Experimenting in the kitchen

Experimenting in the kitchen

Experimenting in the kitchen

At a recent food festival in Bengaluru, Chef Shazia Khan faced a number of problems. Her masterclass on modern Indian cooking just wouldn’t get off the ground. Her kitchen was missing a stove, and when she finally got one, it wouldn’t light up. But not once did she lose her calm or reveal her annoyance. It is the same quality that held her in good stead during her stint in MasterChef India Season 2 and helped her emerge as the runner-up.

Hailing from a joint family, Shazia was fascinated by the kitchen right from a young age. “It was where all the women of the family got together to cook and gossip. I loved hanging out in the kitchen. It was my source of happiness,” she says. Since MasterChef, Shazia has gotten busy with TV shows, culinary classes and is even working on a book. In an exclusive conversation with Deccan Herald, Shazia sheds light on her culinary journey, food inspirations and more:

How was your stint at MasterChef?
It has been life-altering. Before the competition, I was just a home cook and now I am a celebrity chef. It feels good to know that people look up to me today. The competition helped me learn a lot of things.

What is modern Indian cooking?
It means borrowing cooking techniques from international cuisines to create Indian dishes without disturbing the flavours. For instance, in my book (What’s On The Menu?), there’s a recipe for tandoori chicken roulade. You start off by applying a tandoori chicken marinade on a chicken breast and then roll the chicken, just like the French do it.

Do you think formal training is necessary to become a chef?
It depends. If you are really passionate about food and can afford the course, go for it. Or if you aspire to get into the culinary industry, then I would strongly recommend a culinary degree. But if you are a home cook without such resources, the best thing would be to keep pursuing food in one form or other.

What are your favourite kitchen ingredients?
I love playing with spices, especially the dry ones. I like star anise a lot: it’s a spice that gives a very happy, loving feel to any dish. I love garlic too.

What advice would you give to home cooks?
Start small. Take up catering or baking jobs and then go for bigger challenges. Don’t let appearing on a TV show be your ultimate goal. Work with a chef to get a taste of the real culinary world.

What can we learn from other cuisines?
The way they treat their ingredients is fabulous and the quality of ingredients they use is mind-blowing. They keep the flavours simple, which is really great.

What are the most common mistakes we make while cooking?
Even while making a simple vegetable dish, we put in lots of spices and oil, and overcook the veggies. I always tell people to keep flavours simple and focus on the main ingredient. Also, some find cooking  boring. But you can make it fun by playing with different flavours. Today, many websites offer pre-cooked or half-assembled meals and varied ingredients. Use them to your advantage.

What are your future plans?
My culinary school is getting ready in Bengaluru and will begin in August. As a part of the set-up, I will also be training unprivileged girls to take up cooking professionally. I am also working on my second cookbook on the Muslim cuisine in India.