Tis’ the season of love, and no, not the bright red-coloured one, but the one that’s rainbow hued. With pride in the air, we’ve decided to turn our attention to members of the community, who have not only broken the confinements of hetero-normality, but also used platforms available to them to set new benchmarks within their respective fields. 

When it comes to food, the names that come to mind are that of chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar and her business and life partner, Shalini Krishan. The couple is behind one of Goa’s most unique culinary offerings, Edible Archives — a space for intersectional research in food, which is supplanted by a truly adventurous, cuisine-agnostic and ingredient-forward bar and kitchen. Dastidar and Krishnan travelled around the country for three years looking for rice cultivars that were going off the grid. And their project ultimately found its way to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2018, with their collective passion culminating in this much-celebrated diner. 

We reached out to the duo to understand how they navigate life as partners working on a business together, what are the challenges therein and what it takes to carve a space for yourself in an industry that continues to be intensely male-dominated. 

Edited excerpts from the Interview

The food industry can be demanding in terms of hours. How have you both navigated that, given that it can have a direct effect on relationships?

Ghosh Dastidar:  It was difficult in the beginning, because as a chef, I would be returning home only by 1 am, whereas Shalini,  as an editor, would have to leave the house by 8 am. Even after moving in together, we rarely got to see each other. Sometimes, we used to have to meet at a cafe, to plan schedules. Now, it’s easier since we work together and get to see each other more. 

Do you have any special days planned? A scheduled date night perhaps?

Krishnan: I don’t think it is as formalised as that. Sometimes we’ll go for a small drive from place to place, but we will stop for 10-15 minutes occasionally, just to look at the view. 

Ghosh Dastidar: Yeah, we don’t plan anything. For instance, if we want to have a really long conversation, we’d go to the beach for a swim or go for a hike. 

What has being queer in the F&B space been like?

Krishnan: I’ve noticed how difficult it is to navigate it just as two women. Of course, we have to do so as a queer couple, but doing it as a female queer couple is more challenging. The F&B industry is extremely male-dominated. And since what we’re doing with Edible Archives is so different, there’s been some pushbacks. More than often I’ve been told, “Oh, you don’t do things by the book,” but the book is written in a male way of doing things! 

Ghosh Dastidar: The whole industry is a big boys club. Yes, even though it was formalised, there’s no effort being put into involving women as a part of it, due to the taxing hours and late nights. This is ironic because in India it is traditionally the women who manage the house and cook for everyone. We are trying to create a path for them, but it has been a challenge, so to speak. 

[To Shalini] You’ve mentioned that you used to be completely exhausted during the initial years of Edible Archives, was there a time when you questioned the project?

Krishnan: No, I don’t think so. The reason being that there is always something interesting happening behind the scenes. For example, we’re constantly looking to grow different types of plants with indigenous seeds. So, when there were instances, like closing the restaurant at 1 am, where I found myself asking why I was doing this, I found the answer in the garden, in writing or in research. It never felt like crunch work. 

[To Anumitra] You have worked with Japanese & Italian cuisine before; have you integrated any of those learnings into your menu at EA?

Ghosh Dastidar: Absolutely! But it wasn’t just Japan and Italy, I’ve also taken learnings from my work in Bangkok, China and other parts of the world. We call our food cuisine agnostic because we combine local ingredients with different cooking techniques. One of our dishes on the menu consists of raw mango rice, sourced from parts of South India, and served with glazed mackerel, which can be found in the coastal area of Japan. 

It is often suggested that you shouldn’t be starting a business with friends and family, but so far you two have been the antithesis of that. Can you elaborate on what are the advantages and disadvantages of working with your partner?

Krishnan: The obvious advantage is that you really get to know the person when you’re working together. When we talk about partners and relationships, we think of romance and domesticity. But how many people know their partner as a professional?

Ghosh Dastidar: Sometimes it does get a little difficult to define boundaries. How you talk to your partner in a workspace is completely different from how you speak to them in a home setting. If boundaries are blurred things can spill from one place to the other. You have to work with each other and discuss the difference between object language and meta language. Discussion about work should always involve meta language. At the restaurant, we behave like colleagues and talk to each other in a certain way. 

Krishnan: We also try to follow a system of functional hierarchies. When there are times when Anumitra and I disagree on something related to the food, the hierarchy works in her favour because of her expertise. In a similar way, when it comes to discussion about growing plants, social media and branding, I have the final say. But the keyword here is, functionality, which ensures there are no ego clashes between us. Actually, I don’t think we’ve ever had any of those. 

What was your first date like?

Ghosh Dastidar: We both like Naga cuisine so we went to a Naga restaurant. I said that the starter is nice, but let’s go to another restaurant for the main course. They also served Naga food, but in a different style. That was our first date — jumping from one restaurant to the other. 

(Image credits: Edible Archives)