Lasting impressions are not cooked easily!
Last year, on the way back from office, I saw something new near my house. A quaint little place with green cane curtains for walls, simple wooden stools and a little door with a cute canopy on the top. As is usual after a tiring day at work, I was feeling a bit drained and looking forward to my daily cuppah and hot shower. But somehow this place pulled me towards itself like a magnet and I decided to outsource that days cup of tea to these café people.
One inside, I realized that the place was not what it made itself to be from outside. They have the best coffee machines, beans and any equipment that could enhance the customers’ culinary experience. My spirits were already beginning to lift up. At the counter was a lovely boy who perked up on seeing me. I realized how much difference it makes for one to be smiled at, how it makes one feel connected with other people and cared for in such little instances. He told me the specials with a smile, and after a brief conversation suggested that I try their caramel coffee, made from special ingredients from Malaysia. Well, why not?
I took a stool by the window and admired the evening lights while the place slowly started filling up. Since it was a new place, many people were walking in tentatively but then cheering up after talking to the Barista at the counter and his other colleague, equally polite and helpful. The boy found time to smile at people, make suggestions based on what people seemed interested in, prepare my coffee, offer my complimentary cookies along with it and keep the place tidy as a dream, all at the same time.
Soon he was at my table, with my coffee and a warm nod. I nodded back and took a sip. It was like a little slice of heaven. I guess he gathered it from my expression and went back with a satisfied smile. As I spent thirty minutes there soaking in a beautiful experience, two more cups of caramel coffee, easy bonhomie among the other guests, I couldn’t help feeling totally de-stressed. By the time I got home hat evening, I was already gearing for what was ahead in the week.
Soon I was spending at least two or three evenings a week at the café. I learnt that the boy’s name was Stanzin and he was a chef from Ladakh. I found it slightly unusual so I showed some curiosity to learn more about him. Over the next few weeks, I did. Stanzin belonged to a simple farming family based in a village near the capital, Leh. His parents went to work in the farm during the day time and so Stanzin and his sister took care of the house. Slowly, Stanzin started cooking for the family, in order to save trouble for his mother, as his sister took care of the pets, the cleaning, maintenance and supplies. Though in a traditional society this may seem like a reversal of roles, talking to Stanzin I realized that the beautiful people of Ladakh have no such biases and notions.
So, as years went by, Stanzin was cooking better than before, and soon it was not only his parents but the extended family and friend circle that was coming to partake of the feats he prepared occasionally. Word spread and home-stay requests started coming in. One German tourist who wanted to stay with a Ladakhi family, instead of a typical touristy hotel enquired with somebody at a shop if they had recommendations. Stanzin’s cousin Sonam was there at that time and instantly suggested that the tourist could stay with Stanzin’s family. The German had such an amazing time that he put up a post on Facebook and Twitter about it. Soon there were people staying with the family almost every week.
By this time, Stanzin had discovered his love for cooking and he wanted to explore his passion more. He said that while he deeply enjoyed cooking for guests from all over the world, he craved to learn cuisines other than Ladakhi. From these internal travelers, he heard about kitchens all over the world, where he could apprentice and grow his skills. He decided to act on his dreams.
Parents cooperated and Stanzin found himself in Delhi on balmy April morning. Of course were not as easy as they seemed from outside. After knocking several doors and encountering biases, rejections and disappointments, he found work in a café in South Delhi where luckily, the head chef was skilled in Italian cuisine. Spending three years there, Stanzin learn the fine art of baking pizzas, making fresh pastas and everything else that makes Italian cuisine so divine. But now he wanted more.
He has recently met and befriended a Punjabi man who used to frequent the café and enjoyed Stanzin’s red sauce pasta with mushrooms and anchovies. This man invited Stanzin to join his newly opened restaurant specializing in Indian food. Stanzin accepted and began his tryst with Mughlai and Awadhi food for two years. Another chance meeting with French man at an outdoor party where they were catering, got Stanzin interested in learning French cuisine. It was like God was showering beautiful opportunities on him, and it would be silly to refuse them. With the blessings of his current employer, and by now a good friend, Stanzin accepted the French gentleman’s offer of moving to Bangalore where he was just about to open a French café.
And here he was. Stanzin in a French café. Though by now, it had become a little more eclectic, as I understood from Stanzin and the French owner, Francois, based on their taste tests and feedbacks from various well-wishers. Hence, we saw cane curtains and wooden stools, though we also saw French crepes and croissants, at the same place! But that is another post.
Learning Stanzin’s life story, over a period of almost a year, I have developed a deep admiration for this young man. All of twenty-seven, Stanzin betrays his age, with his deep calmness and serenity. Always focused on one of the many recipes that he keeps developing at all times, I can safely say that I have never seen him perturbed or disturbed. Persevering and passionate, food seems to excite him like nothing in the world, and cooking for people gives him tears of joy at times (I have seen them myself once, when he made me a classic French toast that left me spellbound for a minute with its soft perfection).
