Chandri Bhat ~ Culinary Connoisseur, Consultant & Cookbook Author

by on November 5, 2016

The lanes of her life seem to have gently meandered towards culinary excellence. Almost as if she was destined to find her life’s calling and joy in food! This 60-year old food connoisseur, researcher and cookery expert needs no introduction…
 
Chandri Bhat (78), culinary connoisseur and the author of newly published cookbook “Kitchen Nostalgia – 50 Heartwarming Vegetarian Curries” is an embodiment of warmth and nurturing. She lives up to the dictum, that when you give love, you receive it back in much larger proportions. Recently Nina Reddy, Jt. Managing Director of Savera Hotels decided to self-publish Chandriji’s recipes as a tribute to her love, warmth and dedicated professionalism.
 
Chatting with Chandriji, one can see her simple value system and serenity which makes her accept life as it comes. She speaks about her life, peppered with anecdotes from her childhood and growing years. She talks of her profession and love for food related matters, seasoned with enthusiasm and charm. Not just a culinary expert, Chandriji disseminates her knowledge with ease and is best at sharing, teaching and educating, with a generous helping of her years of experience.

 

Chandri Bhat from Kuala Lumpur
Congratulations Chandri Ma’am on your cookbook. Was it a long pending dream come true?
Thank you, Pratibha. Actually, I never thought about it. I was just happy gathering all my recipes in my files. I never felt any need to publish them in a volume. This is truly a surprise blessing.
 
To us, it is a natural culmination of your culinary passion. How did you first discover your love for cooking?
It would be right to say that I grew up with it. My childhood home in Mangalore was one of those quaint houses with a large courtyard. At that time, all functions and celebrations would take place at home; even those of our relatives. For large events, professional cooks would be invited. I was completely fascinated with their skills and imbibed the flavours and aromas that wafted across. Perhaps that is when the seed was sown!
 
Did the women of the family participate in the cooking?
It was always like community cooking at home. Generally there were cooks at home, but my mother, grandma and aunts supervised in detail and would be very involved. The women of the house took pride in the food they served.
 
And between them all, did you get a chance to cook?
I did not participate in the cooking. However, we had cows and buffaloes at home. And those days, we did not even think of selling milk. So the surplus milk was often used to made khova and pedas and that was when I was allowed to stir the milk while it boiled to a thick consistency. I also remember grinding masalas along with my aunts. My elder sisters got married even before I turned five. So for me cooking was not a chore, but a fun and grown-up thing to do!
 
So when did you start experimenting in the kitchen?
I think it was around the time when I joined college in Bangalore. I used to read a lot of magazines and was particularly interested in their food sections. When I came home during the holidays, I would try out some new recipes. My mother believed that I should learn all the house-keeping skills, and hence sent me to stay with my older sister in Bandra, Mumbai, once I completed college. My sister in turn introduced me to all her friends in the colony. It was a cosmopolitan group and I got the chance to sample and dabble with a variety of cuisine as they would invite me over to learn their dishes.
 
Hmmm…the making of a perfect housewife!
That was exactly what mom wanted! So after six months in Mumbai, she sent me to stay with my other sister in Delhi for another six months. I enjoyed that too. By nature, I love exploring. So even though I have always been a vegetarian, I also experiment with non-vegetarian dishes.
 
Looks like you surpassed your mother’s dream! How did your career take off?
(Laughs) I was married at 22 and came to Chennai. In 1971, I joined the Cultural Academy at Santhome. I did their course for two semesters after which they asked me to teach there. I started teaching the course for working women, sponsored by Bajaj Appliances. That’s how I got into consultancy for kitchen appliances.
 
You have also travelled overseas on work?
Yes, I also worked for Panasonic. They sent me to attend international workshops. Over the past 45 years, I have been a consultant for many leading restaurants, makers of kitchen appliances and food products. My recent project was for MTR.
 
And alongside, you continued your cookery classes?
Oh yes, that is something I have always enjoyed tremendously. There is something so satisfying about sharing recipes and the unparalleled feeling of excitement when the students came back to share their success stories. I feel really blessed that I have taught 3-4 generations of people in the same families.
 
That sounds like destiny was just unfolding itself.
In fact, after my husband, Dr. Manohar Bhat passed away, I continued to stay in Chennai for almost 15 years and kept busy with my cookery classes and other food related assignments. In 2013 I wound up my home in Chennai and started sharing my time between my two daughters. The elder one Renuka lives in Bangalore while Vrinda lives in Kuala Lumpur. Now I spend most of my time in Kuala Lumpur.
 
And how did the cookbook happen?
Once in a while, I would think of writing a cookbook but I always felt that writing is a solitary occupation. I felt that when I am older and do not have much energy, I will write (laughs). That day has not yet come! I still feel energetic. But jokes apart, this cookbook is Nina Reddy’s generosity, vision and love for me. During the past few years, I observed that Nina was involved with many charities. She was always asking me to bring out a book. So I did this book and gifted it to her to use for any cause dear to her heart. She was deeply touched and took upon herself to publish it and donate the proceeds from the sales to National Association for the Blind, TN Chapter.
 
That is so wonderful and speaks of the generosity of your own spirit. Tell me, which cuisine interests you the most?
As I said, I love experimenting. I have taught Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mediterranean, Mexican and fusion cuisine. But just as every traveller returns home, I have also come back to discovering my comfort food in the Mangalore cuisine of my childhood, which is simple home-cooked South Indian vegetarian food.
 
Why is it that you have chosen to feature curries in your cookbook?
These days most homemakers are hard pressed for time. Elaborate meals with more than two dishes are generally reserved for weekends or holidays. So, if there is one good curry, it can be paired with rice, chapathi or even bread for a satisfying meal. Also, I feel that if a homemaker is familiar with 10-15 curries which she/he can cook without having to refer to the recipe for every step, the cooking will be faster and less stressful. My aim while picking these time-tested recipes was to offer something that the readers would like to cook often and make them “their” regular recipes and be able to cook effortlessly with confidence.
 
Do you cook even now?
Even when I had helpers, I liked to do the main cooking. So wherever I am, I dabble in the kitchen quite a bit. In Kuala Lumpur also, we make our simple traditional meals at least 3-4 times in a week.
 
And how would you define comfort food?
Comfort food is something that nurtures you: it is what you like to eat when you are tired, very hungry or stressed. Comfort food is not just physically, but also emotionally nurturing. It also provides a nostalgic or sentimental value and more importantly, a taste of home!
 
It comes as no surprise that Chandriji chose Kitchen Nostalgia as the title for her cookbook, which evokes all these emotions, lingering tastes and timeless flavours…

 

Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Paduvalakai Palida, or snake gourd curry in yoghurt gravy, from Chandri Bhat’s kitchen.
First published in ‘Heart to Hearth’ – a column in Harmony Celebrate Age magazine. A series about elders who believe in nurturing the body and mind as the key to joy.

 

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