What’s cooking? – Interview with Celebrity Chef Amrita Raichand

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Celebrity Chef Amrita Raichand of the popular Mummy Ka Magic, talks about how innovation keeps her going and the many uses of technology in the culinary world, in an exclusive interview with Abid Mohammed

Model, actress, socialite, mother and chef! How do you manage your time?

Yes, it is a lot of things to juggle, but I am not doing everything everyday. I do it at my convenience, when it suits me. In fact that was one of the biggest reasons I became into a chef, because being a chef was giving me a lot more time as compared to doing anything else. In this phase I realised that I owned my time. I didn’t have to depend on anybody for the space. I could do it at my own pace, in my own time and the way I wanted to do it.

When was it that you started getting known as a chef?

In the beginning it was just a hobby. I love cooking so it came to me easily but it was never something I thought that would become a focal point in my career as I was busy with my modelling, acting and various other things. Chef Sanjeev and Alyona Kapoor persuaded me to become one. They came home and told me “You can cook and connect with children and we should do this show.” Since I was already cooking at home I decided to give it a try. The show did very well but still it was just a hobby for me. The shift happened in the last couple of years when I started getting identified as a chef and not someone who had acted with so and so or for this or that brand.  People recognised me as a chef and wanted my advice on cooking tips. I could see that I had inspired a lot of people to take up cooking so I decided to consciously focus more on being a chef.

Where did you train to become a chef?

I feel whatever you do you should do it to the best of your ability. Even when I was learning to act I used to travel all the way from Colaba to Juhu to learn from Anupam Kher at his Actor Prepares school. I have never been to a culinary school. Whatever I have learnt was from my mom, my family, and recipe books but when I decided to take up cooking as a proper profession, I realised that I needed proper training. Sanjeev Kapoor recommended me to enrol in At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy in Singapore, as it was close and my brother

stayed there. I did and when I returned I worked for a short time at Intercontinental, Mumbai.

How would you describe your style of cooking?

Very natural, homely, real and from the heart. I never try to be a perfect chef, I am clumsy at times and that’s natural.

Do you have a favourite ingredient?

Lately, I have become a fan of Thyme and Basil and use it a lot when I cook. When it comes to children I try to include at least one health ingredient, no matter how simple the dish. Even if I am making chocolate chip cookies I add oats to it for a healthy touch. And that’s my mantra for cooking: At least one healthy ingredient has to go in anything I make.

Do you have a ‘signature dish’ that you enjoy cooking?

There’s this Egg Pudding I learnt from my mom over the years that now I make in my own style. Recently I have mastered the art of making a classic roast chicken, French style, something that everyone wants to come over and eat at my house.

Do you try out dishes on your family?

Yes! They are my Guinea pigs and also my biggest critics. Earlier, when I got married, my husband didn’t even know if the salt was less or more. He has now become my biggest critic and rates my cooking on a scale of 5-10! And I never let him go below five. My child is very fussy and it’s good to have him taste all my cooking.

Which restaurant, in Mumbai, do you most enjoy eating at?

Our favourite restaurant is Wasabi by Morimoto at The Taj Mahal Palace, where we always go for special occasions. Apart from that Thai cuisine is our favourite so we go a lot to the Thai Pavilion at Vivanta By Taj President, Cuffe Parade. Among the casual places Indigo Delicatessen, Lower Parel, is a favourite of mine for brunches and I love their pizzas and burgers. Their coffee is to die for. Moshe is quite lovely and so is Pa Pa Ya.

A chef who you most admire?

Sanjeev Kapoor is my all-time favourite. Also Ex-Executive Chef of Intercontinental, Kaizad Sadri, who is also a very good friend and a sweet person. I take a lot of inputs from him. Abhijeet Saha, in Singapore, is another Chef that I admire a lot. I had worked in his kitchen when I studied in Singapore. There are so many. Each one has their own individual style.

The secret for becoming a successful chef?

I didn’t think there was one until my show became a success. I asked Sanjeev Kapoor the same question and he said that what had happened was that I was real with the audience. “You have a real connect and you are what you are, you never pretended to be anyone else,” he said. So I guess that’s the trick.

Tell us about your TV show, Mummy Ka Magic.

Mummy Ka Magic happened thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor. When I started I was a complete novice at it and took three days to complete one episode. Cooking is one thing but I had to talk and I was trying to be perfect. I even called Sanjeev Kapoor, crying that I can’t do it. He said that what you are doing wrong is trying to be somebody you are not. Just be yourself. Relax and enjoy what you are doing. I did just that and it worked. Today it is so loved by everybody and for me it is my ‘Gehna’, my centrepiece. I do a lot of research to come up with something new every season. I try creative recipes yet keep them simple. I put my heart and soul into it and the results are there for everyone to see.

Is it a challenge to constantly innovate?

No. That’s what keeps you going. If you reach a point where you didn’t have to innovate then I think it would result in stagnation. I think innovating is what I enjoy most about my profession.

What’s the modern kitchen gadget you couldn’t live without?

My oven! I don’t think it’s a modern kitchen gadget but for the longest time in my house we had the traditional gas oven. When I got passionate about cooking the first thing I bought myself was a nice oven. I do so much of my cooking with my oven that I don’t think I can live without it now. I am planning to buy a pasta maker so that could be the next gadget. But for now I am totally dependent on my oven!

How has the industry changed over the past few years?

The industry has become far more popular with chefs getting more recognition, a lot more work, more money and endorsements. They have an identity, from chefs they have become celebrity chefs. That’s a huge change. I think it’s great how brands want to associate with chefs rather than just Bollywood actors.

What are the new innovations in the culinary world?

The focus now is more on fusion food, quick snacks and cheaper food. Big restaurants are now serving food that is not so expensive. I think there is a shift happening from fine dining to casual, yet, healthy food. Food combinations and menus are being experimented with. It’s more fun to go out and eat. The other day I had seafood bhel and was really amazed!

Has technology helped you to cook better?

Yes, of course. Nowadays you can take pictures of what you are cooking and put it up immediately on Instagram for people to see. The awareness about what you are doing, your popularity, and knowledge is increasing through technology and it is helping in ways unimaginable.

Your advice to aspiring chefs?

The first thing they should do is to go to a culinary school. That’s the one thing I regret not doing. I was good in cooking but I wanted a glamorous lifestyle, not realising that chefs could be glamourous too! Today there are a lot of things a chef can do besides being in a kitchen. We didn’t have those options then. Culinary school lays a good foundation for sure.

And finally, what’s next?

Cooking, cooking and more cooking. Hopefully I will become a bigger and better chef than I am today. With a lot more shows on TV.

Feelings April 2016

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