I often ask Stanzin what inspires and drives him, and after prolonged moments of reflection he almost always says it is his unwavering belief that he was meant to have a passionate love affair with food in this lifetime. This strong self-belief, an unbelievable talent at cooking, his simplicity and passion add up to a heady mix that can hardly leave you untouched.
Each time I am going through one of my existential crisis, questioning whether I really l like my job, if I should be doing something different with my life, I find myself at the French café. More often than not, I cajole Stanzin to talk to me, and without doing much, he ends up helping me look through what a lot of times turns out to be case of misjudged perspectives. My experiences with Stanzin have helped cut through layers of confusion I had built in mind unnecessarily. Trying to find answers to everything, I had loaded myself with questions that did not even need to be asked. I had confused my past with my present and my future with my thoughts; resulting in an un-understandable phenomenon that I thought was my life. Well, Stanzin is no guru, and I am not close to enlightenment, but some precious moments spent with my wonderful friend have helped me slow down and see through the clutter in my mind.
His life has been no cakewalk. Leaving his family left him depressed for month, because of the soft cocooned world that he belonged to. Slowly coming out of it and performing in the big bad world also was not easy. Each time he found himself settling down, he invited a change upon himself in his quest to grow and learn. Changing circumstances, cities, adopting challenges with a composed mind can hardly be easy for a twenty-two year old.
And then added to all that, the deplorable and disappointing bias that exists in most of our minds about people with oriental looks. Stanzin recounts of many instances where he has been called a ‘chinky’ on the road and how it slowly stopped hurting because he would remind himself that what matters to him is his kitchen and his family, anything else that happens in his life is just an episode holding no meaning. In one of the most bizarre experiences of his life, after he had moved to Bangalore in the year 2012, there were crazy rumours that started doing the round regarding people from ‘north-east’. There was a mass exodus from the city amidst fears of violence and attacks. Stanzin says that those were some of the darkest days of his life where he found it difficult to stay rooted and hold his faith. Incidents and news from Delhi about assaults were also worrying him, and what he wanted most was to be around his family, that continued to support him silently and strongly through thick and thin. Though Francois, who told me that he was most disappointed with the way Indians treat other Indians, provided as much moral support as he could, Stanzin contemplated returning to Ladakh because of how he could.
I am so glad that he did not!
Today Stanzin has found his strength and equilibrium again, and proudly tells me that some of his French cooking is even better than Francois’! From what I can see, all regulars love him and his easy charms. He is a beautiful, genuine and gentle soul, which inspires all of us through this solid passion, self-belief, pure talent and kindness. I consider myself truly fortunate of knowing Stanzin, and the many lessons he has taught me about life even without knowing himself. The deep imprints he has left on my mind will continue to drive me as I strive to find my own passion and anchor, in my own life journey. Even if Stanzin manages to realize his dream of learning in one of the finest Swiss or French cooking schools (which he is working extremely hard towards by saving money and learning as much as he can), and goes away from Bangalore not giving me the chance to talk to him whenever I am in doubt or in need for conversation, his words and deeds so far will continue to stir and enthuse me. The impact that he has had on my life is so deep and meaningful that physical distance and time can never take it away…
When I decided to write this post about Stanzin, I went to the café to tell him about it and as expected, he was most shy about it. He told me that I should find somebody else who is working for the well-being of the society and a much more pioneering figure. I laughed and said that none of them have had or will ever have the impact that Stanzin has had on me. I secretly took these pictures of him for this post (he is very photo-shy!). that is why the pictures are slightly shaky. Later I showed them to him saying I will add them to the post whether he likes it or not (of course I would not have if he did not approve of it). Guess what our dear Stanzin said in response: “As long as some pretty lady sees them and asks me out on a date, I am fine!” Well, that’s Stanzin for you, a rare limited edition human being, a true winner! (and isn’t his Mohawk hairstyle cute?) I wish more like him were made!
One person who comes to my mind when I think of these qualities, trust, passion, reliability, pioneering, simplicity and self-belief, is the youth icon, Lionel Messi. Barcelona star Lionel Messi, who is the heir apparent to the throne left vacant by Diego Armando Maradona, has overcome obstacles like growth hormone deficiency to become the stalwart that he is today. The only football player in history to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or four times, all of which he won consecutively, and the first player to win three European Golden Shoes, Messi has broken world records and created historical moments for not only sports lovers but for people throughout the world. Through his passion and talent, he has given us all things to learn from and qualities to emulate.
Now Lionel Messi has joined hands with Tata Motors as their global ambassador to add to the latter’s strong consumer motivation of ‘Seeking Excellence’ and ‘Self Belief’. This partnership, for me, showcases not only the confluence of two global brands-Tata Motors and Lionel Messi, but also creating great stories. The campaign builds upon Tata Motors’ DNA of trust, authenticity, reliability, simplicity, as well as its commitment to innovation. Hats off to both of them, for coming together and creating stuff that is undoubtedly #madeofgreat!
If you have some thoughts to share about this #madeofgreat association, then please tell me what you think (in the comment section below). If I find your answer inspiring and #madeofgreat, then you will win an Amazon voucher of Rupees 750 :)