Kirthanaa, tell us a little bit about yourself...
I grew up in Malaysia, where all of my family still live, and I left for the UK when I was just 12. So my upbringing to date has been split between the two countries, both of which I consider home, with their respective cultures having an enormous influence on my life. I work for Amnesty International, where I create engaging content on their digital platforms. Aside from the day job I’m also a freelance stylist, where I’m fortunate enough to design tablescapes and create content for brands that I love.
How did you get into cooking and baking?
I grew up in a household centred around food, with my mum cooking several meals every day that we would all help with and feast on. We often had so much food we would give it out to people in the neighbourhood! I learned so much of what I know about food and taste from my mum and sisters, which spurred a passion and understanding for other flavours and cuisines.
My love for baking was developed in the UK, as we didn’t make that many cakes at home in Malaysia. I have an insatiable sweet tooth, and so though the baking was fun, what I really enjoyed was the finished product! My baking has come on leaps and bounds since before the pandemic, as I signed up to online classes that meant I could explore pastries and more technical stuff.
With the festive season in full flow, how important is food to you this time of year?
I am all about festivities, celebrations and bringing people together. And so Christmas is one of my most exciting times of the year, and I make every effort to host as many dinners and drinks in the lead up to the day itself.
When and how did you fall in love with the art of the tablescaping?
I have enjoyed hosting from a young age, so having a table that’s enticing has always been important. I’d say I started exploring tablescaping more during the first lockdown. I was on furlough at the time, so I suddenly found myself with a lot of time. To lift the mood of the house, I’d set a table for my flatmates to nurture a sense of escapism - so each week we would travel to a different a different country through the table by using things I’ve collected from Mexico, Spain, Italy and so on, pairing the table with the food.
Can you tell us a little about your inspirations and creative process behind putting your tablescapes together?
My inspiration derives from my taste, which I would say is relatively understated and refined. And so when I’m setting the table, I try to have just the right amount of objects within frame, and ensure everything looks balanced.
What are your top festive table styling tips?
A table should always reflect the time of year and the mood you want to create – so for Christmas around my table it has to be fun, festive, and warm. Choosing the right decorations for creating this is easier than you think as much of it can be found in parks, gardens and your local shop. It’s a great way to get the family out and about, collecting pinecones, foliage and other natural elements to create the perfect Christmas look.
Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
I would love to host some of the friends I have made through my Instagram work over the last year. The communities I have engaged with have been so supporting and welcoming, and so I would love to repay the warmth they have given me with food, drink and good times!
As well as your tablescaping, you also run Malaysian supper clubs. Could you tell us more about these?
Yes, I have run a few charity supper clubs this year, which were amazing as I’ve always wanted to share the food I grew up with to people who don’t know much about it. My supperclubs draw upon my upbringing in Malaysia, where we have an incredible tradition and culture around food. Fitting with this, the food was all served as sharing plates, with 10 to 12 different dishes served through out the evening. I always find this style of serving and eating create a really comfortable and home-like atmosphere, which is exactly what I’m after. A key part of the supperclubs were, of course, the tablescapes which included fresh flowers, candles, and other decorations.
What is your all-time favourite Malaysian dish/recipe?
Nasi Lemak is, without a doubt, my all time favourite Malaysian dish. Its what I grew up with, and was often the only thing that could get me out of bed early on the weekends! It’s a dish that’s often eaten for breakfast but can also be enjoyed at any time of day. It’s made up of a rich and fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk, pandan and lemongrass - the smell of a fresh batch of this rice bubbling away takes me back home. This is served with sambal, fried anchovies, an egg, cucumber and peanuts - it is simply delicious. It can also come with other sides such as fried chicken or rendang.
Whether it be supper clubs plans to tablescaping projects, what’s next for you? Any future plans?
I am totally unstrategic in how I view my career, which affords me the ability to focus on the things that I love doing. I love creating content for brands that I love, so I hope the future is of fun collaborations with brands that I admire.