As reflected in her new and vibrant cookbook – I Love India – Anjum’s journey as a highly successful chef is a deeply personal one. While many cusinineres will have chased the training of high cooking institutions such as Le Cordon Bleu, the well-spoken Anand was naturally immersed in a world of cosmopolitan flavour from a very young age. At just four years old, Anand’s family moved to Switzerland, where she grew up and completed her studies in urbane style in the elegant city of Geneva: “I had access to all these affordable European dishes – everything from Swiss and middle European, to a bit of German, French and Italian. It gave me a heightened sensitivity for blending different ingredients which I carry with me to this day.” But as one of her signature desserts, the Green Mango Tart – as opposed to the traditional strawberry or lemon – demonstrates, growing up in a relatively different landscape was also exactly what forged a connection with authentic Indian food. Having emigrated from India, her father would invite other Indians from the immediate community to join the family for jovial home-cooked meals and the merriment that this brought.
“For me, food has always been an incredibly emotional experience,” Anjum stated on the subject. “It's so much about your memories and unique cultural background. My first line of recipe books (Anjum has eight best-selling collections with the publishers Quadrille) for example, focussed on how fresh and light Indian dishes can be. People often think Indian food and health are not compatible, and that's simply not true. I drew from my parent’s culinary heritage, which was a mix of my mother’s light, vegetarian fare and my father’s meat-based curry culture. We would also make many trips back to India. Now, at this point in my life, I’ve felt the need to create a book that was a culmination of my whole life experience: from the most quality of my Indian dishes to the personal techniques I’ve come to perfect over time.” Anjum has hosted BBC TV’s Indian Food Made Easy as well as a 12-part series on Australia’s SBS food network Anjum’s Spice Stories. She is also the owner of an internationally stocked, award-winning range of Indian sauces. “I Love India is my consummate ode to the country. The special signature is a great variety of Indian meals made accessible in your own kitchen. From the street-side Tiffin food to coastal curries, which are influenced by both richly regional tradition and colonial settlers such as the Portuguese and Turks, I like to give people’s taste buds the chance to travel in the comfort of their home. They are wonderful recipes for individuals on the go, listing highly reachable ingredients.” Thus, Anjum not only “presents Indian food for modern times”, but provides a palatable modern perspective: one that treats professionalism as an organic extension of the self, and puts the joy of living first. “I do believe in hard work and determination,” she aptly finished, “but there’s a bit of Kismat (fate) in success too. That comes from doing what you love. I remember working in a LA restaurant as part of my earlier training - to give a fun anecdote - and I seemed to be the only one there doing it for cooking in of itself: everyone else was an archetypal aspiring actor!”
Please Tell us more about I Love India?
It’s the perfect Indian lifestyle book. From regional soul food to summer BBQ, there’s a recipe for every occasion. I really wanted to showcase how fantastic and delicious nutritious Indian cooking could be.
Tell us more about your personal cooking style?
It’s about great Indian food rather than over-the-top, fancy technique. I want people to be able to produce great home-cooked dishes. For example, I enjoy cooking chicken with the bones still in, and I’ll make salad with tandoori chicken: it’s wholesome and flavourful. Another aspect is showing people how balanced Indian cooking can be.
You’ve experienced both fast food and high end cooking. Tell us about that?
I wanted to acquire as much cooking experience as possible. I learnt so much, from food to organisation and flavour and presentation. I absolutely love being in the kitchen. It’s so full of action and fun. There's an intense energy.
What else grabs you about cooking aside from the intense atmosphere?
The creative process and alchemy within: ingredients which taste a certain way by themselves can be elevated in flavour when mixed together. It is also a very meditative process.
Is cooking teachable?
Absolutely! You don’t necessarily have to be the most pragmatic or creative person to cook a good dinner. Just start by opening a book and following that first simple recipe. Then if you feel successful keep adding flourishes and experimenting. My mother always taught me, and that was a good way to learn too: directly.
And how much does creativity enter into it?
It’s different for different chefs. Some are very methodical. Others prefer to instinctively add twists, pairing unusual ingredients together. I get my culinary kick from challenging myself to recreate something new. I might come across an intriguing dish, and then try to make it at home without the guidance: basically drawing purely from talent.
Please give us some tweaks and flourishes to try?
An interesting, pretty one is adding pomegranate seeds – they are very sweet, but have enough stringency not to compromise the overall flavour of your dish. Frying up some garlic and chilli never fails to enhance a meal either. I do enjoy injecting colour and vibrancy into my food.
What’s been a highlight of your career?
I’ve been lucky to have many: when the BBC took me on to be the face of Indian food, the first time I felt completely relaxed appearing on TV – I happened to be pregnant with my first child and that was a beautiful feeling, being invited to 10 Downing Street and have Samantha Cameron tell me how much she loved my books! Another great moment was when I was invited to India to do a charity dinner with 5 or so Michelin star chefs, and I was confident enough to hold my own!
Do you plan to open your own restaurant in the future?
Unfortunately you don’t have as much recipe flexibility with your own restaurant. I love having that. Having my career the way it is also helps me balance my duties as a mother, which I love.
What’s a favourite dish of yours?
If I had to pick: my mother’s black pepper chicken! I also love Indian street food.
Finally, do you have advice for social media success?
Get yourself out there, but stay genuine! Don’t just curate all the best parts – connect to people honestly on an everyday level.