Meet Crispy vadais and fluffy paruppu usili are the flavour of the season as the Raman family wins Britain's ‘Best Cooking Family Award'
It's not everyday that ‘Britain's best cooking family' award goes to three passionate foodies from Chennai. Meet Priya, Geetha and Rajee who have showcased South Indian vegetarian cuisine on the global stage.
It's hard to believe this is happening on BBC 2. A largely British population has tuned in to watch Priya rustle up a batch of crispy, golden-brown masala vadais and deftly chop a raw mango for a thunda maanga oorgai; her aunt Geetha is working on the fragrant tomato and onion rice, and a gorgeously fluffy beans paruppu usili; meanwhile her grand-aunt Rajee is carefully deep frying nendaranga chips, having just tweaked a time honoured carrot halwa recipe with vanilla pods and whipped cream to suit the British palate. Not surprisingly, the charismatic celebrity chefs Simon King and Dave Myers, (aka Hairy Bikers), are, by the Grand Finals, smitten by the ‘cleverly aromatic' South Indian cuisine, impressed by the flair and finesse displayed by the trio and happily award ‘Britain's best cooking family' title to the delighted women!
Hailing from Chennai, and now long-time residents of the U.K., the Raman family — Priya Raman and Geetha Varadhan from York and Rajee Rajagopal from Kent — were short-listed from hundreds of hopeful applicants across the country, to take part in the highly popular TV series (‘The Hairy Bikers' Cook Off') to find the most accomplished cooking family in Britain. “Initially, we weren't sure of lasting beyond a couple of rounds,” admits Priya. “The Bikers really love their meat, and there we were, going for a pure-vegetarian South Indian cuisine!” Besides, while ‘curry' is remarkably well known in Britain, not many had heard of ‘creamy-yoghurty stew' (morkozhambu) and ‘carrot and lentil salad' (kosmalli) until the Ramans introduced them to these delicacies.
Alchemy of spices
“The Bikers were very excited about our ingredients. They're ardent foodies, and amazing cooks, and it was perhaps a sense of déjà vu too for them, as they have, in the past, travelled around in South India,” says Priya. “At every stage they lavishly commended us on the alchemy of spices, and our efficient teamwork!” And, their unusual choice of delicately-spiced dishes and superb teamwork finally paid-off. For, despite choosing ambitiously large spreads, roasting and grinding their masalas right in front of a captivated audience, they managed to not just finish, but also beautifully present their elaborate menus in the stipulated 30-45mins. “When we were reinstated as the wildcard family (after a setback in the semi-finals) the onus was on us to prove that we deserved to be called back,” says Rajee. And so, they practised long and hard (“our Skype and mobile sessions were certainly colourful,” laughs Priya), closely discussed processes and roles, and drew up a ‘Festive Feast' (the theme for the Grand Final) that would include some shining examples from the delicious South Indian kitchen.
“The Bikers were floored by the flavours and textures in our food, and especially impressed by our vast, sumptuous spreads,” says a very satisfied Priya. “It was, undoubtedly, a tough contest, but being in the awe-inspiring BBC-sets and working with two energetic, talented women was such a lovely experience!” sums up Geetha.