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Fun fare

ANJANA RAJAN speaks to Rashmi Uday Singh, who delights in food and its properties and whose latest cookbook, "Good Food Chicken Cook Book" is causing a flutter at the stands.

Rashmi Uday Singh.

OF HER two passions, food and fitness, Rashmi Uday Singh declares, "I think you can combine the two brilliantly." Besides, she explains, "If you're not healthy you can't enjoy all these wicked things!" Not that she finds good food all wicked, though. "It's not just physiological, but sociological, emotional. It's such an amazing thing!"

A food critic for over two decades, she has just brought out her second cookbook, "Good Food Chicken Cook Book" published by Zaika, an imprint of BPI (India) Private Limited. While her first was about recipes of celebrities "who actually cook" and whose gastronomic ideas she wanted to preserve since the perfectionist attitude of these super achievers was likely to have transferred to their cooking as well, this latest offering is, in the author's opinion, "the complete book on chicken".

A former official of the Income Tax Department, she did not foresee for herself a career as a food expert. As Deputy Director General, Shipping, when she quit her job in 1989, after 14 years in the Indian Administrative Service, the decision was inspired by a thought that strikes many in mid-life but not all are able to act on. "I thought, by the time Mozart was my age, he was dead. What am I doing?"

But since she had continued writing on food throughout her years in the IAS, a friend asked her to start a column in a daily. Then she was into it "big-time", and today writes for three mainstream papers including The Hindu, besides presenting a radio show for a Mumbai FM channel. She has also penned a number of restaurant guides to various cities.

"Now I want to write in Hindi. That's my latest passion," says this irrepressible mother of an 18-year-old who still feels like a teenager, and who refers to herself as "a professional eater".

Not being trained as a chef she feels is an advantage, as the professionals in the business are not wary of interacting with her, confident that she will give them due credit in her books. Also, as a lay person, she can avoid using jargon that ordinary people don't understand. Ingredients like white sauce, for example, she points out, are taken for granted by chefs, but she knows that the ordinary person in the kitchen will not be able to whip it up without instructions. Thrilled about the response she gets from the readers of her columns - the Chennai readers she finds especially, "are so responsive, articulate and literate" - Rashmi says, "I like to interact with my readers. After all, you don't write for yourself."

Though she concedes vegetarian fare is "more safe", as "non-vegetarian food has a far greater zone of housing bacteria," she advocates chicken as a healthy food, and does not feel vegetarianism is necessarily a better lifestyle. Ultimately, however, she believes in, "to each their own". As for the safety factor however, the "Chicken Cook Book" deals extensively with the most hygienic ways of cleaning the meat and storing it in cooked and raw forms.

Other factors that justify Rashmi's referring to the glossy publication as a handbook rather than a cookbook is the information provided on poultry types, and her grouping of the recipes according to whether they are "Hassle Free", "Party Pieces", "Cookbook Classics" and other classifications.

But did a book ever train a good cook? "Absolutely. I learnt swimming from a book," she declares, adding that she went on to reach the national level as a swimmer for her home State of Rajasthan.

But if that is surprising, her next statement is reassuring. "Cooking is, I believe, just common sense and a lot of confidence. It's just about understanding the fundas and having fun. It's not about slaving away in the kitchen trying to remember the exact words of the recipe."

Another of her maxims is that whenever you feel tired you should exercise. With a regular routine of yoga asanas and pranayam, treadmill and cardiovascular exercises besides lightweights, this confirmed believer in the "food and mood connection" adds a final word of comfort. "More important than having an active body and active eating is having a loving, caring, active mind."

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