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Ravinder Bhogal: London’s favourite cook…in boots!

2 Jun

Ravinder Bhogal might look like a character straight out of ‘Bend it Like Beckham’…

Punjabi descent, London upbringing and a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ mother who handed her a ladle at the age of 5. And perhaps thats what makes her stand out (and stand tall with those heels she wears everywhere!) in the ever-evolving London food scene.

 Back in 2007, at the age of 28, she was crowned ‘the new Fanny Cradock’ on a British Channel’s show- ‘The F Word’, following the world renowned gourmet chef Gordon Ramsay’s quest to find a great new female cook. At the time she was working as a beauty journalist with Look magazine, but was well known amongst her team as an ardent foodie, often bringing in home-made treats for her office mates. Check out the mention of her pop-up restaurant here in Vogue. Of course, shes coming to India soon with a cool new fad of Britain, pop up restaurant. I got chatting with out of her home in Greenwich, London. Here’s what I got…-

Ravinder Bhogal Blog

1.What do you think made you win the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for the UK’s Best First Cookbook for you book- Cook in Boots? 

I think it was all the energy and love I put into producing my book – I not only put my energy into the recipes, but the visuals and styling too. Its a unique book that has some serious recipes with a fun, fashion edge. Inevitable, its a very feminine book – because I’m a girl! I suppose the tone is very much about women and our ever-changing moods. It’s got over 165 recipes with 12 chapters and it’s everything from what to eat when you’re seducing someone to when you’ve blown all your money on your Manolo Blahniks. So it’s almost a toolbox for surviving through all those moods – but it’s an excuse to be greedy, really. I was delighted to win the award and but no, I never expected to win it.

Book by Ravinder Bhogal


 

2.What was Gordon Ramsay like while you were on his show -‘The F word’.

Completely charming and dynamic. I entered the competition, “Find Me a Fanny” because my friend had a premonition I would win – strange but true. She made me promise ill sign up for it and never realised when I entered the final rounds and actually took the title home. It opened a whole lot of avenues for me. Offers for authoring cook books started pouring in.

3. How young were you when you got into the food industry?

I was in my twenties but I have been cooking since I was 5. I was forced into the kitchen when I was five. My mum – an orthodox, old-fashioned lady, who made sure I learned to cook and sew. But it was only a year later that I really began to appreciate food. 

4.Have you given up working in fashion and beauty journalism?

Not altogether.I still freelance stories. And love fashion more than ever before.

5.Punjabi descent, brought up in Kenya and now living in London. Do all of those things influence your cooking?

My family is originally from India and before moving to the UK, I spent a part of my childhood in Nairobi, where my father worked as an aeronautical engineer. 

The family kitchen was always a hub of activity, with all the women cooking together and her father bringing exotic ingredients home from the markets, both in Africa and here in London. “It was very Pride and Prejudice in my house,” she jokes. So yes, it the moving absolutely opened up a world of flavours. London is so multicultural – we eat Thai food one day, Indian another and Japanese another.  I love how great the British are at adopting world cuisine. 

 

6. Pop up restaurants are still a new concept in India. Could you explain us the concept and how did you go about the one you hosted for The Dispensary pub in London?

Doing pop ups is a little like being a guest DJ – you get to have residency in someone else’s kitchen without all the responsibility of owning a restaurant. I was approached by The Dispensary after the success of my pop up at Hix Selfridges.

The Dispensary Pop Up by Bhogal


7. What future do you predict for Indian cuisine in UK?

A very bright one.

8. What can you not stop bingeing on?

Anything my mother cooks for me

9. What are your favourite-

 Cooking tools-

I love my microplane, pestle and mortar and my Cuisineart blender – it is so handy.

Vegetables- I love all vegetables but adore aubergines and all types of greens from pakchoi to spinach.

Inspiration sources – travel

Cuisines- Italian, Indian and Japanese food

Methods of cooking- who can resist a bit of deep fried food. Deep frying is like the icing sugar of cookery – it makes everything taste good.

