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Meet Manju Malhi: The celebrity TV chef in London

Manju Malhi

Manju Malhi

You know Madhur Jaffrey, goddess of spice and spicy Indian food, who has done a fair job of selling Indian cuisine to the West. Now, meet Manju Malhi, a star chef in her own right with shows on TV in UK. Malhi’s forte is “Indi-Brit” cooking, easy-to-do Indian food using ingredients available in the supermarkets and no laborious, time-consuming processes please. Malhi developed this style as a result of her upbringing in London where she would constantly be looking at ways to “spice up” the British fare the family ate.

With a working mother—a nurse who would work in shifts—focus was on easy to recipes, rustled up from ingredients on the supermarket shelves. “But I loved to spice up British food,” she tells me, stuff like baked beans with chapatis. And she would sometimes have even ketchup for dinner! At the BBC, where she worked as voice-over artist, friends would similarly ask her for samplings and she would oblige with pakoras and samosas and snacks from Maharashtra, from where her mother hailed. In 1999, Malhi won a reality TV competition—“sort of like American Idol meets Master Chefs”—where she had to send in a video of herself cooking something. That was to finally result in her getting hired to do her own show and become a celebrity.

A couple of days prior to my meeting her, Manju had been demonstrating how to cook with beer in New Delhi: tandoori chicken marinated in Pale ale, chilli paneer with Bitter, you get the drift. The beer is all British and the recipes mostly Indian and why Malhi has been attempting such innovative fare is because she now wants to promote British brands in the Indian market, things like Dorset cereal or Walker’s shortbread or the beers, of course, which are largely unavailable in India.

Despite recession, the Indian economy is growing at an estimated 7 per cent annually and even in 2009, a tougher year financially in all likelihood, growth is being projected at about 4-5 per cent. It is no wonder then, that foreign brands are making a beeline for Indian shores, what with the rest of the world stalled. In the last couple of years, stores in Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore are full of imported goodies—from Bordeaux wines to Japanese nori sheets, to Californian prunes; juices, biscuits, fruit, as also Hermes scarves, Audi cars and serious luxury.

But back to Manju. The other interesting thing is that she is planning a chain of British-style “gastro” pubs in India. She is in talks with the Beer and Pub Association in Britain and wants to do UK food with Indian accents, say a masala shepherd’s pie (or its vegetarian version with soya mince), or bread and butter pudding with, well, saffron. So, cook up and if you like, look for recipes on her site too  at www.Manjumalhi.co. uk.

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