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Mouthful of fame

A recent spurt in food-based shows on reality TV has everyone drooling over not just the palatable dishes, but also stories of ordinary women and men out to improve their lives with recipes borne out of passion. Chefs from the region who have had a stint on TV tell us how the nation’s taste went global By Archna Balmeet Walia

chandigarh Updated: Mar 02, 2014 17:57 IST
Archna Balmeet Walia

A recent spurt in food-based shows on reality TV has everyone drooling over not just the palatable dishes, but also stories of ordinary women and men out to improve their lives with recipes borne out of passion. Chefs from the region who have had a stint on TV tell us how the nation’s taste went global By Archna Balmeet Walia


Can cooking be considered an art? Or is it a science? Does cooking help one combat everyday stress and refresh the mind? Can something as simple as cooking food make you a star? There are some people out there who would be able to answer these questions brilliantly, for their association with food has been fruitful in more ways than one.

From churning out delectable dishes on their kitchen counters to being recognised for their love for cooking on national TV, their journeys to landing lucrative career options are bewitching.

With almost everyone claiming to be a “foodie” these days, the nation is truly on a mouthwatering roll.

Exotic cuisines and the ingredients that go into them are now easily available at local confectioners, while food joints serving traditional as well as exotic fare mushroom at every neighbourhood. In such times, makers of reality TV have done well to cash in on the food frenzy and earn some very high TRPs week after week.

But, it isn’t just heartwarming stories of the passionate cooks that win hearts. Their success also lies in stirring their goals with patience and perseverence.

Shipra Khanna
Life has definitely been a roller-coaster ride for Shipra Khanna. A troubled matrimonial alliance had given her a fair amount of lows when fortune decided to smile on this passionate cook and she ventured to prove her skills on famous TV reality show, MasterChef, in 2011.

Not only did Shipra stand out in the show, she went on to win it. Ever since, life has changed dramatically for the pretty mother of two children. The reason for taking the plunge, says Shipra, was her own mother’s faith in her. “My mother pushed me to participate in the show. Perhaps it was a mother’s instinct that told her I would win it,” she smiles.

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Apart from giving her a chance to test her innate ability to put together scrumptious recipes, the show also gave Shipra the impetus to turn her passion into her profession. The proud owner of a restaurant named H.O.T. – House of Taste, in Ahmedabad, and author of a book titled, The Spice Route, this Shimla girl has travelled the globe to conduct workshops and cookery shows.

Acknowledging the significant turn her life took after participating in the TV show, she says, “I have travelled all over the globe on my ‘spice trail’, discovering all types of local food globally. I also got trained under the Parisian Michelin star chef, Allian Passard.”

When countered with the most common criticism that comes in the way of reality shows — the question of their being scripted — Shipra denies the charge vehemently. “Practically, cooking can’t be stopped midway, especially when so many people are cooking together. It is a process that goes on till it’s done with.

Secondly, you can figure out whether the dish is good or not by just looking at it,” she feels.

In fact, Shipra is of the opinion that food-based TV shows help Indians learn about international cuisines, apart from taking India to a global level. “Indians have always been passionate about cooking. It is evident in the numerous cuisines that represent different cultures. However, it is also true that TV reality shows give us new ways of looking at food and experimenting with it. Plus, the respect that people in India give to food and the chef now, wasn’t given a few years ago. When foreigners tell me how much they enjoy Indian food, it makes me feel proud,” she gushes.

Already onto her second cookery book, Shipra’s love for food-based shows will soon spill into her own show that is set to go on air soon.

Her specialty: Global cuisine and baking.
What do you love the most about cooking?
I love the love and thought that goes behind cooking and feeding somebody you’re cooking for. I believe that it’s one of the most beautiful forms of art.
What is your biggest strength as a cook?
My biggest strength is that I’m not scared of experimenting and that I cook with instinct.

What advice would you like to give to others who wish to follow in your footsteps?
I would say that if you’re passionate about cooking, just go for it. Trust me when I say that anything done with love and passion doesn’t go waste.

