MasterChef Pankaj Bhadouria talks about working with Rick Stein, writing cookbooks, and more
Popular chef and TV host Pankaj Bhadouria’s journey as a chef started after she quit her teaching job to participate in Master Chef India Season 1. She shot to fame after winning the MasterChef title (2010) and went on to host over ten TV shows, author over five cookbooks and also started her own culinary institute in her hometown in Lucknow. Having become a household name and an inspiration for many aspiring chefs, the 47-year-old is now appearing on BBC Earth’s culinary series, Rick Stein’s India. In a series consisting six episodes, English chef Rick Stein embarks on a culinary journey through India. After experiencing the street food of Kolkata, temple food of Tamil Nadu and seafood of Kerala, Rick goes to Lucknow where he meets Pankaj Bhadouria, who during the course of the episode, takes him through the city. Here are excerpts from our conversation with her:
How was your experience working for the show?
The show is a feast of delights. Through Rick, you will get to meet a lot of people and the various dishes people make across India that even you didn’t know existed. Working with him was a fantastic experience. What fascinated me the most was his curiosity about every little thing happening around him.
What was the most memorable experience?
My favourite experience was when I got to take him through the fish market in Lucknow. Selecting the fish, buying and bringing it back to my academy to cook it, the whole process was fun. I didn’t want to show him the usual kormas and biryanis. Since he specialises on sea food, I thought I will prepare something with fish. And so I made Dum Machli for him.
Were there any challenges while shooting?
The shoot in lucknow was absolutely easy. The people were very friendly and even the fishmongers were very helpful. And Rick is an easy person to shoot with.
How has your life changed after winning the Masterchef title?
I used to be just a school teacher and now I have done at least 10 shows, written five books and have a culinary academy. People now invite me to speak and to conduct workshops. Although it felt bad when I had to quit the job, now I feel I only paid a small price.
Did writing come easy to you? How do you choose your topics?
I used to be an English teacher. So, writing did come easy to me. As for topics, I pick the ones that are really challenging, the ones that make me work hard. For my book Chicken From My Kitchen, I had to find out all the variants of chicken curry that people in India prepare. A lot of research and cooking trails were involved to put them all together in a book.
When did you discover your love for cooking? Who was your inspiration?
I have been cooking from the age of 11. Cooking came naturally to me because both my parents cook a lot. By cooking, I thought I will get to eat good food as well as get the appreciation. So I went for it. I grew up watching my parents cook for people, therefore, they are my inspiration.
What are your thoughts on reality shows?
Be it Nigella, Jamie Oliver, Sanjeev Kapur or Vikas Khanna, all the chefs across the world are doing a great job. Thanks to the people who brought it on TV, now this profession has a lot of respect. For me, after teaching the most noble profession is a chef’s. Mainly because you are making people happy with the food you cooked. Reality shows have changed the way people look at this profession.
What is your signature dish?
Firni is a local Lucknow dessert. I love playing around with it, trying out various flavours. My signature dish would be the caramel and cinnamon firni.
What is the one trend that you found most intriguing?
I’m a voracious reader and I follow what all popular chefs are doing. After molecular gastronomy went popular, there is this one trend where chefs are infusing stimulating aroma in their dishes. As of now, very few chefs are doing it, but I find it very interesting.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give aspiring chefs?
Firstly, always be proud of what you are doing. Secondly, join the industry only if you want to cook well and feed people well and can be happy about it.
What are your future projects?
Currently, I’m working on my sixth book. But I can’t reveal what it's about.
On Fridays at 4 pm and Saturdays at 3 pm on Sony BBC Earth.