Former VJ Maria Goretti on cooking to reclaim her personal space and her award-winning cookbook
Walking into former VJ and model Maria Goretti’s Andheri bungalow feels like you have travelled through a vortex, and somehow ended up in Goa. The walls feature multiple crucifixes — from ceramic ones and to those carved from wood. The windows are lined with wind chimes of all shapes and sizes, made with shells. Inside, the family dogs, Ziggy and Zuni Boo, both Labradors, are lazing about. Chewed rubber balls and slippers are strewn across the floor. One wall is covered with family pictures — from her wedding to actor Arshad Warsi to baby photos of their children, Zeke and Zene. Apart from an elevator (yes, there’s a private elevator inside), the place feels like a regular beach-side house.
The biggest testament to its homeliness, however, is Goretti’s loving fuss. Sure, she walks in an hour late, professionally done hair and make-up in place. But from the moment she enters the living room, she acts like the quintessential mother hen, puffing the sofa cushions, greeting Ziggy with a slew of high pitched squeals, and offering us refreshments.
Her approachable personality is not new to anyone who follows her on Instagram (@mariagorettiz). She regularly uploads videos of using her dog as the weights for a workout, and of her children playing in the lawn outside. Most importantly, she documents her culinary experiments — a hobby that converted into a profession with a YouTube cookery show (Maria Goretti Corner, 2014), and her own cookbook, From My Kitchen to Yours (March 2016). Her recipes feature Indian staples (think yogurt mint chicken and Goan Vindaloo), and desserts (banofie pie and orange cake). In January, the book even won the India level award at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
Goretti’s YouTube channel (Maria Goretti Corner) has close to 10,000 subscribers with an average on 15k views per video. The recipes, she claims. But it’s her presentation that makes all the difference. Goretti’s non-scripted commentary has the recall value of a ’90s Sanjeev Kapoor cookery show — witty one liners, personal anecdotes, and the reason behind adding each ingredient. “I am not only entering people’s homes, but their kitchens — the one space in the house that I believe brings the family together. It’s a responsibility,” she says.
Growing up, Goretti identified herself as a foodie — dancing around her mother in the kitchen as the latter cooked, and waiting at the table during family meals. But she wasn’t one to actually whip up a dish or two. “I was certain I wouldn’t need to cook if I studied hard enough and made a life for myself,” she says.
However, her love for food eventually led her to giving it a shot as a pre-teen. Like most novices, she had a rocky start. Her mother was away, and she took charge of the kitchen to rustle up some khichdi. The outcome, Goretti says, was more like a khichdi-cake.
In the years that followed, apart from the occasional experiment, she never took a keen interest in cooking. The necessity to harness her skills in the kitchen caught on with Goretti only after she became a mother. When her son was too old to be breastfed, she became anxious about finding easy-to-make recipes for her family.
Student for life
But the struggle sparked a different kind of love for food. Cooking turned into a freeing experience. As a professional in showbiz, Goretti was left with a limited personal space, and the kitchen offered a much-needed escape. “There’s always a team telling you what to do and how to do it. While cooking, nobody butted in. It was, and continues to be, my space,” she says. Goretti isn’t the only personality from the entertainment industry to have discovered the joys of cooking. Model and author Padma Lakshmi, for instance, now has four books to her credit.
What sets Goretti apart is that she is academically trained in the culinary arts. She followed up a part-time baking course at Sophia Polytechnic (Breach Candy) with a Cordon Bleu certificate course in culinary and bakery from Tante Marie (a leading culinary school in the UK) in 2011.
After a successful career, going back to school was not easy. Goretti recalls a particularly gruelling exam. She was assigned to make a baked chicken, a dish she had mastered. Yet, courtesy the limited time allocated, the chicken turned out to be undercooked, and rather inedible. “That’s the charm of it. Every time you cook a dish, you learn something new,” she says.
Despite the popularity now, she still refers to herself as a student of the culinary arts. Every time she spots something unusual at local markets, she plans an experiment with the ingredient. Recently, she discovered a yellow chilly powder, and is fascinated. “I am looking to make something with it. Wait for it,” she says.