Kandla

For someone who believes that cooking is therapeutic, you would think Kandla’s participation in the TV show, MasterChef, in 2010 was much too obvious. But, the real story is different. "My father was ill and I was travelling to Delhi to meet him, when the makers of the show approached me and convinced me to audition for it. After clearing three rounds of interviews, I was on the show," she says. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2014/1/Kandla_1_compressed.jpg

Though the self-confessed foodie’s cooking had earned her enough fans even before she was seen on the national platform, she says it gave her the “stamp of approval”.

“I have had the privilege of making desserts for the likes of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Captain Amarinder Singh and Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. But, the biggest advantage of the show is that now, a new customer is not hesitant while placing an order.

Besides, one does get recognised and it is very flattering when someone comes up to you to get an autograph or a picture clicked,” she says. With 18 years of experience in cooking, Kandla says she actually learnt the ropes after getting married.

“I learnt from my mother-in-law, who was a great cook, and from cookery books. I think I was able to master cooking since I was hell bent on learning it. People appreciate the fact that I don’t work with staff since I cannot compromise on quality and hygiene. My ingredients are always fresh and I only take an order when I know I will be able to execute it,” she claims with pride.

Since Kandla was educated in the UK, she was familiar with dishes such as risotto and pies. However, she does vouch for the fact that these days, food-based reality shows have resulted in a cross-exchange of ingredients, dishes and cooking techniques.

“Whenever any new ingredient or cooking technique is introduced in a show, it’s a challenge for the participants who come from all over the country. It expands their horizons as chefs, while the audience gets introduced to new dishes and techniques of making food,” says Kandla, who keeps busywriting food columns for various publications, organising cooking workshops and of course, making cakes and desserts on order.


Her specialty:My desserts, especially soufflés and cakes, have fetched me loads of compliments.
What do you love the most about cooking?
I feel that cooking is very therapeutic in nature and I love experimenting. Plus, I am a big foodie and so, I get to eat the things which I cook!
What is your biggest strength as a cook?
That I believe in customising food and fine tuning it according to the preference of the customers. I strive for perfection and I am very creative when it comes to presenting food.
What advice would you like to give to others who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Be creative.


Jyoti arora 43, amritsar

Some people live to eat, others eat to live and Jyoti lives to cook. After cooking lovingly for her three children in the confines of their Amritsar home, the 43-year-old was prodded by them to appear in MasterChef in 2011 and show to the world her culinary skills. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2014/1/Jyoti%20Arora1_compressed.jpg

For someone whose biggest strength is seeing the satisfaction on people’s faces after they have eaten food prepared by her, Jyoti was indeed the ideal candidate.

“Before the show, I had heard from a lot of people that Amritsari women know how to eat, but do not know how to feed people. I wanted to change this perception and therefore started taking cooking classes in different cuisines and cooking methods,” shares Jyoti. Though always passionate about cooking, Jyoti says she learnt the most from her mother-in-law during her stay in Kashmir.

On the TV show, Jyoti’s cooking earned her much praise, though she couldn’t win. Post the show, however, this homemaker has turned into a busy entrepreneur and traveller. Apart from her cooking classes, she helps organise food festivals for five-star hotels around the globe.

Attributing the show for instigating many a change in her, she says her horizon as a cook expanded after participating in it. “I learnt not just how to make international cuisines, but also time management.

Earlier, I would cook only for my family, but now I cook for thousands of people when I organise food festivals. From handling a large staff to giving orders, I’m a pro at it all!” she states with pride, adding that one of the best lessons that she took home from the show’s judges was to never let success go to her head.

Now that the world has opened up for Jyoti, she is spoilt for choice. Though inundated with offers from restaurants in Amritsar to join as a consultant chef, Jyoti surprises us when she says she declined them after finding their levels of hygiene poor.

“I cannot compromise on quality,” she explains, adding, “Many people also suggested I open my own restaurant, but it requires a lot of work.”

Jyoti is currently writing a book that highlights recipes that were used in undivided Punjab. Her advice to aspiring chefs, meanwhile, is to cook with all their hearts. “I also want to request everyone to support their family members in exploring their talent,” she implores with a smile.

Her specialty: Indian dishes.
What do you love the most about cooking?
The passion that goes into cooking. Every ingredient used has some medicinal value, and it is so interesting to understand these facets.
What is your biggest strength as a cook?
The satisfaction on the faces of people eating my food.
What advice would you like to give to others who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Cooking is akin to meditation. So, cook with passion.

