacking the character and originality of the new crop of independent Antipodean-style cafes in London.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
AG: “Slices of my life.”
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods and traveling to exotic locales, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
AG: Going to museums and galleries. London is well-catered in that respect, it’s as easy to spend the afternoon wandering through the V&A, as it is to go gallery hopping around Mayfair. I actually held down a short internship at Sotheby’s when I was in between consulting firms a few years ago. Surrounded on a daily basis from Old Masters like da Vinci to contemporary icons like Warhol… they were probably the most beautiful three months of my life.
*Note to readers: For more on The Foodie Diaries, catch its posts on Twitter for great info on the best eats and drinks around, and follow Ayushi back to where it all started by keeping up on Instagram as well.
[All images courtesy of Ayushi Gupta / The Foodie Diaries]