Transitions

Written by April Greene, Photos by Robin Randisi and Mike Jesson

Transitions

The first time Rohan Kamicheril ’06 made Sali Boti, a Parsi dish of spiced lamb with onions, it was a disaster. “I poured boiling water on the frozen lamb to thaw it, and it turned gray. I burned the spices in hot oil, then the onions, and every bite was full of cinnamon,” he recalls. “But when I make it now, it’s much better.”

A multilingual writer, editor, and chef, Kamicheril has suffered through many such culinary catastrophes in the years since he graduated from Sarah Lawrence. But with practice and good humor, he and his lucky dinner guests have come to relish the rewards.

Originally from Bangalore, India, Kamicheril attended philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti’s Valley School, where students are encouraged to direct their own learning. “It wasn’t conventionally academic,” he says. “When I went to Sarah Lawrence, I knew they followed a similar model, but I didn’t expect it to be so intense and rigorous. That was a nice surprise.”

Kamicheril met faculty member Melissa Frazier (Russian) as a first-year student. He knew he wanted to study a language, though he hadn’t settled on which one. “Melissa was so charming and so enthralled with Russian that I just signed up—and I never looked back,” he says.

He discovered the liberating logic of grammar in Frazier’s classes, while other professors showed him that writers have choices: They may know the “right” way to do something, but may choose to do it another way.

In addition to Russian, Kamicheril went on to study German and French, and says the multifaceted linguistic education was an apt foundation for his seven-year tenure as the editor of Words Without Borders (WWB), an international literature magazine.

“As an editor, it’s easy to tell people what they ought to be doing, but we had all these wonderful contributors who would debate with me, and I really enjoyed that,” he says. He edited scores of WWB articles and interviews, including an annual issue of queer writing from around the world and one of Urdu fiction.

Kamicheril says he took a lot of joy in bringing new voices to a worldwide audience. Yet he made the difficult decision to leave WWB. “I wanted to apply what I’d learned from this cosmopolitan literary setting to Indian food,” he explains. “I wanted to show people that it varies tremendously by region; it’s not all spicy and heavy.”

As Kamicheril spent more time cooking at home in Brooklyn, friends started suggesting that he and his husband Mike Jesson—a film publicist and wine connoisseur—start a supper club. They were hesitant for a while, but the idea persisted.

“And so, with our interests guiding us and on a leap of faith, the Tiffin Club was born,” he says. “I write on our website about the recipes, so people can read about the history and culture of the food and then taste it. Shaking up the American idea of Indian food is really important to me.”

“ Not to sound too bombastic, but I feel I’m doing what I was meant to do.”