Aachi’s Charm in Chennai’s Choicest

Renovated in July 2013, The Raintree offers a quintessential South Indian dining experience set in a gorgeous location in the heart of Chennai. We were invited to try the ‘Aachi Samayal’ – a 2014 take on the age old style of cooking adopted by the maamis or homemakers of the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu in yesteryears.

While the traditional way of eating a South Indian meal is off a banana leaf, the Raintree team have improvised to place a neatly cut banana leaf on a piece of fine crockery which makes for easy eating for those not used to licking their fingers off the leaf. Expect to be pampered and spoilt over a grand four-course meal replete with the choicest Chettinad fare in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

Must order: The Jasmine Martini – a unique concoction which involves a jasmine infused sugar syrup fused with vodka to make for a stunning drink that tastes better than it sounds or reads!

Veg: Rs. 899
Non-Veg: Rs. 999

The Aachi Samayal is available for lunch. At those prices, you should definitely be planning your next Saturday lunch there.

The Raintree
Vivanta by Taj – Connamara
Binny Road
Chennai – 600002
Ph: 044-2852 0123

Modern take on a traditional cup of filter coffee

Modern take on a traditional cup of filter coffee

A finely cut banana leaf placed on a piece of modern crockery to match tradition with convenience

A finely cut banana leaf placed on a piece of modern crockery to match tradition with convenience

Pineapple Halwa (Dessert)

Pineapple Halwa (Dessert)

 

 

PowerPoint – Pain point?

Disclaimer: Owing to the ubiquitous nature of Microsoft’s Office products, my article below references to them. Feel free to replace them with any similar productivity tool you may use – eg. Keynote instead of PowerPoint.

I’ve always received compliments for my PowerPoint presentations. Truth be told, I don’t really enjoy making them. Further truth be told, my footing into the world of online media started off when I was 13 and making PowerPoint presentations for my mother’s travel company. Still, I never really enjoyed it back then either. The only thing that drew me toward it back then was transitions – it was the first time I, an early teenager, could see my creation (words, mostly then), come to life – literally.

Today, I encounter at least 6-8 PowerPoint presentations in a day of which maybe 2-3 are made by my team at Influx while the rest are from media owners, sponsorship solicitors, etc trying to peddle their wares. I wish I could say 9 out of those 10 sucked. But I’d be pushed to say 9.8 out of any 10 suck, including those made by us at Influx. I almost ALWAYS re-do presentations made by my colleagues. Why do I let them still do it in the first place? Since I pay them money to do so and it’s something they ought to learn.

At the risk of being non-stop preachy, I’ll get down to it. What exactly does it take to make a good PowerPoint presentation?

1. Structure – I almost always start off by typing out my presentations in Word so that the structure flows from my head on to paper. Some people may prefer to even write it down on paper and then put it into the presentation – whatever works – but do it. Remember, PowerPoint is a visual medium – the software’s design is something that I have found to hinder flow of thought the way Microsoft Word or even Notepad encourages.

2. Layout –
It is not cool to center align all your text, title, pictures, etc – No No, NO! Even if you have zero exposure to design or design skills, think of a newspaper or a magazine. Think of how it is laid out – there’s a masthead on top, there are columns and the layout adapts to the amount of content available. There are margins, and things align up – just like your second grade teacher taught you – draw a margin and write within the lines.

3. Fonts – Honestly, if you don’t know how to use Photoshop or even the most basic visual enhancement tools of PowerPoint, just try and get a good looking font. Remember, fonts say a lot. A bold font can make a statement, a sans-serif font is easier to read on screen, a rounded font type is a little more emotional and so on and so forth. Caution: Don’t overdo it. Head to www.dafont.com or www.google.com/webfonts for a fabulous collection of fonts. I especially recommend the later since all the fonts are web-safe. And finally, NEVER use more than 2 fonts in a deck – one for titles, sub titles and highlights and another for body copy.

Some interesting articles on the subject:

4. Transitions –
Yes, that fancy, amazing thing about PowerPoint presentations – lose it. Transitions died somewhere between 1999 and 2003. Invest that time into ensuring your presentation is perfectly aligned or in looking up a great font. Similarly, timed or ‘auto proceed’ presentations are virtually obsolete today.

