After featuring in several recipe videos for popular YouTube channels, writing columns and authoring a book on Bhojpuri cuisine, The Bhojpuri Kitchen, Chef Pallavi Nigam Sahay is set to make her debut on TV with Amma Superstar that airs on Living Foodz from July 10. Watch it every Tuesday and Wednesday at 2.30 pm and catch the repeat telecast on Tuesday and Wednesday at 5 pm and 8 pm.
Although not new to cooking in front of the camera, Pallavi was nervous nonetheless. "TV caters to a wider audience. People belonging to various demographics are watching you so I was nervous about those expectations." However, Pallavi found herself enjoying the experience in no time, finding it even better than YouTube. "Shows for YouTube were limited to about three or four minutes and were focused on making the recipe. TV gave me the window to speak more and share my knowledge about cooking. I liked that apart from the recipe, I could also talk about tips and techniques," she says.
In Amma Superstar, Pallavi meets people whose bonds were strengthened over food. One of the stories that stayed with her was of 80-year-old Sarla Khombhadia who was nominated to the show by her granddaughter Janvi. Cooking Janvi's favourite Karachi Wadi on the show, Mumbai-based Sarla recounted her memories of leaving Karachi as an eight-year-old following the Partition. "She spoke about how they had to restart their life. Her father found it difficult to stabilise after leaving his flourishing business in Karachi," says Pallavi. "I just wanted to go on listening to her but the crew from behind the camera kept egging me to go on to the next segment," she says, laughing about the moment from the set.
Pallavi's own affair with food began back in childhood. Travelling across the country with her family during summer vacations introduced her to different cuisines. The exposure to flavours ignited her curiosity and that is when she began experimenting in the kitchen. Recollecting her own memorable meal, Pallavi is instantly taken back to Sunday afternoons at her family home in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Salivating at the thought of her mother's chicken curry, Pallavi narrates the weekly family ritual with relish.
"Every Sunday my father would head to the market while my mother prepared the masalas in the meantime. He was very particular about the chicken and insisted on buying it himself. Only Kadaknath, the local breed of chicken, would do and he had his own special way of picking. Taking his own sweet time, he would thoroughly check it and get the pieces chopped right in front of him. Large pieces so they wouldn't dry," she says. Once the meal was ready, the family would gather on a mat in the back garden. "There was no limit to the amount of rice and rotis we had with that chicken curry. We always ended up overeating," she says enthusiastically as if she can taste the curry as she speaks of it.
As a child, watching her mother cook with a passion perhaps rubbed off on Pallavi but she was unaware that she could pursue it as a career. She majored in Economics but the corporate routine quickly got to her, prompting her to bid goodbye to her job in a life insurance firm. She got herself a culinary diploma from ICIF Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Italy and had her first taste of a professional kitchen during her training at Grand Hyatt Mumbai in their Italian kitchen Cellini. It's here she discovered that cooking, as a profession, gives her the room to be innovative and creative -- something she sorely missed when she was crunching numbers for a career.
Now that Pallavi has cooked in a home kitchen, professional kitchen and the kitchen on set, she says each is a different experience with its own challenges. "With cooking on camera, you have to be careful about each step and explain it properly since you are showing how a recipe is done. Off the camera, you have time to redo a mistake but on camera arranging the same process is time-consuming so you have to try and get it right in one take." Referring to the restaurant kitchen as "mass cooking", she says, "Guests eat with their eyes first so plating is an important part of the cooking process. You have to be very careful with the main course because unlike appetisers, you can't do a taste check and it all depends on your experience." Meanwhile, cooking at home is a personal experience, she says. "You make everything from scratch, in small quantities and are allowed to make mistakes." But no matter which one it is, Pallavi says, "I am at my best when I am in the kitchen."
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