Lekshmi Nair gave a facelift to cookery shows on television. She talks about her recipe for success

Lekshmi Nair is just back from a six-day trip to Malaysia, exploring the food, culture and life of the multi-ethnic nation. Exhausted after a “back-breaking” journey, Lekshmi, is, however, thrilled to bits about going international. Indeed, a huge step for somebody who was offered a cookery show on Kairali TV, because word got around of her flavourful cooking. “Now, the show has been running for the last 14 years without a break,” she says with pride.

Lekshmi garnished her show with a dash of glamour and ensured that her presentation was classy but easy. Six years ago, she launched, Flavours of India, on the same channel, which showcases the food, culture, and lifestyle of different states of India. “The Malaysian trip has come as a bonus. What made me really happy is that Malaysian Airlines and Malaysian Tourism hand-picked our show to showcase the tourism potential and cultural richness of the country,” says Lekshmi.

Lekshmi broke into the male bastion in the culinary field because she is “passionate” about what she does. It wasn’t easy though. There were sniggers when she started a catering unit even as she was teaching law. “Catering wasn’t treated as something respectable then. But the fact that I was academically qualified gave me an upper hand and earned me respect,” she says. Today when she is referred to as a ‘celebrity culinary expert’, Lekshmi plays it down saying, “All I did was that I related to my audience, read home-makers. The ingredients for success are many. For instance, my recipes are not exotic. I make these dishes at home and only when I am satisfied with the result do I present it for the viewers. I use ingredients that are easily available. Over the years, I’ve familiarised my viewers to ingredients such as celery, spring onion, capsicum, soya sauce, China grass, gelatin…,” she says.

She also ensures that “measurements are given not in grams or millilitre, but in spoons or glass and nothing is held back from the viewers.” Lekshmi adds: “Well, once I share the recipe with the viewers, it is not mine anymore. But that is fine.” A natural before the camera, she doesn’t have any qualms about admitting that she takes great care of her costumes and accessories. “I am very careful about choosing the right nail colours even! I believe it is important to be presentable on screen. Some like it, some don’t!”

Things are very different now with every other television channel having a cookery show or travel-cum-cookery show. And Lekshmi isn’t quite pleased with the scenario and openly states that she doesn’t approve of “celebrities hosting cookery shows. Some of them don’t know anything about the ingredients and often fumble during the preparations.”

Meanwhile, having charted out a path on her own, she takes no credit away from her supportive family. In fact, it was after 12 years of her marriage that she made her debut on the mini screen, encouraged by her husband and two kids.

“I travel for my show during vacations and I have missed out on all the fun. But they understand it. In fact, they are the ones on whom I experiment most of my recipes!” Experimenting with cooking started at a very young age for Lekshmi. “I started out with bread and once spread out a variety of bread recipes when a few friends came home for my birthday when I was in class ten. I was very inquisitive about cooking as a small girl since my mother used to work and the kitchen was completely run by our cooks, which I didn’t quite appreciate. However, the good thing was that my mother used to collect recipes, from newspapers, magazines and books. Soon, I got involved in the daily affairs of the kitchen, and started making dishes based on those recipes.”

So, what keeps her going? “There is nothing more wonderful than being appreciated for what I cook. Whenever I have free time, my mind is occupied with making new recipes trying out the ingredients in different combination. But I don’t like to tamper with our traditional dishes,” she says.

Having covered most of the Indian states for her show, she plans to write two books and start a school for cookery school. But for the time being, she continues her food trail.

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Lekshmi Nair, a post graduate in history and a doctorate holder in law, is currently the Principal of Kerala Law Academy, Thiruvananthapuram. A first rank holder in LLM, she has written four cookery books.