- 1 / 2
Ask Vandana Jain about the ingredients that transport a dish to another level and the reply comes swiftly: variety, creativity and vegetarianism. This Rajasthan-born chef is a passionate promoter of the vegetarian cause and her efforts have yielded rich results: last year her book Vandana’s Veggie Creations won the Gourmand Best Indian Cuisine Cook Book of the World accolade at the Gourmand World Cook Book Awards (the ‘Oscars’ of the cook book world) beating competition from the likes of Sanjeev Kapoor’s Yellow Chilli. It was one more remarkable achievement for Vandana whose cooking classes are known for turning novices into expert chefs. From judging cookery contests to presenting TV shows, writing books to contributing magazine articles, Vandana’s world revolves around food. We get the inside track on what’s cooking in Vandana’s kitchen.
How and when did you realise you had a passion for cooking?
Well, I have a post-graduate in science but I have always been passionate about cooking. It started as a community activity when I was in Africa but developed into a full-fledged passion when I moved to Dubai. I took part in cooking competitions once I moved here and started getting acclaim for creating new recipes. This motivated me and I decided to start giving cooking classes. The eagerness shown by my students and my own curiosity led me to learn more about international cuisine and over the years I’ve mastered Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Lebanese, Japanese and Thai food.
What inspired you to write Vandana’s Veggie Creations? How did you feel when you received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award?
The main inspiration for this book was my love and passion for cooking and my desire to share my experience with those who wished to improve their cooking skills. I wanted to challenge my creativity and make a mark in the literary world as well. This is just the beginning. I’m now addicted to writing and have already started planning my next book. Receiving the Gourmand World Cookbook Award was one the most unforgettable moments in my life. I’m so happy that all that hard work paid off. The competition was quite tough – the famous chef Sanjeev Kapoor was one of the contenders – but I was elated and humbled when I was announced the winner. The honour has completely changed my life and has opened new horizons for me. In fact my family and I still cherish and celebrate the win (laughs).
You have promoted the cause of vegetarianism through your cookbooks. What makes you feel so strongly about it?
Being a Jain, I have grown up eating vegetarian food. I find it very healthy, nutritious, flavourful and easy to digest. There are many options available when it comes to vegetables and fruits. We can be so innovative; create different tastes and textures and cook up a wide variety of healthy and palatable recipes. My cooking courses have over 5,000 recipes. I think the world is now gradually realising the benefits of vegetarianism.
How do you sell the concept of vegetarian cuisine to people who essentially can’t do without meat in their meals?
You can easily replace meat with other ingredients (like soya granules, jackfruit, yam and mushrooms) to get a similar taste and texture. If you use the same spices and gravies you will hardly notice the difference. The health benefits and nutritional value of vegetarian food are immense. New research also suggests that non-veg food is not so healthy and over a long period of time, can have hazardous effects on the body.
Who are the chefs that you admire and why?
The late Tarla Dalal is one of the chefs I admire most because of her simple approach and creativity when it comes to vegetarian recipes. She’s contributed a great deal to the culinary world by writing a wide range of cookbooks.
What are your all-time favourite recipes?
It is very difficult for me to choose just one favourite dish from my treasure trove of recipes because most of them are unique and each one has a truly unique, unbeatable flavour – what an impossible task!
If I have to pick a few, though I love all my recipes, some of my favourites are the delicious nutty zafrani paneer in moghlai saalan, baked malai aloo in pesto sauce, crispy pocket-stuffed broccoli and cottage cheese served with a rich butter sauce, paneer ke paan and of course, rasbhari motiyaan.
What is the oddest dish you’ve eaten?
Well, I haven’t had a chance to put anything weird into my mouth!
When you judge cookery contests, what are the things that you look for in a winning creation?
There are many criteria that make a recipe a winning dish. I mainly look for creativity, uniqueness, taste and maximum utilisation of given ingredients. Presentation is also a very important point as it makes your dish very visually appealing.
How often do you eat out? What are your favourite restaurants in Dubai?
I try and eat out as often as possible because I treat it like a learning experience. I love trying different menus. My favourite restaurants in Dubai are Handi at the Taj Palace Hotel, Antique Bazaar in the Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai, Claypot at Citymax and The Bombay at the Marco Polo hotel.
Which world cuisine would you love to master and why?
My favourite cuisine is Indian and my objective is to spread the aroma and flavour of Indian food around the world. But I would definitely like to master Italian and Thai cuisine because they use a variety of ingredients which give me ample scope to incorporate my vegetarian elements as well!