Q&A with Anjum Anand

Eve O'Sullivan
11 February, 2015

We ask our authors ten questions about their life-long love of food. This week, Anjum Anand talks custard pancakes, chicken curry and what her father taught her.

Anjum Anand

What’s your first food memory?

Gosh, that was a while ago! I do remember going to my neighbours (also Indian) and being given this sweet, light pink, flavoured ice cube that their daughter and I sucked on through the summer before I left London for Switzerland, aged four. I have been quietly obsessed with this pink ice cube ever since but haven’t ever tried it anywhere else and I haven’t tried to make my own; some things are best left as great memories.

What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself?

I made crepes and filled them with fruit and a custard or something thick and creamy and then baked them in the oven. I seem to remember the creamy bit slightly splitting, but we still ate them with good grace!

What dish do you associate most with your childhood?

Chicken curry has featured a lot in my life, but I suppose to distinguish my childhood from later years when the food was still the same style, we ate some delicious Swiss dishes such as Raclette. We had a proper raclette melting machine where you would put a slice of the cheese in a little tray and slot it into your side of the circular grill/machine to melt – everyone had their own and melted theirs at the same time. It was lots of fun. Mum would just boil some potatoes and we had the traditional pickled gherkins and baby onions on the side. I suppose we also stopped eating this once we moved back to the UK, so it stands out as a childhood dish.

Anjum Anand chicken curry

What single ingredient can you attribute to a turning point in the way you cook?

I would say oil. I started out cooking only really healthy Indian food and stayed away from heavier dishes or fried food. But once I started to cook without worrying about keeping the fat content down, the whole of India opened up to be explored and I have enjoyed tasting and cooking every dish! Cooking while being careful with oil is really healthy but not as much fun as cooking a dish as it should be, and I think that liberty has come into other parts of my cooking.

To whom do you owe your love of food, and why?

My father for sure. Many Indians enjoy and seek good food, but he absolutely loves it and is quite knowledgeable about it. On weekends, he would put us all in a car and drive us to a particular spot that was known for something delicious, often serving only that one dish. I remember at other restaurants, I would look through the menu and check on what he was eating so that we could compare and decide together, choosing different dishes so we could taste the others’. I probably tried everything he ordered, even if it was steak tartare or snails. We still talk about food but we are both a lot more measured about what we eat.

What has been the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn in the kitchen?

I think the hardest thing I have to face in this career is that sometimes you have to waste food. When you cook for a recipe and are trying different flavours on the same ingredient, you cook a lot of just one thing and there is only so much you can eat. I do give food to those I can give it to but life is really busy; I don’t always have time to drop food to others. Unfortunately, things can sometimes get binned and I still find that hard every time I do it or see it happen.

Aside from well-known accolades, what do you regard as your biggest achievement?

I suppose I don’t look at life in that way. For me, life is a journey with good and bad times. I only look forward in terms of my career and work and try to live in the moment with the children and the rest of my life. Thinking about the past and thinking of particular perceived achievements is not something I do. Life can change very quickly, so it’s best not to look back.

What recipe are you most proud of?

This month I am loving my Hyderabad Biryani and Gulab Jamun (a saffron and rose infused Indian doughnut-like sweet). They are both really tricky to do and I have worked on both very recently; I feel quite good about having them both as part of my repertoire.

If you could give one piece of advice to a keen home cook, what would it be?

Keep tasting new dishes and experimenting with cooking them before you forget about it. It is the best inspiration but we tend to forget subtle flavours as time passes.

If you didn’t work in food, what would you do, and why?

There are so many careers I would love to have explored but lack the relevant talent (rock star for example)! I might have been an Ayurvedic doctor, as I find it a fascinating science and would love to help people understand how to be healthy and help navigate this crazy, changeable world of nutrition and health. But, I probably would have tried to build upon it to have a café somewhere or created a range of products. I definitely would feel the need to keep building and moving, I think I would get bored doing the same thing forever.

Try one of Anjum's many brilliant recipes

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