When Chef Mridula Baljekar was a little girl in Assam in North East India, she had an idyllic few years climbing trees, playing football, and generally leading the life of a happy tomboy.
Then her grandmother stepped in. “She didn’t like me acting like a little boy, so she forced me to cook,” Mridula told an audience at her cookery demonstration at Sharjah International Book Fair on Tuesday.
Twenty-seven cookery books later, Mridula must surely be grateful to her grandmother. “By the age of 10, I could recognise and name most spices by smell and taste,” she said. “Then I moved to England, and I had to cook to feed myself.”
It was this move that really pushed Mridula into a career that has combined her passion for Indian food with her love of teaching and passing on her skills.
Her book, ‘The Complete Indian Cookbook’, was turned down by 35 publishers before becoming an international bestseller which sold more than a million copies.
Nowadays, she is a consultant to the Mango Lounge Indian restaurant in Windsor, England, recently named as one of the Top 30 UK Indian restaurants – of which there are 9,000. And she is the consultant for a new chain of Indian restaurants coming to Dubai.
She also spent six years advising supermarket chain Tesco on their Indian readymade meals range – after writing to tell them how bad they were!
But on Tuesday she was cooking at a packed book fair in Sharjah Expo Centre, producing ‘tahari’ (minced lamb pilau), and ‘khubani ka mitha (apricot dessert), before signing copies of her cookbooks.
Sharjah International Book Fair
Tuesday was the seventh day of the 31st year of the fair, which attracted 70,000 visitors last Friday.
On Monday, more than 16,000 school children attended the fair to take part in 200 child-friendly activities running alongside the adult forums, discussions, talks and readings.