The celebrated cookbook author, television chef, travel, and food writer and actor, Madhur Jaffery is credited for popularising desi cuisines in the West and is known as the First Lady of Global Indian cuisine. From a complete non-cooking person to becoming a Padma Bhushan awardee for her contribution to culinary arts, her journey is an inspirational one. She has been awarded Padma Bhushan this year, India’s third-highest civilian award.
Jaffrey, who was born in Delhi’s Civil Lanes and raised in the British Raj, moved to London when she was 19 years old to pursue a career in acting and joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). She reportedly was not impressed by the food there, and so has learnt to cook using recipes that were provided in correspondence from her mother.
Madhur Jaffrey is no stranger to the worlds of acting and cookbooks. The first author to take Indian cuisine to Western audiences through innumerable cookbooks, she showed the world there’s more to our food than chicken tikka masala with her first book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, in 1973. This was followed by a dozen other cookbooks, three of which focused on vegetarian cuisine.
Besides her books, her much-loved TV shows have won her a global following, the most notable of which being ‘Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery’, which debuted in the United Kingdom in 1982. The show was the first to be presented by an Indian and was an instant success. Her recipes have become highly popular. “I remember reading articles like they had run out of green coriander in Manchester because I had made a dish the day before with chicken cooked with it. It really changed the way the English were eating Indian food,” she said in an interview with ‘BBC’.
While it may seem that Jaffrey spends all her time in the realm of food, she is still very much an actress, even now, auditioning for roles. Her love for the arts comes through when she speaks about the early years of her acting career, particularly her association with Ismail Merchant with whom she made Shakespeare Wallah, the film that won her a Best Actress Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1965. Shashi Kapoor was her co-star, and it was also Merchant who asked her whom she wanted to act with in Autobiography of a Princess and a then young and, possibly, insouciant Jaffrey said ‘Olivier’. Eventually, the role went to James Mason, and she recalls how he would rehearse his props and sit and watch while she, a newbie compared to him, delivered her lines.
Written by Pinky Bothra