About a year or so ago, my Delhi-based father called me, “You have to get NDTV and watch this show with Aditya Bal. You will love it.” He went on to explain that India’s premier lifestyle channel, NDTV, was featuring an amazing cooking show by a young cook, Aditya Bal. “What is so special about it, Dad?” I asked. My father, a very accomplished cook himself, normally does not gush. In fact, I can honestly say that I have never seen him gushing over anything. “His recipes are so wonderful and simple. I love watching him. He travels all over India, to the remote villages and cooks with the locals.. without any fancy gizmos, totally unpretentious, and with such class.”

I called my cable company and ordered NDTV. And, all I can say is: Aditya Bal, I am a fan. A huge fan!

Aditya Bal has been cooking on TV for years but it is his newest show that is gaining him some well-deserved kudos. Titled, “Chak Le India: Kaccha Rasta” – the title translates to Taste India – The unpaved road. And the icing on the cake – the show is mostly in English so viewers who don’t speak Hindi can still enjoy and learn.

Here are two of the latest shows:

  1. Aditya cooks in Varanasi
  2. Aditya cooks in Allahbad

I decided to see if I could interview him and he was so gracious and kind and agreed to speak with me. Here are exceprts from our interview.

I have to admit: I have never, ever been envious of someone else’s job.. but, Aditya, I have to say, I love your job and I love how you do it. Wishing you all the success: Chak Le India!

I just love your shows. You bring the authenticity of Indian cooking to life without dumbing it down. What is your philosophy around cooking food in general and cooking Indian in particular?

I am so glad that you enjoy the show, I actually never cooked much Indian food before I started doing the show. I had more experience with continental cuisine through my stints working at restaurants in Goa. Cooking Indian food was a bit of a challenge initially, but i approached it much the same way as i did other cuisines. breaking the processes down into different elements for my own understanding.

It seemed very complex to me in the beginning but I was pleasantly surprised that this slightly more methodical approach worked well with the viewers. I think in trying to demystify it for myself, I may have inadvertently done the same for some of those watching the show. My philosophy with cooking is based on all the little bits of experience I have gathered over the last few years. My cooking is very seldom recipe based. I like to focus on the basic, fundamentals of cookery. I feel understanding flavors, knowing your ingredients, cooking with instinct are all fundamental to good cooking. Technique is very important and above all, practice, practice, practice..or in this case, just keep cooking. When I am planning a meal, I divide it into basic food groups and shop for the protein first, then top and tail the protein with starch and veg. And any sauces that may go along. When it comes to an Indian menu, it again starts with the produce, be it meat, fish, pulses or vegetables.

I don’t do much different when cooking Indian food, except keep in mind certain techniques involved in its cooking. The challenge again is to be able to understand a regions cuisine, which i often try and do by trying out as much local food as I can.

What would you say are the five or six ingredients that form the heart of authentic Indian cooking?

Well ginger, garlic and onions can be found in almost all of Indian cookery. then theres garam masala powder, pure ghee,(refined oil mostly now), warm spices, fresh coriander, dairy.

If you had to pick your top three spices, they would be? And why?

Cumin seeds for their warm earthiness. Coriander seeds for their grassy, herby and delicate aroma and flavor and fennel seeds for their amazing anise aroma and flavor. these spices are also very versatile and are used widely in cuisine all around the world too, in all sorts of different ways.

If a person new to Indian cooking came to you and asked for help, what three techniques would you teach them first? (I am thinking bhuna, roasting spices etc. Bhunoing is the art of cooking onions and/or tomatoes to form a curry base)

Yes I would probably teach them the same techniques, dry roasting and grinding spices, bhunoing or bhuna, which is probably one of the most important in order to properly cook out the spices. Also how to make spice pastes of all kinds, from coconut based ones of the south to hot red chilly and garlic based ones of the north.

In all your travels around India, what is the simplest, most wonderful dish that you learned

It has always been the simplest food that has left a lasting impression on me in all of my travels. In Kolhapur, Maharashtra, I had mutton ribs that had been pressure cooked till tender, then drained of excess moisture and deep fried till lovely and golden all over and beautifully crisp around the edges. Then the ribs were simply sprinkled with salt and lots of fresh coriander and lime. the goat meat of that region is prized and it was just fantastic.

In Coorg, in a fairly remote village, I was lucky enough to eat a meal of boiled tapioca root with greens from the garden cooked with onion, tiny green chilies called ‘kandari’ chilies and some salt. And this was served again with the most incredible chutney made from the same chilies and salt.

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