5. Avoid ‘multimedia’ – Embedding video or audio somehow always ends up letting you down at the time of the presentation. There’s no harm in inserting a slide indicating that the presenter will now be leaving the presentation window to another one to showcase a video or a PDF.

6. The King: Content –
Everything else aside, unless your content is sound, well researched and presented in a great flow of natural thought, you will easily lose your audience. Keep it brief – avoid paragraphs of content – bullets are your best friend. Avoid filling your presentation with content the way you speak it – that’s what you are there for or in your absence, your audience’s imagination /intelligence is.

7. Invest in design –
While yes, content is king, the design makes the first impression unlike anything else. Whether the audience comprises visually attuned folks or not, just like how a rose is a rose to anyone, most people will appreciate something that’s well designed. It might not secure you that round of funding or win you that pitch but it will definitely ensure that your audience is ‘charmed’. Needless to say, design is subjective as well as very very easy to screw up. So exercise reasonable care to stay within your skills. Make the effort to request friends who are designers or even engage an agency. Better still, just buy a template and try and get your presentation to look as close to the original template even AFTER you have put in your content.

These are just the basics, but if you keep these in mind, you’ll make a fairly good deck – better than 98% of those out there! Remember, a presentation you share or e-mail with someone is filling in for your actual physical presence. So equate how much you’d invest into it as against how much you’d invest if you personally made the presentation – the content is your research & preparation, the fonts the clothes you’d pick to wear & the design being the perfume, watch & pen you choose to carry.

Have any great PowerPoint presentations you’ve come across? Feel free to share links to them in the comments.

 

Mother Culture Magic

I can’t seem to blame one single factor for the dwindling influence of our mother tongues or ‘mother-cultures’ (if such a phrase even exists though it probably makes sense) on our every day lives. At a very macro level, I think I’d say globalization – it forced upon us the need to be competitive at a global level which translated into the adoption of western practices, taste and whatever little of a culture that existed.

A traditional game of vermillion at Durga Puja – the shining star of the Bengali festival calendar.

But occasionally comes across a day like today when you experience an exposition of your ‘mother-culture’ that shakes certain assumptions and beliefs that have formed. I wanted to quickly list down here some examples of my culture that I have / had written off or just passed by.

Perspective: I have lived in Chennai all my life. I was born here to parents who are an eclectic example of national integration. Dad was a Tamizhian, born and brought up in Kerala where growing up, he had more Malayalam influence than Tamizh. Mom is Bengali, born in UP, brought up in Bihar, that part of Bihar that’s now Jharkhand! They moved to Chennai in 1976 post which I was born here in 1984.

I have always been more Bengali than Tamizh / Malayali. Rarely in contact with the paternal side of the family, I spent most of my childhood (vacations) attached to the maternal uncles, cousins and their homes in Kolkata, Kharagpur (West Bengal) & Jamshedpur (Bihar, now Jharkhand).

Now coming to the glaring cultural omissions / wrongful assumptions of my life till now:

