Member in Focus: Monisha Bharadwaj

Each month, newsletter editor Kristen Frederickson meets a Guild member with a story to tell. This month: Monisha Bharadwaj.

Please give us a little insight into your life and career.

I was born and raised in Mumbai and trained to be a chef for 3 years at the Institute of Hotel Management, a college known to be one of the finest in Asia. I moved to the UK in the mid eighties and since then have written books, done radio and TV and taught Indian cookery courses at lots of cooking schools, including my own Cooking With Monisha. Today my professional life is a wonderful mix of teaching, writing, lecturing, media work and partnership projects with organisations such as Kew Gardens, the British Council and most recently, as a guest chef speaker aboard a Cookery Legends cruise!


How long have you been a member of the Guild, and how did you come to join?

I joined the Guild in 2003 when I won the Guild’s ‘Cookery Book of the Year’ Award for ‘Stylish Indian in Minutes’. I was dividing my time between Mumbai and London then, and remember carrying the lovely wooden dish very carefully in my hand luggage back to Mumbai! I did bring it when I moved back to the UK in 2005 and it sits proudly in my living room now.


Where are you based, and does your location influence your work?

I’m based in west London and my cookery school is in my home. It’s really easy to find the Indian ingredients I need here, the tube station is a minute’s walk away so Central London is not far and I can get onto the M4, M3 and the M25 very quickly when I travel outside of London. I’ve found my location to be perfect to attract clients from London and beyond and Heathrow being nearby, there are plenty of customers from overseas too.


Your profile as a food writer, demonstrator and cook has carved out a very specific role for you, as a specialist in Indian cuisine. How did you decide that rather than being more of a generalist (as many of us are), you’d like to address one particular area of the food world?

I trained as a chef in India and have spent my entire adult life researching and exploring the cuisine of India. The country is so vast and the food is influenced by so many factors – it is this complexity that excites me. I prefer to do the best I can in one cuisine – which I understand from grassroots level and for this, I travel to India several times a year, speak several Indian languages so I can communicate with people from all over the country and try and understand the delicate balance of factors including social, historical and religious, that make an Indian dish what it is.


In your long list of publications, is there one book that stands out to as one you’re especially proud of, and if so, why?

Every author thinks of all their books as favourites but my recent book The Indian Cookery Course was a real labour of love as it was so comprehensive. There was so much information I wanted to put in but also had to keep to a word count (and it’s still nearly 130 thousand words!!) I managed to say a lot of what I wanted to! My new book Indian in 7 – recipes that use 7 ingredients of fewer is also dear to me – it’s about quick, easy, weeknight meals and is dedicated to my children Arrush and India who both now live away from home and cook for themselves.


How has being a member of the Guild been helpful to you, or influential for you, if it has?

I enjoy being a member of the Guild because I think it’s a real honour to be included in a group of people with so much expertise and knowledge about food. I have met many inspiring people and exchanged stories of success and failure, given and received advice and learned about world cuisines from the best. The Guild workshops are enlightening and fun. I feel very privileged that I’m being interviewed here!


Is your family involved in the development of your work, and if so, how? For example, do you include anecdotes about your life in your writing?

I brought up my two children mostly on my own and they’ve both been a huge part of my journey. When they were little, they helped me set up my cookery school by doing what they could do – helping set up the kitchen and clearing up. They were my chief tasters when I was creating or testing recipes. As they grew older, they became perfect sounding boards, coming up with wonderful ideas that were fresh and youthful in our many discussions. We’ve travelled the world together, looking for and enjoying new foods – lots of road trips in India and then also to places like Thailand and Cuba. My new book Indian in 7 is hugely influenced by their current lifestyle and how they cook for themselves on a weeknight.


How was the world of food writing changed since you entered the field?

The biggest change has been the arrival of the internet and then the popularity of social media. When I started writing, one usually had to be commissioned to write a book or a magazine feature – today the internet has created a platform for blogs, vlogs, videos and much more which one can do without the need for a commission. In my opinion, this has also caused a bit too much noise – it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s really valuable amongst the masses of work that’s out there.

Budgets for publicity have also changed. For my earlier books, I travelled around the UK and even a few times to the US for signings and TV and radio work (spending a few days at Broadcasting House!). Today, most interviews are over the phone and social media is more far reaching than book signings are.