 

10. What other projects do you have coming up?</p>

I am coming to India to work on some pop ups – very exciting and I also have another book on the way.

11.Could you suggest a quick vegetarian whip for our blog?

 Slice a griddle some thin rounds of aubergine. Mix yoghurt with chaat masala. Pour over aubergines and garnish with mint and pomegranate seeds.

 

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Dolly’s Tea House

27 Feb

Other than a year-long sojourn in London in my early 20s, I have lived my entire life in the South India. I am a coffee drinker through and through. But a couple of years ago, my sister and I lounged at a tea house in Ireland every afternoon of our week long trip and this die-hard coffee lover fell in love with teas. I don’t have that much of a sweet tooth when it comes to beverages. Nor a big fan of sodas and definitely don’t like sugary bottled drinks. But there is definitely something about the bracing kick of sweet tea (especially iced teas), the balance between astringent and syrup that just makes me happy.

Scouring thorough the Kantha work stoles in Dakshinapan in the dry receding monsoon air last week, I threw a thirsty glance around to see if I could find some fresh lime soda. And my gaze fell upon a cute green and white awning with large bold writing- ‘Dolly’s Tea House’. And all of a sudden, the smell of freshly brewed tea mingled with just- out- of- the- oven bake wafted towards me. A whole tsunami of saliva filled my mouth and my legs, and my legs unheedingly followed my gaze. Teak-panels, hanging paper lanterns,tea-crate tables, hand-sewn cushions atop the rattan chairs; my heart instantly warmed to this little oasis in middle of nowhere. An eclectic bunch of people warmed the stools while two women in starchy white sarees served beverages and tea cakes to them as the regal matriarchal eyes of the owner, Dolly Roy, monitored it all.

Dollys Tea House

I might still be hunkering over the menu of 32-odd ice tea flavours, had Ms Dolly not come to the rescue, generously suggesting a taste of a few before I actually made my choice. Hand across the heart, it puts the ‘crispy and cool ’commercial iced brews to shame. The renowned speciality, the Strawberry Ice tea nearly touched the hem of heaven and honourable mentions should go to the buoyant Pineapple flavour and the delicate Passion Fruit. The Blueberry seemed to have capitulated a little too much to the sweet toothed Bengalis, but what the heck, where else in this country will you find a Blueberry flavoured iced tea. Of course, toasted sandwiches and apple pies zealously accompany the hot and cold teas.

Dolly Roy first set shop in 1987, when tea houses were still a novelty. The verdant tea gardens circling her home in Darjeeling became her stimulus and she soon became India’s first woman tea taster and the first woman tea auctioneer in the world. Travelling in a tea pot shaped vans in Belgium, ambulating through acres of tea estates in Assam, working as India’s tea ambassador in New York helped her build her idea of a tea house to share her passion with others. Dolly now sells her favourite tea from all over the country in her very own tea house; the leaves come in pretty tin boxes recycled out of London maps, soft wood mini chests and festive plastic bags. If you’re interested, she or one of her assistants can teach you — how to brew it, how to serve it, and how to recognize the degree of its rarity. Dolly says she honestly thinks Indian tea has no parallel in quality and flavour but if she had to choose from teas abroad, it would be the white tea from China. Her favourite Indian brew is the second-flush Darjeeling tea (full-bodied, aromatic and muscatel in taste)

The tea house has quickly morphed from adorable notion into a formidable influence, a small shop with a large footprint and amongst India’s best tea houses. So one of these approaching summer evening, when you don’t feel like taking out your mother’s vintage tea pots and the mulled wine is already down to its last sip, carry a book , plonk yourself on Dolly’s oh-so-comfortable stools, sip on her tea and watch the world go by…

Urban Gardening

10 Sep

Imagine picking fresh juicy ripe tomatoes from your garden, plucking a few springs of oregano leaves growing in a shrub beside them and sandwiching all that fresh goodness between two slices of brown bread for a breakfast-on-the-go. My taste buds are already dancing at the thought and there is a whole tsunami of saliva in mouth.

