Growing up in the foodie family that popularised Indian food across the world, Anjali Pathak discovered a passion for cooking during her childhood. The chef spoke to FOOD AND WINE's Elodie Noël about the dishes that have marked her life and her senses.
Anjali Pathak is the granddaughter of L.G. Pathak, founder of the famous Indian food manufacturer Patak’s. Recently, the chef and food writer who grew up in Bolton, UK, returned to her Indian roots, setting up a cookery school in Mumbai called Flavour Diaries. Experienced in culinary development, Anjali is passionate about bridging the gap between traditional Indian and contemporary International cuisine. She was recently in Ireland to talk about Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, and we used the occasion to ask her about her food heritage and the dishes that have marked her life.
What is your first memory of taste?
I grew up eating Indian food. My mother was a fantastic cook and as an Indian parent, she wanted to introduce spices early on, so I had a lot of spices in my baby food. Spices don’t have to be hot, they can be very mild, very warm, even soothing. For a baby who is teething, for example, cloves are good because they can numb the gums a little bit. I think my senses started to come alive when I was teething! I’ve been hooked on flavours from a very young age.
What is the plate that made you want to be a chef?
Being introduced to my parents' business, and eating all that food at home made me excited about the food industry in general, and cheffing came for me not long after. I wanted to be involved in touching the food. My mum would pick me up and put me on the kitchen counter. She would show me her spice box and it was very exciting as a child - so many colours, so many textures. I would cook with my grandmother, making rotis for dinner, it was our time together. I have the most wonderful memories around food and I think that’s what drew me into the profession.
READ MORE: My Life in Plates: Grainne O’Keefe
What is the dish that could make you cry?
There is a dish that is very close to my heart, daal. I grew up having daal, it became my comfort food when I started working very long hours when I was cheffing. It’s a hug in a bowl for me, it reminds me of home.
What is the dish you don’t understand?
I don't quite understand gels and foams on a plate, the whole molecular cuisine. I know a lot of people do love it but it’s not for me.
What is the dish you wish you had created?
There is this very traditional Indian dish that I grew up with made from cabbage, mustard seeds, peas, and curry leaves. We call it “cobbie saag” in my household. It’s a really simple dish you’d have with roti, it’s my favourite Indian vegetable dish. I crave it when I haven’t had it for a while. It’s from Gujarat, a region in India that is quite poor and where my family comes from.
READ MORE: Easy Red Lentil Dahl
What is the dish you can’t admit you love?
Maybe salt and vinegar crisps. I don’t have them often but when I do, I binge a little bit!
What is the dish you could eat every day for the rest of your life?
It would be daal, I could have it every single day. There are hundreds of daal recipes but I could have the same one and be happy with that.
What is the dish you are the most proud of?
There is this lovely tikka masala - which is a dish that a lot of people feel is not Indian but it is incredibly Indian. I add a bit of chicken stock to make it more flavourful and it allows me to lower the fat content without losing on the flavour. I didn’t invent chicken tikka masala but I feel I’m on track to perfecting it, and I feel very proud of that.
READ MORE: The History Of Chicken Tikka Masala
What is the dish that reminds you of your mum?
My mum’s chicken curry; she used to make it on Sunday, it was our only day as a real family because my parents were travelling a lot and we couldn’t have dinner together every night. When they were at home, my father would make sure that we’d have dinner together. We’d talk about our day, they would share their day at work. On Sunday, my mum would make this curry that was absolutely amazing, she would use our paste, which is a great base for a lot of dishes, and she’d add warming spices like cloves, cinnamon, green cardamom. The chicken would just fall off the bone. Every time I see my mum, I always ask her to make it.
What is the last dish you had?
I had a delicious tom yum soup last night. When I’m tired and the weather is a bit chilli, I always crave something warm and soupy like that. This Thai dish is spicy, full of flavour and not heavy, so it's perfect before going to bed if you are eating late.
What is the dish you’d make for the person you love?
I would definitely make them daal! But also one of my signature dishes is lamb, I love the earthiness you get with this meat. I make a really good slow-cooked leg of lamb, I would poke holes in it and put a curry paste into it to inject flavours right to the bone. Then I’d make a gravy with the jus. It’s a comfort dish for people and there is so much energy that goes into making that dish I feel like it really showcases my love.
What is your death row dish?
I would start with French onion soup, it’s my favourite soup of all time. It’s incredibly unhealthy but I’m on the death row so that’s okay! Then, for my main course I’d have a steak, with tons of roast garlic, French beans and on the side Bombay potatoes - which I cook almost every Sunday with our spice paste, and I roast in the oven. I would have to have some daal. And dessert would have to be an apple tarte tatin with thick cream. I’d end on cheese and a glass of port.
What is the next dish you have in mind?
Because I have my own cookery school in Mumbai and I’m writing for magazines, I’m always working on new recipes. At the moment, I’m doing a lot of Asian cooking, one of my favourite things are Korean chicken wings, they are just incredible. The wings are fried and smothered in this spicy sauce, I learnt an amazing recipe from a friend of mine but I’m trying to perfect it. I tend to work a lot on international recipes that I can teach in my school.
Author: Élodie Nöel
Élodie is a French journalist who relocated to Dublin about three years ago. She immediately fell in love with the island and its amazing food and has been writing about it on her blog Lemon Lipstick. You can follow Élodie's food adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.