Food For Thought
Masala! chats with writer, gourmand and media personality Nirmal Khanna
She is as adept with the world of words as she is with tastes, flavours and spices. No wonder that Nirmal Khanna, who has a passion for both – cooking and writing – combined her interests to come up with two cookbooks one of which, Cook And Bake The Easy Way, became a best-seller. Such was her expertise that she even went on to conduct cookery classes in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai.
However, that’s not all there is to this remarkable lady. When she came to Dubai way back in 1984, she decided to switch fields and enter the realm of media. Her first stint was with Gulf News in the marketing department but she soon switched to journalism with Khaleej Times – an association that lasted almost 16 years. Nirmal worked in every capacity there along with running the Women’s Association.
However, she never let go of her passion for cooking and did a successful cookery show with Dubai 92 for many years. Apart from this, she also worked with the show Out & About and a TV station, City 7. Be it print, television or radio, Nirmal has made a mark in every field but ask her what her favourite role is and pat comes the reply, ‘Being a grandmum’!
Masala! met up with the writer who has taken on a new assignment this year including judging the Masala! Awards.
How do you feel being a Masala! Awards judge this year?
I am honoured and very excited.
What are the qualities that you look for in a winner?
Integrity, enthusiasm and leadership coupled with a track record of success. If it is a charity, then I’d also gauge the dedication to the cause.
Were you always interested in writing?
Yes, writing interested me since my childhood. I was very lucky to get a break and train as a journalist eventually working with the Khaleej Times for more than 16 years. I have also been freelancing with Gulf News and several other publications.
Your culinary journey seems very interesting. Can you tell us more about it?
I got married straight after my Honours degree in English Literature. My husband got posted to Chennai where life was very simple. We entertained a lot but as one could not buy fancy food or get it catered, I decided to learn to cook! So, I bought a few books on basic cooking and flower arranging and trained myself on these skills! Many mistakes and inedible meals later, I was cooking for big parties and decorating the house with elaborate flower arrangements.
What would you say are your best dishes?
I love rich food but cannot afford the calories! I am good at making quiche with many variations, moulded salads and an assortment of desserts.
How would you describe the food scene in Dubai?
It’s very sophisticated. I have lived here for 28 years and we have come a long way. Earlier, we used to get ecstatic over a buffet lunch; now, we are spoilt for choice with fancy restaurants opening almost every week.
Can you tell us more about your experience of conducting cookery classes?
Well, I was terrified when I started out in Kolkata with a group of seven but gradually became more confident. I used to give 10 classes per course and made three dishes; everyone stayed to feast on them. It was like a fun coffee party which also resulted in two cookbooks!
In terms of food, which city (in India as well as globally) would you rate the best?
In India it is more difficult to choose as we have excellent regional cuisine. Globally, I think, it’s New York.
In Dubai, you made the switch to journalism. What did you enjoy most about being a media person?
While working as a journalist, everyday was different and exciting. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to interview international celebrities like Paloma Picasso, Anita Roddick (of Body Shop), Nicholas Hayek (of Swatch) and Evelyn Lauder. I also got to travel a great deal.
You have lived in different cities. Which is your favourite and why?
By far, Dubai is my favourite. My husband was a banker and while we were in India we moved every two years, sometimes sooner. So we never got a chance to stay rooted to a place. But I have been in Dubai for almost three decades now and I feel I belong here.
How do you balance your work with family time?
Earlier, being a working mother and a corporate wife used to be very hectic. The cooking classes were more demanding than you would imagine as each session required hours of preparation. My years with a newspaper also meant long hours and high-pressure due to daily deadlines. But now I enjoy freelancing as I work according to my own schedule. However, being a grandma takes priority over everything else now.
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