Two years ago, Smita Dugar, Master Chef India contestant, would not have imagined that a traditional Rajasthani dessert made by her will be part of the menu at the restaurant at the Lake Palace, Udaipur.
Dugar, the culinary wizard and Spice Club founder, wasn’t born with a spatula in one hand and a sauce pan in the other. A Rajasthani brought up in Kolkata and having lived in Gujarat and now Hyderabad, Dugar says that her knowledge on food and cooking has been enriched by the various places she has lived in and her travels around the world. Always cooking for her family, Dugar says she liked cooking but never considered making it a profession. “I’ve always loved food, and cooking. Master Chef gave me a new lease of life,” she says.
Spice of life
You may not be able to cook like a chef, so why not cook with one? The Spice Club strives to connect and unite people through fun and unique events. With this in mind, every month, a meeting is held and members meet to discuss the cuisines from around the world. “There are 75 members who meet regularly and share recipes, discuss food and check out different restaurants,” says Dugar.
The goal of these cooking classes is to share knowledge from renowned chefs from the world with the housewives, aspiring chefs or simply lovers of food. Meal planning, using seasonal fruits and vegetables, nutrition, recipes and tips will all be part of the cooking class curriculum.
Rise of the vegetarian
Vegetarian cooking is enjoying a makeover, prompting meat-eaters to put down their steak knives. Recently a group of European food enthusiasts came to Hyderabad to learn authentic vegetarian Hyderabadi delicacies from Dugar. “I do a lot of cookery sessions. I have joined food tourism recently where tourists from Japan, USA and Europe have come to learn Indian cuisines,” she says adding, “Life as a vegetarian came first to me. Eventually I realised that I want to combine them both and it sort of evolved from there! I realised that I was passionate about cooking and about living as a vegetarian so I put the two together.”
To be a successful chef today means to publish books. “I am planning cookbooks something which features recipes, which are totally vegetarian, tasty, eye catching and easy to make,” she says.
Food knows no boundaries
For those of us whose hearts and minds are often ruled by our stomachs, a truly fantastic meal can turn even the driest of days into a delightful one, feels Dugar, who loves to experiment, “when it comes to food there are no boundaries.” Fusion cuisine is a particular passion of hers. And she got to showcase this on Master Chef India season II show when she cooked, for Maharaj Arvind Singh of Mewar, a dessert of traditional Rajasthani crumble with stewed apples with a hint of pepper to it and served with vanilla sabayon. The dish was a hit with Arvind Singh and the other judges. The dish she created is part of the menu at the restaurant at the Lake Palace in Udaipur.
Fusion or confusion
Mixed cuisine cooking is so common that many people will not even bat an eyelash when served with a strange fusion food. Most of the time, these foods are mere experiments. Chefs can be successful at times, but they can also fail miserably in their attempts to create something different but good. “I love the fusion style of cooking. But fusion can easily lead to confusion. Knowing what ingredients go well with other ingredients can be tricky. You need to have a basic understanding of the effects of a particular ingredient to your dish. So one should be well versed in cooking styles, flavour bases and profiles before attempting it. I want my food to be full of flavours. Bland food does not work for me. I love using spices and fresh ingredients and also like to cook with ingredients which are easily available,” says Dugar, a voracious reader of books on food.
Staying creative in the kitchen
Maintaining creativity and finding inspiration outside of the kitchen, Dugar expands her creativity to anything and everything. She creates dishes that could rival any star restaurant—artful, flavourful and balanced with the culinary technique and skillset to back him up. “Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. I am an artist first and a chef next. I look for flavours and colourful elements in the ingredients. Each dish I prepare should be very colourful and well balanced in flavours and textures,” she says.