“Those rotis need to be rounder and thinner!” My mother is the one who taught me how to cook, starting before I was a decade old. It was a regular after-school activity, making dinner in under an hour with my Mom. She cooked with speed and precision, and put together huge dinner parties with such ease. Thus came about my passion for cooking and entertaining. I baked more than I cooked through college, and then began my expensive hobby of collecting cookbooks. While training to be a Physician Assistant, my spare time went to experimenting with non-Indian cooking techniques and trying non-Indian recipes. At that point, I had never cooked or handled meat or seafood, having been raised vegetarian. I then fell in love with and married my then carnivorous husband whose absolute favorite food is South Indian food, and much to my mother’s chagrin, he introduced me to non-vegetarian Indian cuisine (we now eat it sparingly but it is SO delicious and always a party favorite). While working as a PA for many years, in my spare time I gradually learned how to cook and prepare South Indian food to my husband’s delight. Much of it I learned from my mother-in-law, who is a fantastic cook with a repertoire of dishes that I hardly find in any Indian restaurant in the United States. At that time, we lived in Seattle and my husband worked long hours. I would cook leisurely for hours, watching Food TV and reading cookbooks, as if I was a student, absorbing everything. I learned about ingredients complementation, making stocks and sauces, cooking grains and legumes, braising and parboiling, preparing produce perfectly for cooking, knife techniques, and handling and preparing meat/seafood. I also took cooking classes occasionally, and found myself dreamily wondering if I could ever teach Indian classes. I mean, the food is just SO good! But more importantly, I wanted to reach out to people about this particular kind of Indian food, which most people in the United States had not been exposed to before.
We then moved back to Texas, and began to raise a family. This changed everything. I wanted to stay home with the children and didn’t particularly find my career in healthcare to be as fulfilling as it had been in the past. When I was about to have my second child, I decided to teach an impromptu cooking class, modeled after the ones I had been to, to people I knew. That first class changed my career path. The students had a great time, the food was fantastic, but most importantly, I was thrilled to impart so much knowledge about Indian food, ingredients, and technique to others. I felt like I really was teaching something new and I had a great time doing it! I was then asked by someone I knew who owns a catering business to help with an Indian vegan menu for catering a large party. I jumped right in, not knowing the intricacies and structure of working in a commercial kitchen. That was a learning experience. I discovered that Austinites love ethnic foods, and health-conscious folks were particularly happy with the variety of Indian foods that could accommodate their diets.
I then applied to be an instructor for the UT Informal Classes non-credit course program. I took samples in to the director and showed her the recipes I had been so diligently working on over the last year. I taught my first class in 2008 and it was an exhilarating experience. I then started teaching at Whole Foods Market Culinary Center regularly, teaching a combination of demonstration-style and participation-style classes. In 2009, I was a guest instructor with At Table, which was a wonderful and intimate class setting and I will be teaching there again this year. In 2009, I also began teaching at private cooking class parties and continue to do so occasionally. This Fall, I will be a guest instructor at the Natural Epicurean, an exciting venue with an wonderful holistic approach to food.
I’m also very interested in the nutritional aspect of food, having a medical background. I’ve read many books on the subject ranging from authors such as Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. Andrew Weil, which I discovered 10 years ago, as well as more recent authors such as Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle who have reminded us to know where our food comes from. I incorporate these teachings, if you will, in our family food shopping and cooking. My Indian cooking has been modified at times, to reflect what produce I can get locally and/or what is seasonal, such as Kale and Onion Curry and this Cilantro Chutney (Green Chutney) recipe. But I when I am craving tomato rasam and the wintry tomatos from halfway across the continent are a shade of orange rather then red, I opt to use canned organic fire-roasted tomatos.
When I’m not actually teaching a class or prepping for a class, I spend time on recipe development. This has been a surprisingly time-consuming yet satiating job within a job for which I have used many resources such as textbooks and websites. I’ve also spent days on end trying to perfect a recipe for those that appreciate a well-written recipe (this could be novices and experts alike). One day, I hope to have a cookbook for my children and my most influential supporters: my parents, my sister, and my in-laws. In the meantime, the Shef goes on cooking!