Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji has a long list of culinary achievements. The many feathers in her cap include being a Mentor and Culinary Expert. She was also a Program Head of Culinary Arts, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and has whipped up some delectable delicacies for respected personalities such as Pratibha Tai Patil, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Here the expert dishes out her take on food trends and imparts some valuable tips on making food healthy as well as interesting…
When did your love for cooking begin?
All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. As a kid, I have grown up seeing my mother, Mrs Manjit Arora, cook the most delectable cuisines for the entire family. That gave the first click in my mind that food is an interesting and enormous art. I guess that I have got it through my genes. My mother is my inspiration and I knew that her fantastic cooking inspired me and her experimentation in food dishes always surprised me. As a child, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I would also like to thank my role model Chef Satish Aroraji, a chef extraordinaire who has always been a constant source of inspiration for me. He has made our nation proud – a big obeisance to him.
You have prepared sumptuous delicacies for respected personalities such as Former Hon. President of India Smt. Pratibha Tai Patil, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. What went on in your mind then while preparing food for them? Is there any mantra you follow for whipping up delicious food?
My mantra is that ‘the only ingredient required for cooking is passion’. I am indeed blessed and feel honoured to actually be cooking for these dignitaries. All I needed to concentrate on was that they have a very busy schedule and usually do not have fixed meal times. I have intricately prepared cuisines designed to capture a delicious and exciting range of flavours, textures and aromas. So rather than making a large, elaborate and a heavy meal, I ensured that the menu has a balanced nutrition and includes a lot of fresh veggies.
How can one make their food more nutritious? Is there a way to diet and enjoy tasty food as well?
As a chef, we carry a whole lot of responsibility to cook healthy food. We all are health conscious! According to me, eating healthy is consuming what you love in small quantities. I am a chocoholic but don’t overeat chocolates, I ensure that I have a small bite of bitter chocolate every day.
It is also best to go for less fatty foods. Do not diet and starve or stop the intake of sugars and salt. Exercise and eat whatever you love but in small quantities. I can live on fruits, so that does not mean I don’t consume other foods. It is important to strike a balance. Have a thorough knowledge of the ingredients and foods that you consume.
Are there any tips to make simple home cooked food for kids more interesting?
Kids are usually very choosy when it comes to food. But one thing I can assure you is that they love a lot of colours, pictures, cartoons and something innovative. You can make cartoon wheat flour or chickpea flour pancakes, colourful fillings of various vegetables and fruits may be used in multigrain bread sandwiches. Switch to buckwheat pasta and prepare various milkshakes. If they hate almonds or dry fruits, just blend it in the milkshake. Garnishes are pretty important as it enhances the appearance of the food.
As a mother, you know best what your child likes and dislikes in eating. The things not preferred by your child can be made delicious in no time. It’s just like playing with ingredients.
What is your take on the below food trends?
Factors like better taste or the idea of putting fewer chemicals in the soil might definitely help one to go organic. For many people, eating healthy means eating organic whenever possible. But this can take extra efforts and be costly. In the end, it’s often a very personal decision.
We can go organic only if there is a thorough and in-depth understanding of using chemical-free or fewer chemicals in producing/growing of edible foods. This not only includes vegetables and fruits but also other ingredients. Just having organic foods in the food mall does not help, as it reaches only to fewer people. I believe eating healthy is the right of every individual, so it must reach every person.
A decision that not all can make! One’s reasons could be based on religion, culture and various food eating habits. Avoiding animal products is one of the most obvious ways to take a stand against animal cruelty and exploitation everywhere. Once one becomes vegan, it might take a little time for your body to get adjusted to these changes. Again, I mention it is a personal choice.
What advice would you give to working moms when it comes to cooking?
Come on we are not superwomen, so chill! The best way to cook after a tiring day is to not think of it is a task or a challenge. Cultivate your love for cooking various cuisines. Go for a wholesome salad. It is not always necessary to go with the monotonous roti, sabzi, dal and chawal. Go beyond that make your meals quick, healthy and delectable. Love to cook, eat and serve quick healthy meals with a lot of variety.
Any last parting words?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Learning is an everlasting process, I learn from everyone be it my students, every person I know or don’t even know for that matter. Pick up the positives and drop the negatives. Also, don’t forget that upgrading oneself must be constant; be it skills, training, technology or recent trends in culinary and hospitality.
Besides being humble, be proud of your roots. Extreme faith in God almighty, passion, creativity and lots of patience is the mantra to be a great chef. And last but the not the least dedication, commitment, and destiny will take you a long way!