  1. Bengali music
    Growing up, all my lullabies were in Bengali. Owing to the beautiful nature of the language, there were very few ‘designated’ lullabies – most normal songs also passed off as lullabies. As a result, while I never really actively engaged in bengali music, it always stuck in my head somewhere and struck a chord that every once in a while when I heard it playing at a public place. Today while sitting back in my office and listening to Aami Chini Go Chini and Jodi Tor Daak Shuney (as made popular in Amitabh Bachchan’s voice in the 2012 movie Kahaani – Watch) in their original renditions, I was really moved and felt bad for having missed out on years of enjoying this fabulous genre of music. In fact, every time I am in Kolkata, Rahul exposes me to some great numbers that never really find room in my luggage back to Chennai. It’s especially impressive how Bengali music has flourished in genres like Rock and Rap, doing much better than more mainstream languages like Hindi, Tamizh or Telugu. I can only think of Sindhi as the other language where music has flourished as much as bengali.The other wonderful part of Bengali music is the lyrics of the songs. Almost every song seems to have such powerful lyrics that make some connection with your mind somewhere. Of course, this applies only to those who actually understand the language! To this end, bengalis owe it to a certain Pandit Shri Rabindranath Tagore who, almost 150 years ago, set the bar for Bengali song writing so high that the contemporaries and generations to follow almost felt compelled to keep up :-)But that said, trust me, Bengali songs or rather music makes for very easy listening, even to those who don’t understand the language.
  2. Bengali Cinema
    If there was Tagore in helping shape Bengali music, there was a Satyajit Ray in shaping Bengali cinema. A legend in his own right, Ray’s films were “pure cinema”, as described by many sections of Indian and British media. Just reading the Wiki on his life brought a smile to my face, his especial disdain for “stupid western clients” during his stint as a Junior Visualizer for a British run advertising agency in 1948. That junior visualizer went on to deliver some of the best exposition of Indian cinema the world had seen till then – Panther Panchali, Mahanagar, Charulatha, Devi among others. His most successful commercial venture was Goopy Gyne Bagha Bayen which was a comic story of 2 men who travel by foot to prevent impending war between two neighbouring kingdoms. When viewed through the lens of perspective of the period when this movie was made, one gets to appreciate the genius of Ray’s narrative and art of story telling. Even more popular than the movie itself was its music – again, composed by Ray himself. The bhooter naach or Ghost’s dance was a great scene from the movie, representing the state of political & socio-economic affairs of pre and post independence India.  As kids, we did watch this movie and remember rolling over in laughter. Unfortunately, it still remains as the only Bengali movie I have watched entirely. In recent years, directors like Rituporno Ghosh and Srijit Mukherji have kept the flag of quality Bengali cinema flying high.
  3. Bengali Food
    Probably the least guilt raising of the 4 points listed here, I have done good justice to Bengali food in the last 2-3 years thanks to Bay Leaf, the bengali cuisine restaurant in Chennai. From the classic Rolls to more authentic Jhingey Posto, Daab Chingdi, Chola’r Daal, Maach-er Paathudi, Bhapa Eelish (Hilsa) and Kawsha Mangsho, Bay Leaf has been rocking it for us. Come Durga Puja and out comes the awesome Panchmeshali Shobji, Khichudi, Shukto and Tomat’er chutney as heroes of those 5 days. Aah, bliss. And then there’s our wonderful Chaale’r payesh (Arasi payasam for my dravidian friends). More bliss. I strongly recommend all of you sample bengali cuisine at some point in your lives. Contrary to rubbish rumours, not all Bengali cooking has sugar nor is it made in mustard oil. You will definitely come back for more.
  4. Bengali women
    Like everything else to do with women, this point is stickier than the rest. From what I have seen in my life – my family and Bengali families around me, Bengali women are always the primary driving force. I am resisting from use of words like domineering with the hope of being served my next meal in the house 🙂 As a result, I had created a mental block that I did NOT want to marry a bengali woman EVER! I had even gone on to convince myself that I would enjoy marriage with someone from another region or background since it would allow me to learn and absorb a lot about a new culture. Agreed, there is some merit in that theory. But off late I have realized that my theory was bull shit. Bengali being the thread that it is, is a fabulous culture and common ground for the foundation of a great marriage. The joy of sharing beyond just lives but also souls of the partners definitely augurs for a beautiful married life. I wish myself luck in possibly finding a partner with whom I can sit back and enjoy a Satyajit Ray movie on Sunday afternoon after a fulfilling meal of Luchi, chola’r daal & kawsha mangsho. 
I somehow feel I am not alone in this conundrum. I think a lot of people who live outside of their ‘mother-territories’ (Yes I know I am really pushing creative license here!) tend to get distanced from their ‘mother-culture’. However, I am not sure how many of them have this awakening in time to change course and still get a chance to enjoy the joys of their cultures. I have and I am glad.

Party Host 101

Admittedly I don’t blog enough. I have an Evernote with a whole list of topics to blog about – but none really pushes me to open up my computer and start typing like NOW! (The iPad is great for consumption, rarely for content creation). But an incident that happened last night had me thinking overnight and I decided to pen this today.

Disclaimer: Some points of this post might have me come across as bashful and indulging in self-praise. My only defence is that narrating of those parts was important to set context for the post. Thank you. 

