Amongst the legion of celebrity chefs, old and new, there must have been one or two who had a touch of stage fright at the thought of appearing in front of the TV cameras.
Not so with this month’s retro chef, Madhur Jaffrey.
She is our only retro chef to date who was an established actress well before she prepared so much as a samosa in front of her foodie audience.
Indeed, she came to the UK from Delhi when she was just nineteen to study at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music and Drama. It is said that until that point she could not cook.
However, as all students do, they learn to cook to survive, and she was no exception. Her need turned into a love of food, which she was to carry with her to the present day.
After graduation, she took to writing food articles as a means to generate an income with a growing family, alongside her acting career. Whilst this is not a film review,it would not be fair to skim over her prestigious acting career, without mentioning some of her achievements.
She was bestowed the Best Actress Award from the Berlin Film Festival in 1965 for her performance in Shakespeare Wallah, the Muse Award presented by New York Women in Film & Television in 2000, and an Honorary CBE awarded on 11 October 2004,
“In recognition of her services to cultural relations between the United Kingdom, India and the United States, through her achievements in film, television and cookery”.
Nonetheless, her knowledge as a cookery writer is what the foodie community associate with her name, so on with the show as it were.
Her arrival on the cooking was back in 1974 with the publication of her book “An Invitation To Indian Cooking”
It could not have been more timely.
Most of us had by then acquainted ourselves with the up and coming community of Asian restaurants that were tempting us with a spicy point of difference with their exotic fare.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that other than that, we had all bought dubious tins labelled “curry powder”, that when opened revealed a lurid orange melange of spices, clearly laced with an excess of turmeric and chilli powder.
This, when taken to the home kitchen was added very much like dried herbs, straight into a mixture of meat, onions, dried garlic flakes, stock, tomatoes, and the ubiquitous sultanas,banana, or tinned pineapple, depending what was to hand.
As our knowledge has increased, thanks to the wisdom of Madhur, we have learned that in its raw state, curry spices can taste acrid and thoroughly unpleasant.
She coached us through the gentle frying of spices along with garlic and onions until they mellowed to impart their subtly differing notes.
As with all things worth showcasing, the BBC were soon to pick her for a cookery show entitled Indian Cookery in 1982.
She had us dashing hither and thither sourcing new and exotic ingredients, and gaily tossing our tins of dubious curry powder into the kitchen bin.
We learned to blend garam masala, clarify butter to make ghee, and that spices could be used whole, roasted and ground at home.
Thickening sauces was no longer the domain of a packet of cornflour, but the use of yoghurt, ground onions and garlic. Coconut both grated and its milk were not confined to the dessert recipe, but were used to sweeten and contrast with the heat of the chilli and pepper in the dish.
We gradually awakened to another realisation: Our visits to to local Indian restaurant was not the food she was creating. Although perfectly enjoyable (notwithstanding the numerous pints some of may have supped prior to getting there) hers was the real deal – authentic Indian cuisine. It was a fine thing indeed.
Such was her popularity, that she has written nigh on thirty books to delight and tempt our taste buds. She has made us more adventurous with our tastes, and we have taken in her style of cooking as our own.
I don’t think she needs any more praise than that. It is the ultimate compliment.
A Selection of Madhur’s Books.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery
This was her book that accompanied the BBC series in 1982. It deals with the grass roots of Indian cookery, taking the reader stage by stage through the nuances and ritual of this rich cuisine. The amateur cook turns alchemist in his own kitchen following her guides to blend the perfect mix of spices for each dish. An excellent primer for a cook new to this cuisine.
For those of us who like to gaze at the finished article, the book is also available in an illustrated format, which was published at a later date.
The Essential Madhur Jaffrey.
This is for the cook who wants a flavour of this cook. It gathers together a collection of her favourite recipes. It ranges from simple, quick to prepare meals to elaborate dinner party entertaining. It also encompasses a number of regional cuisines in one volume.
Eastern Vegetarian Cooking.
In this excellent work, she widens her horizons, and gathers together a stunning array of vegetarian delights from many countries. More of a reference work,, with no illustrations, it is a bible for Asian non meat delights.