Life always brings us big opportunities that start with small steps. The big move in Pankaj Bhadouria's life came with a small step when she decided to leave her successful teaching career spanning over 16 years and enter India's first televised cookery reality show – Master Chef India on the leading general entertainment channel - Star Plus. And as they say, fortune favours the brave, Pankaj went on to become a worthy winner and with it India's first ever Master Chef. The comfort of the classroom gave way to the adulations, accolades and a host of achievements that followed.
Then came Pankaj's way a major recognition and appreciation in the form of a platform provided by the hallowed Cambridge University. She was invited to address the South Asian Community in Britain by Cambridge University in July 2011. She demonstrated some Indian foods for health conscious people and managed to break the general British myth that Indian food is all about spicy curries and Chicken Tikka Masala.
Pankaj hosted her first cookery show - "Chef Pankaj ka Zayka" on Star Plus where she showcased her passion for cooking. The success of this daily show added another flavour to her sweet success. She has helped out housewives cook lip-smacking, healthy and cost-effective delicacies with inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients on her show 'Kifayati Kitchen' on Zee Khana Khazana.
Pankaj took the flavors of India overseas when she was invited to Varli Food festival in New York and share the center stage with some of India's leading and well known Chefs. Then came another prestigious assignment from none other than the British Broadcasting Corporation. Pankaj shot with UK's Top Chef - Rick Stein who was touring India for his BBC series - The Search for the Perfect Curry. She introduced Rick Stein to the delicate flavors of the Awadhi Cuisine.
In August 2012, she launched The Pankaj Bhadouria Culinary Academy- her dream project, where she shares her love for culinary arts with cooking enthusiasts in what she does next best: teaching!
Her signature Coffee Shop -Tramp Tree Cafe, which currently has two outlets in Lucknow, is now attracting the young and the not-so-young alike with its cosy interiors, comforting food and of course - the coffee! She has just given out the first Franchisee for her Cafe in Lucknow. Soon the Cafe will be found in many more locations in and around the city!
Pankaj conducts many workshops and cookery demonstrations. She has been invited to conduct workshops for Samsung, Panasonic, German Technologies, Rotary clubs, Gold Gyms, Rourkela Club, Jaycees Hyderabad and many more. In 2012, Pankaj created New Delhi's largest Sandwich with more than 40 children in 'Be a Hero' event organized by the largest DHA (an integral part of all health drinks for children) manufacturer in the USA.
Coming up soon is Tamaara- Pankaj Bhadouria's signature fine dine restaurant. The restaurant promises to introduce food lovers to the delights from the royal kitchens of Awadh. Excerpts from Better Kitchen talk.
Could you describe your journey from an innocent girl to a professional woman.
I started my career as a school teacher teaching English to ISC classes. The call for Master Chef Audition on television was the turning point in my life which prompted me to go for it and later to quit my 16 year old job to participate in it.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word KITCHEN?
My home kitchen- the most relaxing place for me! It lets me be myself and I do what I love to do best: Cooking! For me, kitchen is synonymous with happy times, childhood memories of sitting on the kitchen shelf and being fed by our dad while mom would be taking chappatis off the tava!
Recall the first time, you made something alone in the Kitchen and how your family reacted after having the dish.
I started cooking quite early in life – at the age of 11…so I was appreciated and encouraged for everything that I did. Apart from appreciation I would get their genuine feedback as well which always helped me to better myself in the kitchen.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
Plenty of them! As I mentioned earlier, childhood days where all of us would be in the kitchen, especially during the winter, my time with my kids in the kitchen now, my daughter cooking with me… these are my happiest moments!
How do you balance your professional and personal life?
Just like any other working woman! It is tough, for I am also on the move for quite a number of days but then I have a fantastic family whose support helps me to manage everything smoothly.
In a busy schedule how often do you cook for your family?
Fridays are Feast days at home for I am home on Fridays! So half of the day, I am to be found in the kitchen. Everyday Breakfast, School Tiffin, Holidays, Sunday Dinners, with guests coming in, when I am home early, Festivals, some special dish to be cooked….that is when I am in the kitchen cooking.
Do you get any help from your better half when you are in the kitchen?
Heavens No! It is better that he stays away!
How do you prove your culinary skills while hosting guests at very short notice? Any secret ingredients you use?
I Just cook whatever I have at home… if nothing interesting is there, I do potatoes! Potatoes are one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen and can be used to make the simplest to gourmet dishes!
Do you prepare your own ingredients or do you go for the ready to use ones?
Spice mixes I prefer making fresh at home… but tomato puree is one ingredient that I use packaged.
If and when you cook do you experiment or do you cook traditionally following your mother's recipes?
It's sometimes this, sometimes that… it entirely depends on my mood. At times, I like to follow traditional methods, recipes and go to any lengths to source the right ingredients as well. Sometimes I get experimental and try to dish out something that comes straight out of my mind. At times, when I read about a dish that I find interesting, I even try to follow a recipe!
What's your role in planning & designing of your Kitchen?
My kitchen is entirely my domain. All that I need, I want, and where I want has been put there by the designers. It is a pretty looking kitchen but a very practical one as well!
Does it matter to have a modern well equipped kitchen or simply convenient kitchen? How does it make a difference?
It entirely depends on how long you are there in the kitchen and how you cook. Each person has his or her own cooking style and comfort level in the kitchen. So a well equipped or a traditional is entirely your choice.
Where do you go when you feel like eating out?
If in Lucknow, I prefer enjoying the wonderful street food here, be it Kebabs and Paranthas at Tundey Kebabi or Chat at one of the many famous Chat shops.
Do you snack while at work - if so what do you prefer?
No, I don't actually snack at work, I am actually tasting food every hour! I have an academy where every hour something is being cooked in the class. So every hour, I taste food at different tables. This eliminates the need for snacking during the day.
How do you maintain your health through diet? Are you conscious about calories while eating?
Because I do not eat full meals but small meals throughout the day, I do not tend to add on too much. As I cannot check what I eat through the day, I try and burn it out.
Who is your role model ?
My Dad! Whatever memories I have of him are precious! I lost him when I was 13 but I remember him as a man who won hearts, made fans wherever he went. He was an excellent cook, a big foodie, experimental and full of life! In fact my mom learnt cooking from him.