Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ravishing Ravinder: The New Food Queen

-Shivani Mohan
(This interview first appeared as a cover story in wknd., the weekend magazine of Khaleej Times in Dec 2013)

She has burst onto the international culinary scene like a breath of fresh air, designer dresses, high heels and florescent lipsticks in tow. For there are food shows and there are food shows. Those of us who have had enough of the predictability of the Nigellas and the Bourdains, Ravinder Bhogal, host of the show ‘Ravinder’s Kitchen’ that airs every night at 8 pm on TLC channel brings a delectable combination of sumptuous food, drop dead gorgeous good looks, a fresh youthful interpretation of world cuisines, served with a mega-watt smile and good old Punjabi exuberance.

There’s been no looking back for Ravinder ever since she was crowned ‘The New Fanny Craddock’ by none other than Gordon Ramsay in the popular culinary competition called ‘The F Word’. Ravinder who admits to having a huge appetite for good food and an unhealthy addiction to high heels, has also written a very piquant and perky cook book called ‘Cook in Boots’ that has gained great popularity, what with a typical chick-lit cover with Ravinder holding a pair of Louboutins while she gazes at a dreamy dessert.

So here’s a new flavour in food and it’s called Ravinder-saucy, racy and fun. As she admits in her vibrant introduction in the show ‘born in Kenya, made in London, rooted in India, passionate home cook and a greedy girl’,  Ravinder is the perfect example of the multi-cultural associations that most global citizens relate to today and something that reflects in their food choices too. This confluence of diverse traditions and ‘schools of thought’ often converge on creative platforms such as Ravinder’s new show, creating a smorgasbord of exciting flavours, forms and textures.

Ravinder clearly scores with her informal, anecdotal commentary on the show and her personal twist to some well-known international, culinary classics besides her own creations. Here’s a chat with the rising star:  
 Tell us about your childhood and upbringing? Were you ‘destined’ to be a famous chef? What were your interests besides cooking?

I grew up in Nairobi in Kenya and moved to London when I was 7. The move meant my landscape of food changed. In Kenya we had land and grew food and kept chickens in the backyard but our home in England barring a few fruit trees in the garden was far more urban. However it meant I could indulge my appetite for all good British things like Sunday roasts and nursery style puddings.

At school I was just a complete bookworm - I always had my nose in a book and loved writing stories - I was very imaginative - a total day dreamer - not much has changed really! I suppose this is why I like cookery because it gives you the space to retreat into your own little world.

I learnt to imbibe the best of all worlds. I grew up watching Madhur Jaffrey’s cookery shows. Today for example I love to spice up British dishes such as Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips with Indian spices. Besides cooking I enjoy fashion, photography, reading, poetry, music, art exhibitions, history and especially travel.

 When did you start cooking? What inspired you to cook?
I was a reluctant cook – dragged to the kitchen screaming and kicking by my mother who had an Austen-esque notion that her daughters must be perfect home makers if they are to secure suitable husbands!

 The first dish you remember making.
A very charcoal flavoured chapatti!

 What was the turning point in your culinary career?
I suppose it would have been my grandfather’s encouragement – he praised even the most disgusting concoctions I created and his love fired my oven – he made me fall in love with cooking. Also professionally beating 8500 women to be crowned ‘The New Fanny Cradock’ by Gordon Ramsay helped!

How did you conceptualise ‘Cook in Boots’.
Cook in Boots was an idea when I was still a fashion journalist. All the girls in my office always talked about food and the meals that they had eaten and I realised that we were such emotional eaters – so Cook in Boots is a helpful, food guide broken down into moods and situations right from ‘Comfort Food’ which deals with food that picks you up if you are heartbroken or just under the weather to ‘Fork Me Spoon Me’ which shows you how to seduce with food.

 Who are the chefs you admire?
At the moment I am most impressed with my friend Karam Sethi – the chef at Gymkhana in London.

 Tell us some exciting moments of shooting for a food show. Something we wouldn’t know. What happens back scene?
There was one time I nearly blew everyone’s ear drums when I screamed because a mouse had run onto set – I was like that character from Tom and Jerry hopping onto the kitchen surface, screaming and jumping around. My sound guys were not happy as I had screamed right into their headphones. Also I am innately clumsy so I fell a lot in my heels which I am sure was amusing for the crew! 

 One dish you’re proud of having created.
All of them. I work hard on all of my recipes – they are my babies. But my prawn toast scotch eggs score high. Something about using crushed prawn crackers instead of breadcrumbs makes them very special and I serve them with a delicious banana ketchup!

 Your favourite meal-breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Dinner. I love getting dressed up for dinner.

 How do you keep yourself looking so fit and beautiful?
I am not as fit as I would like to be, but I try and remain active and walk a lot. Also cooking takes quite some stamina.

 Your ideal man. Would you want him to cook for you?
Anything George Clooney fed me would be quite delicious I am sure! 

 What would you cook for your man if planning a romantic dinner?
Anything that requires eating with your hands – dropping forks and knives means people will often drop their guard. I love seafood. Anything cooked with love is good but seafood linguine always make me hopeful I might have my ‘Lady & the Tramp’ moment. Also being tactile with food is sexy. 

You have a vibrant and definitive fashion sense. What are the designers or labels you love?
I adore vintage clothes. I recently bought a very ladylike vintage Celine skirt suit I am crazy about.

One food item everyone should be eating?
I think we should be eating more vegetables in general and really connecting with nature. It is my dream to have my own allotment.

What are your favourite cuisines in the world?
I am obsessed with Japanese food.

  If you were marooned on an island and you could take 5 foods and 2 kitchen implements with you, what would they be?
Ginger, garlic, chilli, good olive oil, lemon. In equipment, a sharp knife and a barbecue.

A famous person you would love to cook for?
George Clooney

What kind of food you don’t like or detest?
Bottarga – a kind of Italian cured tuna roe.

Any new books on the anvil?
Yes there will be for sure. Many I hope!

What would you be if not a chef?
I would have continued as a beauty journalist.

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