My mom got back into town after a 5 month stint in the US (mostly chilling & cooking up some great food for parties in SoCal) and decided she wanted to throw herself a homecoming party. About 15 of her friends were invited and I decided to call about 7-8 of mine. That number eventually swelled to a grand total of about 40 at peak during the course of the night. One of the last minute additions was my dear Prashanth P2 Nagarajan and his group of about 10 people! Before he left for the night (around 3:45am), he repeatedly stressed on how he wanted to learn from me on how to be a perfect host. He said he was particular impressed with how I was never fazed by last minute additions to the party list and was always open to more people joining in. Prashanth is in the process of rebuilding his home and hopes to become a prominent fixture in the city’s party venue list – trust me, with a heart like his, he sure is on his way to being a great partyman.

This post is to encapsule some key elements of throwing a great party. How to come out unscathed and guests waiting for the announcement of your next one.

1. Heart

Throwing a party is 60% heart, 40% effort. You really have to love entertaining people to be able to throw a good party. And trust me, all those frustrating moments of putting together the perfect evening will fade when your guests come forward to graciously thank you at the end of the night.

I almost put in as much effort into planning a party as I might into wooing a woman – everything’s got to be perfect, take the person by surprise and ensure a smile. Also, if you throw a party regularly, it’s not about making EVERYTHING unique each time – it’s about that special something that’s unique THIS time.

2. Discovering & leveraging your USP

B-52

B-52 by The Sharck

Every party and every host has his or her own USP. In my case, the entire party always revolves around my bar – it is the venue as well as the centre piece. Coupled with the fact that I love serving alcohol (the finest, even if I often get ranted at because of it) and cocktails makes my bar the USP of my parties. Similarly, when Prashanth becomes party host, I think besides his awesome house to be & bar to be, the most identifiable aspect of him is his sense of humor – great timing and quick wit – he will and must learn to capitalize on the same, not necessarily always resorting to comedy of the stand up variety.

3. Preparation

Do NOT leave anything to chance – something ignored is something definitely bound to go wrong. Here’s  quick check list of what to do before the party:

  • Plan the event somewhat well in advance, at least 2 weeks. People are getting increasingly social and may not be available at short notice – not necessarily putting up their price. Just respect their schedules.
  • Make the guest list – Send out SMS invites and try to get confirmations to know the party size you are expecting
  • Set the menu – decide if you will be cooking at home or ordering in. If you do NOT know the party well enough, ask how many Veg & Non Veg people you are expecting. Also, do note that if the group is somewhat close and booze is going to be free flowing, you can down play the food aspect. Most people will drink till late and a decent array of short eats will do the trick. Just throw in a biriyani, rotis, some paneer & a basic dessert as dinner back up.
  • Try and spread the cooking (if cooking at home) between hours 36 and 12 before the event. Will give you enough time to recover from mishaps if any.
  • Test your appliances – if you are living in Chennai or most other parts of India (excepting the winter months in cities up north), you will definitely want to ensure your refrigerators are defrosted and your air conditioners working. If at the slightest hint of stress in cooling properly, get your air conditioner serviced and gas re-filled (Rs. 1800-2000).
  • Play List – Decide the sort of music you want to play through the evening and into the night. Go about arranging it on CDs or downloading them. GET THE SEQUENCE RIGHT! You do NOT want to welcome your guests with Mr. 305 Pitbull at 8:30pm. Start off with some easy lounge or bollywood music and then transition to something with rhythm but not necessarily very loud. Go with the (alcohol) flow and keep building up the tempo as the night goes on.
  • Sound check – Check your sound system to ensure everything’s ship shape. You might think this is be being paranoid but trust me, at my uber planned last weekend party, the sound system completely let me down with my rear channels as well as the sub woofer completely refusing to work. I decided not to bother too much about it and ensured people got served more alcohol (:-p). When I checked it the next day, someone or something had caused the sub woofer’s setting on the receiver to Off instead of On! If only I had done my sound check….
  • Ensure power back up is in place
  • Cutlery, crockery, glasses are sufficient, cleaned and readied for use
  • It’s quite easy to forget the mixes – Soda, water, Coke, 7 UP, Red Bull & Orange Juice are bare essentials. If you plan on whipping up cocktails, get their mixes sorted out – usually various types of juices, bitters, bitter lemon, ginger ale, tonic water, etc help.
  • If you have pets, have a pet plan – they react very differently to different situations – loud music, people petting them, people eating around them, ignoring them, etc. Ensure you have that sorted.

