Queen of Curry - Madhur Jaffrey 



It is ironical that she is better known for cooking than her acting.  Famous in the West for her television programs and cook books, her first love was and still is, acting.

Madhur Jaffery is no stranger to stardom - the fact that she has achieved it in an unusual field, does surprise a lot of people, including herself.

I met Jaffrey in Manhattan, New York at the exclusive Dawat Restaurant where she is food consultant.  Her aura surrounds the place - cook books artfully displayed in the foyer, interesting Indian decor and most of all, the food - all taught to the Dawat chefs by Jaffrey and supervised by her personally.

While I waited for Jaffrey, I browsed through her cook books, two of which I had just purchased. As she walked in I noticed that she looked much younger and more attractive than her photos give her credit.  Jaffrey immediately insisted that I try some food to get an idea of how she has trained the chefs
at Dawat.

Over alloo tikkia with kashmiri chutney and bhel puri, we talked about Madhur Jaffrey and her life in the arts.  "How did you venture into this competitive field?" I asked her.

"My mother canít believe that I write cook books.  I could not even boil an egg, so unprepared I was for this career" replied Jaffrey.  "I come from a strict hindu family in Delhi and love of food was the order of the day. The men in my family were mostly "shikaris" (game hunters) so they enjoyed meat and I grew up with a taste for non-vegetarian food.  Given a choice though, I will opt for vegetarian food, which I think is healthier for us. Fact is that I love good food."  

"Where does your acting career fit into all this?" I asked outright.

"I had an early interest in acting.  Right after college, I joined All India Radio and then proceeded to stage plays. My acting career progressed from stage to television in England where I came to settle. At that time I had no idea I would be involved in cook books".

In England Jaffrey met the Merchant-Ivory team and this was the beginning
of a wonderful relationship that culminated in some of Jaffrey's most
brilliant acting.

Jaffrey had a short stint with commercial films when she acted in Ramesh Sippy's Sagar.  She confesses that she does not care for commercial films, preferring stage acting above all.

Jaffrey had a satisfying career in England with television and stage. From there she came across to the USA where she started her career as a cook book author.  We came back to the subject of becoming a writer and Jaffrey said,

"I love good food but did not know how to cook when I came to USA. So I would call up friends and acquaintances and ask for recipes.  Over a period of time, I collected hundreds of good recipes.  I also had to fill a gap in my life while I was not acting plus I had three kids to raise. So I started putting together my first cook book".  

As the cliche goes, the rest is history.  Jaffrey, with more than ten cook books to her credit,  and some more in the pipeline, has come a long way from the insecure cook who used to ask for recipes. Jaffrey's success is not as simple as it sounds.  In a fiercely competitive industry, where cook books sell a dime a dozen, Jaffrey had to produce something that was unique and different.

Her cooking techniques certainly are unique.  Jaffrey's recipes are not just ways to cook Indian food  - they incorporate an entire history of the area and where the recipes originate.  She goes into minute details about spices, their origin and varied usage.  She explains Indian terms so that non-Asians can understand her recipes better.  In short, she has worked towards innovation and perfection in her art of Indian cookery.

"Perfection," says Jaffrey "is the key to my success.  Once I discovered that my books were popular and selling well, there was no going back". Jaffrey says she is a fiend for perfection.  "Many times people will hold back a key ingredient, and I know something is missing, so I hammer away at it until I get it perfect."

Jaffrey admitted that it is not easy work.  Her cook books require extensive research and experiment.  She claims that she has never, to date, published or aired a recipe without trying it first. If it does not taste right, she does it again, calls the person who gave her the recipe and checks the ingredients until she gets it right.  

I asked Jaffrey if she doctored her recipes to suit the non-Asian palate.  She says she does not do that because it takes away from the taste.  "I try and keep my recipes as authentic as possible - the only doctoring I do is when a certain ingredient is not available and I have to suggest a substitute.  For example, many recipes call for fresh coconut milk, which is not easily available.  So I suggest tinned coconut milk.  This does affect the taste a bit, but people cannot wait around for fresh coconut milk to cook so many delicious dishes."

Jaffrey told me that her husband and three children all love to cook.  I asked her if she cooks fresh food everyday and was quite impressed when she said she does. With a schedule that includes, writing, research, filming shows for television, plus being a consultant at Dawat, Jaffrey still takes out time to cook fresh food every day.

Jaffrey's cook books are sold in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, England and Europe. North America is pretty well covered through her television cooking series which have been aired by TV Asia.

Jaffrey's favourite meal: daal, chawal and achaar!  Yes,  she loves simple meals.Asked about her pet recipe, she says she has many but this is one of her special daal recipes:

 

Back to Archives