Interview - Food Fashion Party's Asha Shivakumar
When Asha Shivakumar talks about food, her face lights up and her smile grows wide. If you get her to talk about her grandma's homemade curries back in India ? She positively glows. I lunched with her last month as she showered me with gifts and nurtured me with food, sharing her journey and creation of “Food Fashion Party,” a wonderfully popular blog filled with Indian-inspired recipes and her slice-of-life stories. When she moved here 19 years ago as a newlywed to study finance in the Bay Area, she never would have guessed where life would take her – into a creative world of food, fun, and family, with tens of thousands of followers who want to hear all about it ! Warm and effervescent, Asha radiates positivity and happiness with her motto - “life is beautiful with food” - and you can understand how her personal stories have swept social media by storm.
Maybe you can start by telling me a bit about how the blog came about ?
It started back in 2012. I had so many friends and friends-of-friends asking me how to make dishes, asking me to send them recipes that were fast, easy, and fun for parties. My friends and family all said my food was so good that I should just start a blog ! And I kept talking about it with my husband for awhile. Until one day my son, who was about 12 at the time, said “Mom, you can't just keep talking about it and talking about it – come and sit down with me, I'm going to start this blog for you !” So the first design was all him !
The name “Food Fashion Party” is so much fun and has really become your brand. How did you choose it ?
I love entertaining and I love the social life. For me, showing you that I care about you is through food. I remember looking through all these blogs looking for recipes to entertain – I wanted it to be simple and look good; I don't want to be in the kitchen all day, I want to be a guest at my own party. Some were very professionally done with beautiful settings and food, but I really wanted to keep it casual and fun. The blog title isn't about what I'm wearing, it's saying that food can be fashionable and simple and you can entertain with it ! I try to get together simple, small groups that can hang out and talk – sometimes I'll say “let's just sing karaoke and have a dosa party !” I show my friends I care about them through food, and when someone enjoys my food, it gives me so much pleasure.
You have tens of thousands of followers now across various social media platforms - it's really taken off in the last three years !
I was featured by Buzzfeed, Cooking Light, and The Feed Feed which was great, but I definitely work at it. The cooking is a breeze for me and I enjoy the styling; honestly it's the photography that takes me awhile and I'm still learning ! I don't know how it all happened but I feel very blessed.
I love scrolling through your images on Instagram - your food always look so beautiful.
I cannot paint a single thing, this is my form of art. I strongly believe what my dad used to say when I was growing up – you eat with your eyes first. He taught me how to present your food, and in what bowls. Food needs to look beautiful before you'll enjoy the flavors, and I'm definitely an artist in this case !
Your blog is about the food but it's also a bit of a diary of your life. I loved your recent post about making jam and all your memories with your grandma.
After that jam post, I had so many emails from people – some were very emotional, asking me “how could you write such a beautiful thing without crying ? Did you cry?” and I said “Yes, I did. I'm very emotional.” I write and I express and I show my love to my grandmama who left us long, long ago. And I'm sure she's looking over me now.”
Is she the one who taught you to cook ?
Growing up, my grandma was one of the most amazing cooks I know – she could cook for 50 people in 2 hours, and it would taste heavenly ! I used to sit next to her and she never asked me to help her, but I was always the taste-tester. I would always get the first bowl or first curry. Without even noticing she would explain to me what goes into it and what color it needs to be - it wasn't teaching, just her talking ! And now the color and smell and taste are just imprinted in me, I was developing my palate and watching how she organized everything. To be honest, I never even cooked til I came here to America !
I find that so hard to believe, you're such a prolific cook now ! What made you start ?
I came here from Bangalore, India back in 1996 to study and to get married. I started cooking the moment I came here ! Imagine I used to eat crazy-good, fresh food everyday, and now I had to learn myself. I didn't even know how long it took for a bean to cook or how long to soak rice. I remember in those days we didn't have laptops or computers and I'd talk to my mum once a week and ask her, “Can you send me that recipe please ?” But I had wonderful friends here, learnt some recipes from them and from my mum, and lots and lots of experimentation.
Is your mum super excited about all your cooking now ?
My mom is amazing – she reads and comments on every post ! And gives me feedback on everything. She's come to the point now where she says, “That looks so good....How did you make that ?” And she loves some of the really personal posts; sometimes she even tears up a bit and is surprised by how much I remember as a child. Because the blog isn't just about food – it's me. It's about family, friends, and my kids and everyone – it's my personality and I just want to share it ! I got so much from my grandma – she would be so proud and I wish I could share it with her, too.
It's so wonderful when families create these lasting memories around food. Do you cook with your two sons ?
Ohmygod, all the time – and they love it ! When my teen was around 3, I would give him a bowl of garlic and ask him to peel it for me. And he'd take forever, but he'd sit there and peel everything ! And now he can cook a wonderful meal for you – he just made me funnel cakes for my birthday – all by himself ! And my baby bear will use everything but the kitchen sink when making his omelet, which by the way, is one of the best ! Everyday my older son makes coffee and the three of us have a snack together – we sit for an hour and talk about school and simply enjoy each other's company.
What's your favorite thing about the blog ?
I love the food itself and sharing the food knowledge that I have, and what goes together and what might not. I love writing my personal stuff there and people relating to it - it's not just about me. I really enjoy when people write to me, and going back and reading my blog posts and reliving those moments. 50 years down the road it's still going to be there and I hope someone can still read and enjoy my story.
When you came here at 21 to study finance and get married, would you ever have guessed you'd be where you are now ?
Not in a million years ! I had a dream of becoming a police officer, a lawyer, or something in finance ! I never knew how to cook – I just enjoyed it and ate everything ! I'm so happy now – I'm blessed every single day that I can do this and God's given me this opportunity and I thank my husband for this. Today I can do whatever I feel like – and it's very creative and it's beautiful. I get to be in this wonderful zone of cooking, and writing, and creating and I love this because it's where I get to show and share myself.
You can follow Asha's stories and recipes on her blog at www.foodfashionparty.com and on Instagram @foodfashionparty
She also recently partnered with Z Gallerie for their 2015 Entertaining Guide – pick up her tips, tricks, and recipes on Z Gallerie HERE.