4. The Bar

– Alcohol

The not-so-secret ingredient of a great party, the alcohol requires fair planning to ensure you don’t run dry – your bar as well as your bank! It’s quite acceptable if you just have the basic whisky, vodka, rum and beer on offer with some basic mixes as said earlier. However, if you do enjoy bar tending and want to push out some cocktails, plan them up front and make a list of what cocktails you will serve. WARNING – DO NOT try and wing this. You will either miss out key ingredients (and you will realize this precisely when all the other ingredients have gone into the shaker!) or ruin the cocktail.

– Ice

The key to the best drinks is ice. Ensure you buy from a reliable source to the rough thumb rule of about 100 gms per person attending.  I almost always buy atleast 10 kgs. I get mine home delivered by Mr. Padmanabhan from Golden Ice (+91 9080335522). Rs. 20 per kilo and approx Rs. 150 delivery charges to most parts of Chennai.

– Equipment

Clean up your bar and the equipment. You do not want to be serving your guests in dirty glasses with dirty ice tongs or mixing with soiled stirrers. Also, if you are in cocktail mode, do keep in mind that you will need more than one shaker. Usually drinks with juices will dominate one shaker while save the other one for drinks with milk and cream. This will save you the hassle of constantly running to the loo to wash a shaker.

5. Liven things up

Party Night - Invite

Invite to a party at B-52 in September, 2012

As passe as they may seem, setting a theme for your party almost always will get your guests excited. While some will make the effort to adhere, the others will simply not bother. Let this not deter you from livening things up with a quirky theme. Western, Retro, Polka, colors, etc have all been done to death. I particularly remember bling, silver and underwater as themes that excited me in the recent past.

I try and get some livery going around the event by putting up a specially designed invite and a curated menu for the evening. I like e-mailing this to guests, putting it up on Facebook and indulging in other such PR. Besides getting you recognition, it also adds to the ‘hep’ value of the evening where your guests are going to be that evening.

6. Ask for help

Unless you are super human, you will never be able to pull off throwing a good party for anything above ten people without help. If you are lucky, you probably have good, reliable domestic help. If not, don’t hesitate to ask your friends for help. Remember, if you are going to be captive behind the bar or DJ console or camera through the night, most guests are going to have a tough time having a good time, without access to you at your party – especially if it’s a disparate group. Let friends help you with the bar, music, taking pictures, cooking, serving & cleaning up even.

7. The smoking areas

If you live in a flat, your guests are most likely to smoke either in a verandah / balcony if your house has one attached or some other common place. Prepare the space with an ashtray and possibly some aromatic oils. Especially in the case of common areas that other apartment residents’ use, ensure your help cleans up the place immediately after most guests have gone. You are definitely going to be served a notice by the association if they discover cigarette stubs and empty beer cans in the common areas.

8. The back up plan

When things go bad, you have to be prepared. Some basic steps:

  • Have spare bedding for those who have had one too many to drink
  • If possible, have a driver on standby to drop people off (I always do)
  • Candles in the case of a power cut – plus they look nice and cool and some dark room games could help too. Use this time for some flash photography also.
  • Midnight food delivery service if people get hungry
  • Some basic medicine for the over indulgent who might take sick

Finally – open up your heart and house on party day. If your friends want to bring their friends, as long as you don’t mind, encourage them to bring them over. Don’t let your preparation stop you. What’s the worst that can happen? They know when they are last minute inclusions into your friends’ lists and will not mind in case you run out of food or alcohol for them. They are over to have a good time and the music ain’t going to run out for nobody. Yes it might generally be a good idea to avoid complete strangers since remember, you will still be liable for any events / actions arising out of your party.

Good luck and tell me how your next one goes by tweeting to me @TheSharck or commenting here.

Single & Successful: Why not, thank you!

What would this world be without friends? Well one thing’s for sure, I’d be less famous or in the spotlight! After Vidya’s kindness last time landing me an interview with mylaw.net, this time, it was the turn of Mr. Rahul Bhardwaj & the very lovely Ms. Jas Banwait to sneak me into the Single & Successful section of their blog on TwoMangoes.com – a dating site for Indians in North America.

