Madhur Jaffrey is an award winning actress, celebrated food writer and television personality. She is known for bringing Indian cuisine to the Western world. Madhur has written more than 20 cookbooks. She came to Pakistan at Lahore Literary Festival as a panelist of two sessions, one about her cookery and the other about her career as an actress. On the venue she spared some time to talk exclusively to weekend magazine and shared many facts and experiences of her cooking career.
How does it feel to be in Pakistan?
It’s wonderful. First time I came here fifteen years ago and I was looked after with such great hospitality and I had such a good time that now coming here was an easy decision.
What was it that made you interested in cooking?
I didn’t know how to cook because we had cooks at home in India. It was when I went to England as a drama student at the Royal Academy of Arts I couldn’t get good Indian food. There was a restaurant with terrible food. So I wrote to my mother and requested to send me the recipes for Khara Masala Ka Gosht, Aloo Ghobbi and Hing Jeera Ka Aloo. She sent simple recipes and I started with that. I didn’t know how to cook but I remembered a little bit of taste. So I was able to recreate those dishes. Then my mother kept sending me the recipes and I wrote down all those. It was how it all started.
How many cooking recipes did you inherit from your mother?
The first book which I wrote was the recipes from my family. Then I started travelling around and visited all over India and Asia for collecting recipes.
How many times do you test the recipe?
It depends. Sometimes the recipe works out for the first time and some time I have to repeat for many times until it comes out perfect. I remember when I was making rasgullas at home and those were sour all the time I made. (She laughed) I made ten times until they were right.
You have written more than 20 books of recipes. Is there any particular book to whom you give preference?
I can’t say that I prefer any particular book. They are like my children and one can’t differentiate between her own children. However, I have slight feelings for A Tastes of India.
What is the most difficult part of writing a cookbook?
You can easily write a bad book but for good book it needs precision, enthusiasm and honesty. These are the key factors that engage people and made cuisines popular.
How do you think cooking of the subcontinent has changed over the years?
I think it is pretty much stayed the same but the new things have added. Like anyone else we also get influenced by foreign countries. So there is more Chinese, Japanese and the foods of other countries. One cuisine never stands still, it keeps adding and we are doing the same. Now we are trying to learn new things from the West and they are trying to learn new things from us. So it is both India and Pakistan are making changes. And that is inevitable.
Is there any secret to great curry?
It’s said that the taste is in one’s hand. That means it is in palate, the ability to taste. It is like the ability to see and the ability to hear. Either you have it or you don’t have. Either you have good hearing ability and can enjoy music or you can appreciate painting because you have good eyes. The same is with food. If you have a good palate then you can taste the details of the food.
Is there any way through which a person can develop his palate?
The process starts from childhood. I remember when my children were young I encourage them to taste different dishes either they like that or not. It developed their palate and now they enjoy food of every country either it is Chinese, Mexicans, Italian or of any other region.
It is said that who cooks well also loves to eat.
Yes, that’s true; I love eating and found it difficult to change my eating habits even though I have to stay fit which is the demand of my acting career.
Where do you get your recipe inspiration?
It depends. If I come to your home and eat something delicious, I ask for the recipe, rather I would prefer to see the dish being cooked because I don’t trust how you tell. You don’t tell me how to cut the vegetable, how much oil to be added and how much the flame is required. No one tells these minor details. So the best is to watch because you learn best by watching.
Curry is a now staple in British cuisine, How do you perceive this development?
You can’t stop these things. I think it is quite fair, they ruled us for so many years and now in food we are ruling them.
Has your style of cooking changed over the years?
I try to make things simple both for my readers and for myself because everyone is short of time. So I try to make it simpler and faster.
Any of your children inherited the cooking abilities?
All my children and grand children are very good cooks. They cook everything be it Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans or any other dish. Whatever I can cook they can.
Do you have a favourite food memory?
I have tons of food memories because I forget nothing. I remember as a little child climbing the mango trees and picking the green mangoes and eating them with salt, pepper and chilies. That might be one of my earliest food memories.
How does it feel to be such a great inspiration for people?
I had never thought that so many people would have my cook books. I often think that if my mother would knew this fact she would laugh that this girl would teach how to cook. (She laughed heartily). I think she had no idea that I had such capability. So I am always surprised.
Acting and cooking which one is closer to your heart?
Acting, because that is what I was trained.
What you wanted to be as a growing child...
First I wanted to be a doctor then a painter and an actress.
Your favourite home cooked meal...
Daal with rice, yoghurt and chutney.
One ingredient essential for every dish...
For our kind of food it’s Hari Mirch.