LIFESTYLE

Sonny Thakur In The Kitchen

HOME IS AN OASIS

Words by Katrina Swee | Photography by Sonny Thakur

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

Hands deep in spices, Sonny Thakur and his mother Priya have been seizing the day by whipping up some mango pickles for friends.  This uncertain time has taught everyone, including them, to cope and find pleasure in different ways. We sat down to chat with Sonny as he relived old memories and shared his thoughts about the marriage between food and photography and his latest adventures into home cooking.

 

The photographer’s passion for cooking stemmed from his mother. As an immigrant, Priya began with what her own mother taught her about preparing traditional Indian dishes at home. Priya’s love for cooking and innate curiosity for learning other cuisines were the beginning of Sonny’s understanding of food. She looked through cookbooks and asked friends questions. This was how she brought new experiences to the table while forming a strong bond between her and her son. Growing up, Sonny’s relationship with his family resonated with the character Remy from Ratatouille.

 

“There’s this scene in the film where Remy presents his brother, Emile, with a piece of cheese and I think it was a berry. That was my role with the rest of my family.  My mum and I would cook and say to them,  ‘You have to try this!’ The people in my family who really enjoyed food were my mom and myself. That’s the root of my passion for food.”

Photograph by Sonny Thakur | Sonny's mother Priya

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

With Priya as the lead and Sonny as her sidekick, Sonny was able to explore what food had to offer from the comfort of his home.


“There was always a reason for the food we cooked and we were curious about its origins so it would be tied into a story. Back then, we couldn’t afford to travel as much and food was our escape. That was our entry to travel. I’ve only started cooking just recently so a lot of it was my mum cooking and me telling her, ‘Maybe we should try this or that.’ I fueled her passion for it. That’s my relationship with my mom.”

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

The kitchen became their space for creativity and growth. 

 

Little did Priya know, her passion for cooking would leave a mark on Sonny’s life as he went down the career path of photography, perpetually curious about food and travel. 

 

Sonny began taking photographs in 2008. He was an assistant to Tom Epperson, a renowned American photographer based in Manila. This time taught Sonny more about portrait, food, and hotel photography. A year later, Neil Oshima recommended Sonny to shoot a spread for Rogue Magazine’s “Storming the Kitchen” feature. 

 

“It was at Ilog Maria Honey Bee Farms in Cavite. They raised their own bees, cattle, and produce but also built their own pizza oven. There wasn’t any shoot brief—it was more of an outdoor picnic that was supposed to be a two-page spread but we ended up having so much fun. It was half a day and we churned out at least twenty pizzas from that oven. We had these massive, three-inch steaks that we cooked in there as well. At that point, I knew very little about food. There were things going in the oven that I didn’t know. That curiosity led me to shoot more. The two-page spread ballooned to twelve and that was my entry into food photography.”

The shoot has stayed memorable as it was also Sonny’s first solo assignment, which paved the way to where he is now. From participating in workshops in New Delhi and Siem Reap to co-founding the GRID Magazine, Sonny has become a force in Philippine photography. His numerous assignments have allowed him to travel the world, to see food from a different perspective, and to see the connections between them.

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

"There are a lot of parallels between food and travel. For me, one of the biggest things I feel is the sense of familiarity. I don’t know if that also ties into nostalgia. There are so many dishes I’ve tried out recently and one thing that came to mind after tasting was, ‘Hey, this tastes like something else I’ve had before from a completely different cuisine,’ and it has made me realize that there are so many similarities with how people eat. You and I eat the same. Everyone has a kind of barbecue, everyone wraps meat with bread, and that’s something I now see when I travel.”

He went on to share his love for scallion pancakes. He reminisced about the best one he had during a visit to Hong Kong. Sonny gave in to his craving and decided to make one at home. While preparing the dough, his mum walked into the kitchen and asked if he was making chapati. That day, Priya taught him how chapati could be made with a different ratio and they ended up splitting the dough, rolling it out, and creating both scallion pancakes and chapati.

 

These little parallels were what made Sonny excited about food and travel. He has, once again, used cooking as a way to transport himself to another place, while staying home.

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

Photograph by Sonny Thakur

He constantly looks to books, magazines, and articles online that harmonize with food. Roads and Kingdoms, a website dedicated to food, music, and culture, has been one of the sources he takes inspiration from. Salt Fat Acid Heat is another. Sonny said he praises Samin for her “everyone can cook” attitude and simple recipes grounded in the fundamentals of cooking. Despite traveling regularly, he admitted he has never visited Japan but Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth quickly changed his mind. The author took his family on a three-month-long sabbatical of the country, and went North to South to Japanese food culture.

It’s clear that his curiosity for food has been constant with his consumption of media and cooking sessions with his mother and yet, the photographer has also decided to delve into the unknown at this time.


 

“I’ve always been scared of bread. I’ve never been great at handling flour which is why I’m tackling it head-on right now. I’ve been learning how to knead and how to shape bread which is a really difficult thing to do when you don’t have a mixer. It’s always been super intimidating which is why I’ve never gotten into it before.”

Sonny has also been mixing work with play by using his photography to document and share his cooking experiences with us all. His time working with the F&B industry taught him to be more critical of how food and the surroundings one consumes food in look, translating what he knows to his shoots in his own kitchen. As he gained more popularity as a photographer, his interest for food grew and is still growing to this day. Sonny has recently realized how much he respects and values the food process because of the time he has spent engaged in that space, which gives a whole new meaning to home cooking.

Adora is a department store in Manila that opened in 2008. It features an exclusive mix of brands, from premium to off-pitch, with an intimacy and focus totally fresh to the Philippines. Adora is Manila’s most inspirational center of fashion, beauty, accessories, and jewelry. 

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