As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread worldwide, New York City-based photographer Puxan Chawla-Bhowmick stayed in Paris to be near his mother, Poonam Chawla. Quarantined together, the pair decided to create a cookbook, “Taste of Chalindia,” with accompanying YouTube videos showing interested readers/viewers how to create each dish.
The book has more traditional Indian recipes that we wanted to create with whatever we could find during lockdown in terms of ingredients. The YouTube channel will go further and go into some fusion dishes. We love to mix different cuisines together while maintaining that Indian twist to it.
This is not the mother-son duo’s first time working together. Shortly after graduating college, Puxan and Poonam collaborated on an Indian cookbook, “Inde,” which was published in French in 2013 and republished in 2017. With “Taste of Chalindia”, Puxan decided to go the route of self-publishing the e-cookbook online.
I had a publisher for the first two cookbooks, which was nice for distribution. This time I just said, ‘I want to do it how I shoot it.’
My mom loves cooking. She has a disease which hinders her movement. She can’t walk for long periods of time or she’ll get tired, but in the kitchen, she’s always cooking up. That’s her kind of meditation, she calls it. I think I get tired standing in the kitchen before she does.
In Poonam’s small Parisian apartment, Puxan shot handheld while his mother created dishes like vegetarian butter chicken linguini. When he started filming, Puxan followed Poonam around the kitchen with the camera, trying to capture her in action. This resulted in the two bumping into each other in the small space.
I realized I had to kind of pre-script the whole video and not just run in there. My mom was more comfortable with like ‘you follow me and shoot whatever you want,’ but we had coordinate more together. In the end, it worked out pretty well.
Another constraint of working in a small space was that Puxan couldn’t set up additional lighting. This isn’t an entirely new concept to Puxan, since he has found that many restaurant shoots in Europe do not have the budget for proper studio shoots or the space for large lighting kits. The photographer worked with the kitchen’s natural lighting, resulting in a more editorial look.
Europe, and Paris especially, is a little different for food photography. I fine-tuned that approach of learning how to shoot in tight spaces and how to sculpt the natural light in the way that I wanted.
In addition to shooting recipes for the cookbook and YouTube channel, Puxan and Poonam have begun reaching out to local restaurants about selling some of their sauces and spice mixes. So far, a local, vegan bakery has started using their chai spice mix in one of their pastries, and a Middle Eastern sandwich shop uses Chalindia’s tamarind sauce.
We’re kind of rebranding Chalindia. I didn’t think this would happen this year, but it’s one of those positive surprises.
See more of Puxan’s work at puxanphoto.com.
Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!