A chat with gourmet specialist Karen Anand reveals that there’s more to food than you think.

With her recent book, Men Can Cook, Karen Anand is all set to make a place for men in the kitchen. For all of us who think that she does only books and TV, there’s news. She does a lot of hospitality consultancy and corporate F&B solutions also. Gourmet specialist, businesswoman, writer and TV anchor all rolled into one, she enjoys gardening and the joys of peace and quiet in her free time. Fifteen books and three cookery shows later, the celebrity chef is all set for her next venture. We caught up with her for a tête-À-tête when she was in Hyderabad getting eminent men from different walks of life to display their culinary skills, all in the name of promoting her book! What fun, as she would say!

Let’s go back in time and talk about how this interest in cooking started.

It’s not just cooking; I am more interested in the history and etymology of food and in old recipes. As for cooking, I think I just responded to an opportunity when I came back to India in 1984. I had a filmmaker husband who used to do a lot of entertaining. So I started trying out recipes and did a lot of experimenting, especially on how to make food healthier. Then, I just got deeper into it and it all started. There was no business plan or number crunching. There was freshness and a light spirit, which I feel is missing now in entrepreneurships. The spark has gone out!

You work mainly on the lines of simple cooking. What inspired you?

It’s fun! There are people out there who have a need, which is not fulfilled. With all the international cookery books, you either have to change the recipe or find alternatives for ingredients not available. I just respond to that need.

In the wide gamut of your activities, what do you enjoy doing most?

I love doing books and TV. But I can’t just do that. There are things that you do for money and there are things you do for publicity.

The secret of your success??

Part of my success has been my huge international exposure. Most people don’t absorb when they travel, but I went with that purpose and learnt a lot about food and cultures. All the travel gave me an edge over others.

In your opinion, how has food and taste evolved over time in India?

A lot of exposure, travelling and TV has changed India a lot. Where earlier food was something to eat only because you are hungry, now it’s more of a trendy and lifestyle statement. It’s not just about sustenance. Though traditional food has not changed much and households still mainly go by ‘grandmother’s recipes’, the new generation wants to eat out and experiment with new types of food. So of course, hoteliers have adapted to fulfil that demand. Another noticeable change is that a lot more attention is being paid to smaller things like presentation, quality and variety.

What is the one common mistake that people tend to make while cooking?

In India, people think more is better. They tend to do more of everything: more masalas, overcooking. I always prefer undercooking, so you don’t lose the original taste of what you are eating.

What is your favourite food and restaurant?

That depends on my mood, but I really love Japanese food. If I find sushi somewhere, I will just sit down and have it! I really like the simplicity of the food. As for restaurants, there is no particular one, but I must tell you about my experience in this newly opened restaurant in Bangalore called Caperberry. For the first time in India, the chef there has experimented with the concept of ‘molecular gastronomy’. In simple terms, it means to deconstruct a dish and reconstruct it to present the essence of the texture and the flavour in its purest form. The food just fills your mouth with a burst of the flavour and smoothly slides down your throat. It was sheer delight eating there.

Is there anything you are working on right now? Or should we say, what’s cooking?!

Well, right now, I am doing a book on traditional Indian food. This one will be my big labour of love. While the look and feel of the book will be very contemporary, its contents will be a mix of traditional and home recipes of different cities of India. No quick or easy recipes here. It will probably be a 300-odd page book with some 200 photos. Hopefully, it should be out in the market in Feb-March 2010.

Also, I am thinking along the lines of working with the craft in India. We will be picking up the various works of art and craft and convert them into interesting things that will look good around the kitchen and dining room. There’s a lot going on in India and we haven’t harnessed enough of it. High time someone did it!

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