Arrangements for that brilliant breakfast that I am going to have hopefully, after three months, have just been made. Bablu, my gardener and me have sprinkled some seeds in a patch of soil on the terrace and in a scatter of pots. And very soon, Ill have my very own kitchen garden.

I was never a big fan of urban gardening till I tasted the curry made of home grown peas at my aunt’s place.You have no idea what a difference that makes.Every little pea shone in pride with pretty parrot green coloring and showing off its rounded bosom with smooth sparkle. And of course, it tasted like lil balls of sugar. A quick toss on the stove with spoonful of olive oil, salt and lil milk was all it took to prepare the yummy curry.

Parsley, basil, oregano, dil, thyme and rocket leaves make up the herbs in my small brown mud pots. My seasonal vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, pak choy and spinach have made their way to the vegetable patch on the rooftop.

You don’t need a lot of land to grow these vegetables. A large pot in a sunny spot in perfectly sufficient for the herbs. But the carrots and the lettuce might need small strip of your garden or rooftop.And your bitter gourds and cucumber vines require enough space to crawl around.As long as the patch gets enough sun and has rich manured soil, it should do us good.

My gardener had planted some ridge gourd, brinjals and serrano chillies last summer. Look what luscious crop they gave!

Hidden gem of Kolkata- Beck Bagan

26 Jul

Í love to travel, eat, write and cook.
I cook what I ate while I travelled. And when Im not not eating, Im busy planning my next meal. And when I’m not talking about food, I write about it. And what is better than Kolkata for some writing and food inspiration?

I had some brilliant Laksa curry on a trip to Kuala Lumpur a couple of years back. A soupy noodle broth, the cooking style is quite similar to that of Khow Suey. I remember coming back home and bookmarking the recipe online.So when I had to use some leftover coconut milk last night, I clicked onto the bookmark and the brilliant website bubbled open.

The Laksa curry recipe looked sinful.The smell of fresh lemongrass and basil leaves floating on the curry, wafted through my screen.

But what in Nigella’s (c’mon, she is a Goddess) name was Galangal? It sounded like Picasso of Spain- a cold watermelon and onion soup. Sounds wrong but oh-my, it’s a brilliant concoction.

And where do I find Galangal in Kolkata? I looked it up online. It belonged to the ginger family but with a sweeter and more citrusy taste.

Now there was a quick cook with the basic green curry sauce available in pretty looking jars in superstores with Thai writing on them or the old school. I decided to go the old school way and went on my little adventure.

Spencers, Bhagyalakshmi,Sharma’s store and Knick Knack. None had it. When I casually mentioned it at the supermarket in South of Kolkata they reacted like I was insulting their mother. Finally, the sous chef at a Thai restaurant leaked it- “Bekh Bagan.You get the world in there.”

Fruits, flower, vegetable vendors, potters and grocers, all crammed into microscopic spaces,the stalls seemed to barely be able to breathe but were surprisingly clean. The incense sticks wafted out little clouds of sandalwood and water sprinkled from a mud pot on the vegetables made them look deliciously juicy and ripe.

I wriggled my way to the recommended stall and hesitantly asked the man sitting in a lungi and vest amidst his piles of vegetables,”Dada, galangal ache?”

“Yes madam. Would you prefer the lesser, greater or powder style one?”

Just when I thought the sous chef was perhaps exagerrating, Karthik, the biggest vendor in Bekh Bagan, left me stumped.

With a turnover of more a lakh per month, Karthik has his very own printed business cards, a work mobile, home delivery services and there is more…a customer suggestion book!!! Some of his biggest buyers of fancy vegetables are old Chinese women and roadside hawkers. And on popular demand, he even provides home delivery of herb pots of basil,thyme,rosemary etc;

So when they say -Kolkata loves its food and knows the good from the bad; I now believe it.

I’m looking up the papaya salad recipe for lunch tomorrow. And Karthik is now on my speed dial!

Oh, and you can always email me for the recipe and Karthik’s number! 🙂