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'Indian food is the perfect, balanced, diet'

By ANITA AIKARA
May 12, 2022 12:24 IST
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'The way desi food is cooked in our homes makes it so delicious and yummy.'
'It is a great digestive meal.'

IMAGE: Chef Shipra Khanna shot to fame after her MasterChef India win.
All photographs: Kind courtesy Shipra Khanna/Instagram

On television, you'll often spot Chef Shipra Khanna rustling up sophisticated meals with effortless flair.

However, when she is cooking a meal for herself, the winner of MasterChef India Season 2 likes to keep things uncomplicated.

Her lunch and dinner are often inspired by the Indian thali and consist mostly of dal, chawal, sabji, dahi and some pickle.

"I like simple food," she reveals, "When I'm at home I usually make a salad or sandwich for myself."

"I love to eat healthy. I love my desi Indian khana and I like to balance things out," says Shipra who recently made her debut as a judge on Chef Vs Fridge. On the culinary show, she partners with Chef Ajay Chopra, who was a judge on MasterChef Season 2.

Shipra's food journey started after her MasterChef India win in 2012, when food became her life and her new career.

Since her win, the mom-of-two who got into the food scene with absolutely no formal culinary training, has travelled the world and explored over 50 countries.

"I got to work with Michelin star chefs as well as regular chefs, along with hosting TV shows in the USA, UAE and India. I did a lot of pop-ups, mostly in Europe," she says.

"Travel got me to try various cuisines and interact with chefs across the world."

Till date she has published 8 books, with her cookbook Sinfully Yours named the Best Television Chef Book Outside Europe at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2017.

"Unlike any other industry, the food industry is all about practice. The more you practice, the better you get at your craft."

In an interview with Anita Aikara/Rediff.com, Shipra opens up about how she learnt to cook, where she got her recipes from, her earliest food memory, and her personal favourite kitchen hack.

IMAGE: Shipra started cooking at age nine and inherits her love for cooking from her grandmother.

What's your earliest food memory?

Since childhood, I have always been surrounded by good food.

I was very close to my grandmother, whom I used to call 'big mamma'.

When I would come back from school, she'd always make a lot of food for me.

I would ask her 'why have you made so much?' And she would say, 'Because you might eat as you are hungry.'

I'd always end up eating a lot.

I have inherited my grandmother's passion for food.

She was a big foodie. So is my mom, who is an excellent cook.

When he was alive, my grandfather would feed me dinner everyday with his hands.

When he passed away, my grandmother tried to feed me, but it was not the same.

My love for food began with my grandparents.

You took to cooking as a form of therapy. Over the years what changed?

I started as a home chef and then entered the professional kitchen post MasterChef, which was a game-changer for me.

I think food was something meant for me.

I am really passionate about cooking and I just wanted to take it to another level.

Nothing was planned in my life -- I didn't know where I'd be headed.

I had so much of energy in me, and the when I was at home, cooking was the easiest way to channel that energy.

I developed a huge love for cooking and I started creating my own recipes and signature styles.

I started baking and making breads on my own. I felt empowered by cooking.

Trust me, there is nothing that's big or small in life... if you are passionate about something you'll find a way to do it.

I don't see a homemaker being any lesser talented than a professional chef.

Raising a happy family also amounts to success.

My passion got me where I am today, and there's no end to it, because I live and learn.

Culinary arts is like a huge ocean. Even if I travel my entire life, I cannot say that I know everything. There is always so much left to learn.

IMAGE: Shipra with her latest book Health Unlimited, which took shape during the lockdown.

You learnt to bake bread at home. Where did you get the recipe?

I had a few international cookbooks which my father had got for me during his travel.

Today, the Internet is your best friend -- you can Google whatever you want, and it shows up in a second.

But back then, things weren't as simple. I could barely figure things out online.

I didn't even have the exact measurements.

Of course, there were a few sources, but information online was limited.

So I started to figure things out on my own. I remember when I initially made dinner rolls at home, they turned out beautifully.

My brother wanted to know where I got the recipe and I told him, 'I don't know. Maybe I am just gifted.'

Writing your eight book Heath Unlimited during the lockdown...

My book speaks about ingredients and heathy recipes that help boost immunity.

I have travelled so much and have come to realise that Indian food is the perfect, balanced diet.

The way desi food is cooked in our homes makes it so delicious and yummy. It is a great digestive meal.

Judging on the food reality show Chef Vs Fridge

This is the second season and Chef Ajay Chopra and I are judging professional chefs from various backgrounds.

The show is really exciting because it is a live competition and has several layers.

It is great to see the amazing food that the experienced chefs rustle up. For me it's been a fabulous experience.

It is not easy to judge a reality show, but it is exciting because at the end of the day you are connected with food.

3 things you look out for in the winners?

Taste, innovation and preparation.

Sometimes a chef has a great idea that is not executed well.

So it needs to be a good mix of all these three elements.

IMAGE: Cooking helps Shipra relax. She is most happy when she's in the kitchen.

Who influenced your journey as a chef?

My family definitely! My daughter Yadavi was a big influence.

In fact, I'd say both my kids Himannk and Yadavi inspired me.

Yadavi is such a big foodie who would love to eat outside.

I started to cook so that I could give her hygienic, healthy food. She has inspired me quite a bit.

Watch Chef Shipra Khanna Talk About Her Love For Indian Food. Video edited by Afsar Dayatar/Rediff.com

 

Why are so few restaurants run by women? Does the food industry in general have a sexism problem?

Not really! I haven't seen it outside India.

It is just in our country that women are seen as the weaker sex.

It is sad to say this, but women in the Indian food industry do face gender inequality.

When I won MasterChef and opened restaurants, I noticed there were no girls in the kitchen.

That took me aback. The chefs were all men who didn't even know how to interact with women.

That's when I started speaking at colleges, universities, giving motivational speeches and TED Talks.

I wanted more women to come into the culinary industry, which is so beautiful and has so much to offer in terms of learning.

Girls, of course, have so much potential, but very often we submit to the gender bias, which is there in every field.

Now I'm slowly seeing a shift and that makes me really proud.

Because when I came into the industry there were no girls in the kitchen, and now there are so many of them opting for culinary arts.

It is a long way to go, but I hope someday we will see our country giving equal opportunities to women no matter what sector they are in, or what professional choices they make.

A personal kitchen secret? Or a cooking hack that you'd love to share?

Salt grabs moisture. So always remember to put a few grains of rice in the salt container. It helps absorb the moisture.

A tip I always apply in my cooking is to add salt towards the end. That's when all the flavours have come together.

Putting it in at an earlier stage means you are not sure if you have put too much or too little.

Any word of advice for women?

I would want to tell them, if you have a dream, you got to protect it.

If you believe in yourself, don't let anybody make you feel otherwise.

Listen to your intuition.

Never let go of your dreams or the faith you have in yourself.

IMAGE: Shipra used the lockdown to push people to make healthy choices.

Any cooking hacks for working mothers? How can they cook more/better in less time?

All of us end up using tomatoes daily when we cook.

One can boil and puree it over the weekend, and preserve it in the fridge for later use.

You can do the same with ginger and garlic. Peel them, chop them roughly, blend it into a coarse puree and refrigerate it.

It's good to use for a couple of weeks and is very handy every time you make an Indian-style curry.

There are so many marinades and dips that can be made in advance and kept in the fridge, to be used in sandwiches and salads.

Everyone is incorporating healthy grains into their diet.

Lentils can be ground, made into a powder and you can whip up tasty dosas with them for breakfast.

For example, dal ka chilla, made extra nutritious with a generous topping of chopped veggies.

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ANITA AIKARA / Rediff.com