Loveís the recipe for this cook

Food is Home. The Little Book of Italian Cooking.
by Sarjano. Penguin. Pages 269. Rs. 250

Food is Home. The Little Book of Italian CookingPasta, sauces, gnocchi, lasagne, chicken soup, focaccia, spaghetti, farfelle, and risotto might be mouth-watering but not as much as this book by Sarjano is.

The author and master chef, whose repertoire incorporates journalism and photography, runs the International Academy of Italian Cooking in Goa. He was in charge of the kitchen at the Osho Ashram in Pune for over 20 years, where, he admits, the aroma from his kitchen sorely tried the concentration of the vipassana meditators.

Osho, who once said of him, "Those who have been to his place have tasted enlightenment in his spaghetti," probably, recognised the chief ingredient that went into his cooking. Sarjano identifies that ingredient as love. He believed that since food being cooked will enter the "bodies of our friends and loved ones", it cannot be treated casually. "No!" he declares: "Cooking has to be recognised for what it isóa noble, loving alchemical activity, which can determine our physical, psychological and emotional health."

Perhaps itís due to the influence of Osho that for Sarjano cooking is almost a spiritual act which overwhelms the cook "with gratitude and the responsibility of such a blessing."

There is no need for any cooking skills. Neither recipes nor are any special ingredients are needed. One has to be fluid, creative and loving. If you can cook with complete consciousness with not even music to disturb you, you are engaging in a spiritual movement which draws you close to God.

The book, claims the author, is not about recipes but about the philosophy of cooking. If you are looking for the regular Italian cookbook, this one may not be for you. Sure, the ingredients are listed but thatís where the comparison ends. The detail and the companying anecdote that goes into each recipe makes it a delightful read. Even if you are never going to endeavour making a Luciaís salad, gnocchi or pizza. Yet, every detail is so carefully given that once you start, you canít go wrong. If the chef talks about boiling potatoes, heís even going to tell you that you should poke them with a fork to check if they are cooked. Such details remind one of grandmaís recipes. The stories he tells while he teaches are funny, touching; tongue-in-cheek`85you could catch him in any mood.

Everythingís do-able, even making red or green pasta or ravioli. The chef makes it so simple that youíll want to "participate with joy". However, blending the pasta must be with the tender, sensuous touch you will use on your lover and not smash the dough as if you are "beating the shit out of your ghosts or your enemies or releasing your anger."

Once heís got the readerís attention. Sarjano cunningly waltzes off to the realms of the fanciful. Do you want to make a sauce with pasta? Whatís your preferenceóthe male tomato sauce, the female tomato sauce or even the bisexual tomato sauce? While the former is determined and imperious, the latter is softer, gentler and delicate. Then heíll tell you all about Anna and her brood of children, her artistry with the tomato sauce and her pasta secrets.

Sometimes his stories get so fanciful that you wonder if along with a culinary trip, he isnít taking you for a ride. When he talks, for example, of hypnotising a chicken before giving her a painless death. But then, claims he, itís a scientifically proven fact that animals can be thus entranced.

The mercurial Sarjano is entrancing. One moment, heís ruminating on The Buddha, Osho or Zen and the next, he is rolling around the floor, throwing a temper tantrum because a German lady asks for ketchup to "suffocate" his lasagne with. Other things held up to scorn are Maggi cubes, too many herbs used in cooking and being stereotyped as a pizza maker. The book, therefore, is not only a delicious cache of great food but also a journal of a rich life, lived to its fullest.