On heritage, identity and beautiful spaces
Plates ripe with home-cooked sustenance jostle for space on the table. Cutlery rings as it clashes with crockery, arms stretch across tables as they brush past warm bodies. Hearts – and bellies – full to the brim.
How does one create a space where people can truly connect over food? How can a host make their guests feel relaxed, at ease, and suitably cared for? Since launching our all-new Dishoom Crockery, we have been pondering the answers to these questions even more than usual.
We recently discussed them with Creative Director - and frequent dinner party hostess - Kirthanaa Naidu when we invited her to create a first-class tablescape in our Canary Wharf café.
As we talk, she tinkers with tea cups, remarks on the vibrant blue of the chintz, smooths crinkles in the linen tablecloth, preens delicate flower petals. She shares stories from her childhood, explains the origins of her craft, and shares her passion for a beautifully inviting setting.
Kirthanaa, thank you for joining us today. Do tell us a little bit about your background.
I grew up in Malaysia to an Indian family, so I come from a Tamil background and with Tamil culture in terms of food and traditions. My grandparents were from South India – Chennai and my parents are first generation Malaysian Indian. I came to the UK when I was 13.
What does your Malaysian heritage mean to you?
When we came to the UK, I went to a boarding school where there were not many people of colour. My siblings and I were the only South Asians in the whole school. I very much lost that part of me being away from my parents and home for such a long time.
Cooking helped me connect with my Malaysian heritage and has been an important part of figuring out my identity. Like most South Asian families, I grew up in a household where food defined the whole day. It’s how my mum shows her love towards us.
I love sharing the food of my culture with people. When I got to university, I began hosting big dinner parties with my friends, where I introduced them to classic Malaysian dishes. That’s something I picked up from my mum – cooking is definitely my love language.
What inspired your love for table setting?
I was working on the events team at Amnesty International when the first lockdown happened in 2020 and I got furloughed.
With my newly found free time, I did a pastry-making course and was cooking and baking quite a lot, which is when I started posting on Instagram. Slowly that developed into hosting dinner parties on the weekends with my flatmates. Each time it would be based on a country that I travelled to, whether that was Mexico or India or Italy. I’d cook the food from the pace I'd been to, and set the table.
My plan pre-covid was to start doing Malaysian supper clubs to host people and connect over conversations, with all the funds going to charity. I love to introduce people to my culture and I really wanted to create a community to share the food from my country with loved ones.
I started posting pictures of the tables I was creating and built up my own tableware collection from there. It took a bit of time to define my style but after a year or two I was able to start working with some amazing brands.
You make hosting look effortless - do share your secrets!
People think I am very organised, but actually I am quite chaotic sometimes! It takes time to figure out what your style is. Put it all out on the table and play around with it a little.
One essential thing to have is a plain white linen. You can create layers and build colour with menus, crockery, candles or napkins. I love to include seasonal flowers too. When it’s May I'm excited about peonies, or Dahlia in September – those are my favourite.
Creating beautiful table settings and sharing my food helps keep me connected to my heritage. Food brings everyone together. In Malaysia you would never have your own dishes, you just share everything, family style. Five or six different things, all sat in the middle of the table.
That's how I do it in my supper clubs as well. It's important to bring people together over food, to connect, have conversations and try a little bit of everything. You get to experience things differently when you’re with people of other cultures.
What is your all-time favourite Malaysian dish?
I'm going to go with Nasi Lemak, it is the one thing that I eat every time I go home – sometimes twice a day.
It's our national dish and full of punchy flavours. It's essentially coconut rice with sambal, a boiled egg, cucumber, peanuts and fried anchovies – you can make it fancy by adding fried chicken or chicken rendang.
When I lived in Malaysia, my mum used to give me pocket money and I would buy Nasi Lemak and a Milo for breakfast, so it’s quite nostalgic for me.