MOTHER OF INVENTION My parents lived in Bombay (Mumbai), but were of Goan ancestry. They moved to London when I was six years old (in 1966). I think they wanted a better life for their children and felt they would get that abroad; a trend many Indians follow even today. I attended a small, all-white, girls private Catholic school. I was happy there and never felt as if I didn't fit in.
Unlike many Indian mothers, mine did not like to cook. In Bombay, she had had help, and she thought cooking was drudgery, but because she missed Indian food, she taught herself to cook it. She did not teach me, though, probably because she was learning on the job herself. My passion for food was born when I spent a year in Paris, after university, living with a family and studying French. The family asked me to introduce them to Indian food, so I consulted Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks and did my best. The exchange went both ways because I learned about French food from them. I came to understand the importance of produce - that whatever cooking skills you have, if you don't use good quality, fresh ingredients, the food won't be delicious.
PASSAGE TO INDIA When I was 23, I went to India on holiday, met a Mr Anand and married him. We spent the first four years in Bombay and then moved our principal residence to Pune after my sons were born. I have lived there ever since. My first professional food-related job was as a writer for the Times of India newspaper. I wrote a column that covered both Indian and Western cuisine. In those days, most people did not have the chance to travel so they were keen to read about food from other countries. Since then, the food scene in India has become much more international and diverse.
I went on to open a couple of salad bars and later I established a chain of delicatessens in Bombay. I decided not to import products. My mission was to create Western food using fresh, top quality, locally sourced ingredients. I sold local cheeses and home-made pasta, and made European-style jams and marmalades, because the preserves available in India were horrible - full of artificial flavours and colours. I used Indian fruit and spices to produce combinations such as mango with saffron, and lemon with vanilla. The shops were a great success but eventually the commute from Pune to Bombay proved too hard, so I closed the business.
GRAND DESIGNS A major part of my career has been acting as a consultant for restaurant owners. I helped to establish restaurants in Bombay, Chennai and Calcutta, and was then offered a job helping to set up a new restaurant near London's Covent Garden, called Dishoom. The owners did not want a traditional curry house, with heavy carpets and drapes, and they did not want a fussy, Michelin-star-style restaurant. They wanted it to be youthful, trendy and fun, serving tasty, street-style Indian food at (a reasonable price). The concept I helped create was inspired by Bombay's Irani cafes. To replicate that look and feel, we furnished Dishoom with a black-and-white tiled floor, bentwood chairs, marble-topped tables and lights with exposed wiring. We sourced the chai glasses that are typically used all over India and adorned the toilets with the paraphernalia found in their Old Bombay counterparts - a comb and brush, old-fashioned soap dispensers that you have to spin upside down, and signs saying "Don't spit in the basin". I recruited the chefs in India and the recipes are authentic. We also make funky cocktails using Indian spices - my favourite is a martini with cardamom and rose.
RECIPES FOR SUCCESS I've written 17 books, 12 of which are a series of small, square-shaped recipe books. My favourite is called Simple Cooking from Grandma's Kitchen. I asked friends to give me their favourite recipes for comfort food - the treasured ones that have been passed down through the family. It was a labour of love. My bestselling book is Lean Cuisine Curries (reprinted as Less is More). The best known Indian cuisine, both at home and overseas, comes from north India and the Punjab. It's a quirk of history that dishes such as tandoori chicken are so popular, because the people from those areas are the ones who have travelled and opened restaurants. North Indian food can be quite heavy, and I wanted to raise awareness of dishes from other regions of India. I did a lot of work on the coast, sourcing dishes, and I ate fantastic food in homes around the country and asked for the recipes. Some recipes I tweaked to make them lighter and healthier. I lost 8kgs eating my own food while working on the book, which was helpful when it came to promoting it.
MARKET FORCES Three years ago I started a farmers' market in Pune. The growth in international cuisine in India has brought many benefits but, to a certain extent, our native food culture has suffered. The quality of produce has declined. My mission is to make our local produce sexy, by promoting it in a trendy, appealing way. At the markets there are stalls selling home-made chutneys, pickles and jams, honey, exotic juices, cheeses, wholegrain and gluten-free products and fresh organic fruit and vegetables. Alongside food producers, local restaurants, wineries and microbreweries also exhibit their wares. Our events are extremely popular; people have experienced the fast-food revolution and they're now looking for alternatives. There's a boom in awareness of foods that are artisanal, interesting and nicely packaged, and I'm very pleased to play a part in that.
Karen Anand will host "Spoonful of Spices", a four-course lunch at Ovolo Southside, on Saturday, as part of the India by the Bay festival. For more information, visit indiabythebay.com