Nomaste is my doing. I'm a foodie who happens to be a graphic designer for the past 15 years of my life.
The origins of Nomaste is the result of my personal story–of Nitin Budhiraja–a softie at heart, a constant tinkerer of the culinary elements, husband to a beautiful fashion designer and father to a tiny bundle of tremendous joy and occasional frustration.
Born into a typical Punjabi family in New Delhi, India, food has always been an inseparable part of my life. My mother–through her cooking–kept our family as one tight unit.
I vividly remember our weekly tradition of long Sunday lunches, where for hours, the aromatics would linger around in the air, making it a complete sensory experience.
And my grandmother–a lady of boundless love and tenderness–who we would visit every summer in the lovely countryside where the air smelled of fresh milk and peacocks supplied the acoustics. There was an amazing sense of peace and slowing down in my Naani's village, none of that traffic and the hustle and bustle of our city lives, and all the time in the world with some of the naughtiest cousins, and fresh food! She would pamper us with fresh milk and yogurt delivered from across the street (the neighbor were farmers), and made the food with loving care from herbs and vegetables from her own kitchen garden, making every meal an act of pure love, and we felt it! I miss the times when we would climb up the tall Jamun tree in the courtyard and fill our pockets with the tangy-sweet fruit, and assemble at the base and enjoy every bite, the bright purple of the fruit dyed our faces a lasting evidence of our joy.
And lastly, my dad–a man who opened up for me the world, literally. And a man who traveled with his a family to the extremities of beautiful India and the world, exploring its endless beauty and instilling a sense of wonder along the way. Thanks to my father, I still carry with me to this day, a defined spirit of boundless exploration and creativity.
As years went by, the spring of 2002 presented me with a life-altering opportunity, to break away from what I knew and had learned all my life, I was bound for America!
I looked up one last time, at the sky, the clouds, the trees, my friend's homes—uncertain of my future relationship with them—I caught a fistful of air and sealed it in my heart. It was time to look ahead.
My first week in America, was nothing to write home about. I felt alone and missing that warm blanket of familiarity. My mother stood beside, comforting me with uplifting conversations about friends and family and food over the phone. Those conversations with my mom made me hungry! Broke and desperate, it was time to take matters in my own hands.
As I set out to make some Dal, a warm, comforting lentil soup to cure my homesick heart, I realized how complex this seemingly simple soup was to make. Food apocalypse ensued shortly after. The occasional lentil found in the soup was still crunchy, and the a fistful of salt added a unique level of in-edibility, not to mention ‘eye-watering’ levels of spice. Sure enough, my roommates after a quick taste, were suddenly reminded of that "really big lunch" they had earlier rendering them ‘not very hungry’.
Ironically, those days of culinary crises had a positive outcome. I was relentless, and spent countless hours in the kitchen, recreating my mom and grandma’s recipes down to the details. I understood food and its value, it helped me find a new sense of respect for my cultural roots. I proudly shared my success stories with my mom, and she was proud! And so was I. I could finally cook to save a life, including mine, and I felt alive!
While in art school training to be a designer, I had the thrilling experience of working in several restaurants—Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan—set against the backdrop of moss tree-lined streets of Savannnah, Georgia. This introduced me to a world of food and flavors unlike I’d ever known before. I participated in International Food Festivals at the college level, cooking for hundreds of people! Over the years, at the restaurants I studied food closely, and I formed lasting bonds with my chefs, and often playing sous chef when things got out of hand.
Spending time in the kitchen, made me aware of the fire that had just been lit, and it was only going to get bigger and stronger.
For years, I’ve been cooking for friends and family to resounding success, good times and endless requests for more. The act of cooking transports me into a blissful state, something I’ve yet to find in anything else I do. Maybe it’s all about that heart-to-heart connection I felt with grandma and her food, or maybe it's a reminder of the joys I had as a child enjoying and sharing the wonderful food from all our travels, and those moments that are now archived in our numerous family photo albums.
Fortunately, my life has been an incredible journey so far, and I’ve learned to put love first into everything I do. As I grow, in true spirit of ‘boundless exploration’ I aspire to scratch the surface of something new or redefine an oldie and wonder if grandma or mom would approve. I think they would, and be proud.
America’s hunger for Indian food is getting stronger, yet there is lots more to be discovered, and a unique story is waiting to be told.
Nomaste is an ode to the rich diversity and versatility of Indian food, and aspires to tell a story that's memorable yet surprising.
Nomaste. Happy eating.