Much flattered, good souls. May your tribe increase.

The full interview is available here – http://blog.twomangoes.com/single-successful-an-interview-with-harish-anand-thilakan/

Wish List – Sep 2011

I am one of those shameless chaps who loves his birthday, yes, even if it is to remind me that I am turning 27 – in some weird sense a landmark year for men. Atleast in my head & my good friend – K. P. Chidambaram. So as always, for those of you who crib that you can’t seem to decide what to get me, please find below a list of possible goodies which could save you a lot of thinking trouble. Most items are linked to online shops where you could buy them or get more information about the products.

  1. Salvatore Ferragamo iPad 2 Sleeve – $490
  2. Paul Smith for Apple MacBook 13″ Despatch bag – $368
  3. Marc by Marc Jacobs Stardust iPhone 4 Cover– $38
  4. Puma Future Cat M1 Engine II Closed Shoe (Size 11) – Rs. 2999 (40% off on this link) Takes a bow to  Chidambaram K.P. 😉
  5. Burberry Metallic Check Aviator Sunglasses – Rs. 9,750
  6. Louis Vuitton Metal ‘Attitude’ Sunglasses (Color – OR) – Rs. 29,000
  7. Verve magazine 1-year subscription – Rs. 1800 Thank you very much Meera Asrani!
  8. Marc Jacobs Retro Aviator Sunglasses – $325
  9. Apple iPad Dock – $29 Yessvanth Sundarraman, you are very kind 🙂
  10. Parrot AR Drone – Rs. 18,000
  11. Apple TV – $99
  12. Kenneth Cole Reaction Reversible Buckle Belt (Size 40) – Rs. 1,729 (58% discount on this link – Last piece left!) Nandree Venky sir
  13. Paul Smith Multi Stripe Roller Ball – Rs. 6500 Mommy you are the best!

If you wish to online order & have it delivered, my address is:

Harish Anand Thilakan
CG, Alsa Windsor,
23, Kothari Road
Nungambakkam
Chennai – 600034
Ph: +91 44 28260122

Apple.com – we are human too

If you are a web designer, you probably have heard on more than one occasion clients referring to Apple.com as a reference for how their website should be. In all honesty, they deserve that position in their ivory tower too – they do have a great website and it almost always works near perfect.

More so why I was quite excited today when I found a blooper on Apple.com’s online store.

The MacBook Air page on the Apple Store has a page title which reads MacBook Pro. Small it may be but it’s a boo boo never the less.

Try the link today before the eagle eyes in charge of Apple.com get it corrected.

Some showing off, courtesy mylaw.net

The good folks at myLaw.net, influenced primarily, mostly and largely only by my good friend Vidya Raja decided that my life is worthy of encapsulation into a story on their website.

I was quite taken aback as to why a “contextual network” of lawyers would be interested in the life of a law school dropout, but Vidya (as always) managed to convince me that they did.

The story sits here – http://www.mylaw.net/Article/ByArticleId/288/ protected by the annoying need to login to read it. Please bear with the same. I will ask for permission to reproduce the story on this site but till then, please visit their site to view the story.

Excerpt:
“At fourteen, when all his friends were talking about cricket and crushes, Harish Anand was unravelling the mystery box we call computers and immersed in creating webpages. Today, at twenty-six, Harish describes himself as an Internet entrepreneur and marketer by profession, a photographer by passion, and a food critic at heart.”

Why me?!?

As I went about setting up this blog, I could almost hear the domain name screaming out at me the very question which is the title of this post – Why another blog when I already had one going at thesharck.com and which I was anyway unable to keep upto date thanks to my lazy ways.

Well the answer lay within – For a while now, I have wanted to share stuff with others on the internet – incidents, visuals, people, places, news, etc which I keep picking up from my travels and existence. Since my current blog was so strongly themed around food, it didn’t quite make sense to put up, say a picture of Shane Warne and Liz Hurley making out in there. Or for that matter, the drop dead gorgeous new Blackberry PlayBook.

As a result – harishanand.com – keep checking back whenever you can for goss / info on cars, gadgets, shopping, travel, multiplexes, celebrities and of course, food!