Cutting Chai with Shahmen Suku

Shahmen Suku chats on spicing up the kitchen, having a taste of the silver screen and celebrating Radha.

Reading Time: 3 minutes


A performance artist living and working between Sydney and Canberra, Shahmen Suku tells stories of cultural identity, gender roles, displacement and the kitchen through his drag alter ego, Radha.

What is it about cooking that made you want to incorporate it into your performances?

I think food is the great equalizer – everyone needs to eat, and that automatically puts everyone on the same baseline, and then you can use that to tell stories or current affairs. Once everyone’s on the same page, it’s easier to then break the boundaries and talk about something difficult.

What’s something from your Radha persona that’s made its way into Shahmen Suku, or vice versa?

I use Radha to tell my stories and to explore food more, and it’s made me pay attention to family stories. I collect recipes to also to collect stories; I coined the term ‘pickling’ as archiving, how I share and record stories. I wouldn’t necessarily call an aunt to ask how she is, but I’d call to ask for a recipe, which would lead to other conversations – it infiltrates my life as Shahmen Suku to explore these stories and connections with my family.

You did a show called ‘Midnight Masala’. Are you a midnight snacker? If so, what’s your go-to midnight snack?

Depends if I’ve been out! I like a McSpicy Double, or a Filet O’ Fish double, and then I get nuggets, so I get fish and chicken…and a hot fudge sundae! Or if there’s chocolate in the fridge, I’m a chocolate person. The Tony’s Chocolonies Almond or Hazelnut with 80% Dark Chocolate is so good!

Shahmen Suku
(Image: Jess Gleeson)

South Asians have been doing well on MasterChef recently – any cooking show plans?

I’ve only ever come close to being on one! I auditioned for MasterChef but didn’t go through, and I was going to apply again but then that season a Singaporean-Indian chef won and I was like, ‘all the South Asians are winning, I’m never gonna get in!’ I did get close to being on My Kitchen Rules last year, but I pulled out.

I’ve been on ABC’s The Set, and I’ve done my own videos on Instagram, ‘Where you’d Radha be’ where it was like a panel show, so I think that’s the direction I’d like to go, a cooking talk show where you interview guests whilst they cook with you.

What’s something that you’re currently listening to/reading/playing/watching?

I’m on Soundcloud a lot listening to random mixes, and I don’t read, I love audiobooks! I’ve been listening to Theft by Finding by David Sedaris which is a series of his diary entries from the late ‘70s to early 2000s, paints a great picture of the past. I just discovered Gloam by Cole Pulice recently; it’s saxophone, but it’s trippy, which I never thought I’d like that much but it’s a great album.

What’s a word that you like in a South Asian language, and what does it mean?

I mean, it’s a bit predictable, but in Tamil Saptaya (சாப்டியா) or in Malayalam Oonu Kazhicho (ഊണ് കൈഴിച്ചോ), which is ‘have you eaten’. They’re very simple questions but it’s asking a lot more than that – it’s everything, it’s ‘how are you and how’s your day’.

And finally: Soan Papdi or Papdi Chat?

I don’t know what either of these things are… I guess the question is sweet or savoury, right? I think I’m going to have both, like fries with chocolate sundae; you know when you have the salty fries, with the sweet sundae? Not sure how it would work but I would do it! Or I’ll have the savoury first and then I’ll have the sweet one.

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Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker based in Melbourne.

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