What’s cooking on TV?

As food-based shows and exclusive food television channels bombard the screens of the idiot box, people of all age groups across the country sit up and take notice. Food is no more meant to fill your stomach; it has become a new culture in itself.

While reality shows have given cooking talent a platform like never before, cooking shows have made everybody a chef in his or her own right. Indeed, chefs have become celebrities and things like burritos, quesadillas and pies have become a part of people’s staple, even in small towns.

“Earlier, cooking was something people did in their homes for their families. But food-based reality shows have made the winners stars overnight. In fact, even the participants of these shows go on to make food their profession – they open restaurants, write books and become professional chefs. Such shows are a wonderful platform especially for the ladies to show their cooking talent,” agrees well known chef Rakesh Sethi.

Not only have these shows given the world expert chefs, they have also taken Indian cuisine to a global level and made Indians aware of international cuisines. “Food is a science,” says Dinesh Singh Rawat, Executive Chef, Radisson Blu Hotel, MBD, Ludhiana, adding, “People now take interest in not just the menu but also the method of preparation of a dish and its health quotient.”

Saransh Goila, counted among the country’s youngest chefs and winner of food reality show, Food Food Maha Challenge, aired on the channel Food Food, believes that the food shows’ popularity creates the demand for exotic food and therefore makes way for global food chains in the country.

“This is a brilliant time to be associated with the food and beverage industry because there are a host of avenues to be explored. One can become a food blogger, an entrepreneur, a food stylist, a food researcher — you name it,” he adds.

Sethi, however, does warn that TV might make a very tough profession look glamorous. “Professional chefs have long working hours and have to survive in strict working conditions; hence it is not a very easy profession to be in,” he says.

“Roti, kapda and makaan are everybody’s basic needs and hence food can never go out of fashion. It is a big industry and is getting bigger with time,” Rawat sums it up.


Ripudaman Handa, 24, Delhi

‘I often say that all I want in life is that my wife and my knife should be with me," laughs Ripudaman Handa, when asked to describe just how much he loves to conjure up delicacies. A former gym trainer, Ripudaman became a celebrity in his own right after winning MasterChef India last year. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2014/1/Ripudman%20Handa1_compressed.jpg

Thanks to the Punjabi blood that runs in his veins, Ripudaman is a big foodie and extremely passionate about food and cooking. “Food is my weakness,” he says fondly, adding that his mother introduced both him and his elder brother to cooking at a very early age.

“Every weekend, our family would go to the gurdwara and cook langar. On my bhabhi’s first karvachauth, I had cooked food for the entire family and they all loved it. Even now, the women in the house are free from kitchen duties on weekends,” he smiles.

The creative chef, who was the first male contestant to win the show, feels that reality shows create new levels of awareness regarding food. “I feel very proud when a Thai restaurant offers butter chicken on its menu,” he says.

Ripudaman says winning the show was never the target. “All I wanted to do was make good food,” he claims. However, the reality TV bug seems to have caught Ripudaman, who was recently seen in another reality show along with his girlfriend Shivangi.

With an experience of two reality show behind him, he vouches for the fact these shows are not scripted. “Shows that are about food cannot be scripted because we eat food with our eyes before tasting it. So, one can make out if the dish prepared is good or not,” he points out.

Life has changed so much for Ripudaman after winning the show that his neighbors approach him for recipes while his mother is learning to cook international cuisines from him. The best bit is that the young chef has no qualms about taking up cooking as a profession.

“Food is the basic need of every human being and the ability to cook food makes a person independent. I have been living alone in Mumbai for the last one year and managing my food on my own. In fact, I am going to suggest to my children that they should learn how to cook,” he smiles, adding that before the show happened, his mother would say he had too much time on his hands and now complains that he has no time to spare.

His specialty: Italian and Indian food.
What do you love the most about cooking? I just love Indian masalas and their aromas. I can make anything with them.
What is your biggest strength as a cook? That I respect food a lot. In our house, the place of worship is not the mandir, but the kitchen.
What advice would you like to give to others who wish to follow in your footsteps? Be creative and focused.

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