When a young, newly-wed Mallika Badrinath prepared brinjal gravy for the first time, she did not have a clue that she would turn out to be a culinary expert one day. Neither did she think that her education in Home Science would make her a household name in the city.
Serving us a special dish made of watermelon, a cheerful Mallika Badrinath is more than willing to recollect the early days of her career – she prefers to look at it as a hobby that turned into passion.
Born and brought up in a joint family in Salem, Mallika never had to enter the kitchen, though she was trained in other arts and crafts. After marriage, she started collecting recipes from her mother's and aunt's cook books. “At the end of the day, I realised that I had ten such handwritten books and when segregated under topics, I had 80 recipes for side dishes alone,” Mallika recollects. However, she owes the idea of publishing a cook book to her husband, Badrinath, a chartered accountant. He set the ball rolling and started off small by publishing 1, 000 copies of Mallika's first book on 100 Vegetarian Gravies in 1988.
In three months, the books vanished from the shelves. With encouraging feedback and popular demand from her friends, family and customers, she decided to take it up seriously.
The task seemed exciting for the ever active Mallika. She started collecting recipes from friends, belonging to different communities. She tried them out before writing them down. She experimented with new combinations, understood the science of food, and the taste and value of different ingredients. Then she began to get innovative and create her own dishes.
With a target of one book per year, Mallika has now 25 books to her credit. Her books are not just about recipes, but also about making it presentable and understanding the basics. “I take care that my readers do not feel out of place in the middle of a preparation. I make each step clear. I try the dishes on a trial and error basis and I know where people tend to make mistake. I put myself in their shoes.” She says.
Above all, she ensures that she makes the book user-friendly. “I ensure that the book is readable. It is bound in such a way, that it can be placed conveniently while cooking and that the tips, ingredients and procedures are easy to follow. From the cover to the glossary, she ensures that it follows a particular style. This effort, probably, has taken her to where she is today. Her books are also affordable. “I want my books to be in the kitchen and not in the cupboard,” Mallika asserts.
But the journey has not been easy. She did encounter initial hiccups as far as marketing is concerned. “At one stage, we had second thoughts about investing in books, as the payments were delayed,” she adds. “It took me seven or eight years to overcome all the stumbling blocks and reach a level when people started coming to me for books.”
Her husband reduced his auditing assignments to assist her in marketing the books, while Mallika took care of the creative part. Slowly, she started getting offers for cookery shows on television. She started doing shows on Doordarshan and other private channels.
But Mallika did not aim for the sky. She accepts very few assignments, but when she does, she puts her heart and soul into it. Mallika is sure of what she wants and ensures that she is available for the family too.
“As a homemaker, as a woman, I had to fulfil my responsibilities towards my family,” she says, adding, “My family always comes first.”
Recently, she has set up a factory for ‘Mallika Home Products.' It includes a wide range of masalas, developed by her. The products are available only in Chennai. She writes recipes and tips for magazines and those recipe booklets that are given away along with kitchen utility items.
She is penning a book on balanced diet recipes that includes explanations of the nutritive value of food. She calls the project, “ambitious.”
Mallika rates her participation in the culinary expert summit held in Japan as one of the best moments in her career. “I got to meet and share experiences with experts from all over the world. I saw the same passion for work in all of us.”
Mallika points out that her transformation from a timid college girl to a confident gastronomic expert came about because of job satisfaction and not success. “Mothers thank me because my books helped their daughters cook; Indian students in the U.S. rely on my books to cook their own food, poor people start small scale businesses such as pickle-making, soup and soft drinks, and refer to my books for the recipes. All this gives me immense satisfaction.”
Mallika has her plans clearly laid out – for family, for business, TV shows, her books and for herself. She is definite about the ingredients that make a perfect day. Apart from believing in the blessings of the supreme power, Mallika says, ‘Planning, time management, hard work and dedication in perfect ratio' are the ingredients that make up her recipe for success.