Sticking to your passion in the face of odds is difficult, but celebrity Chef Aanal Kotak did exactly that. Coming from a conservative Gujarati family, Kotak followed her passion for cooking, combining ancient spices and obscure ingredients passed down in her family to whip up winning flavours. She has also been a guest judge on Masterchef India and owns a chain of restaurants. OT spoke to the Chef about her beginnings and inspirations. Here is an excerpt from the interview.
When did your interest in food first start?
I was in kindergarten when it all started. The weekends at our home were reserved for theplas. I was too small to cook. However, one Saturday, when my mom was at the temple and my grandmother was asleep, I took on the responsibility of making theplas myself. The outcome was a chaotic kitchen and comically misshapen theplas. This marked the start of my passion for cooking. Although it was more chaos than culinary fare, that sowed the seed of cooking in my mind, and I haven't looked back.
What is your favourite thing to cook?
Indian cuisine is my ultimate passion; it holds a special place in my heart. The diverse array of masalas, intricate techniques, and endless types of recipes never cease to ignite my creativity in the kitchen. While I appreciate the global culinary landscape, my fervour truly lies in crafting the rich tapestry of flavours that Indian dishes offer.
Who has been your biggest inspiration when it comes to cooking?
In the culinary realm, Chef Vikas Khanna is my prime inspiration, while internationally, Chef LN Prasad holds that role. As a vegetarian, I closely follow Chef LN Prasad's work, whereas Chef Vikas Khanna's mastery of Indian cuisine and his skilful use of spices have ignited my own experimentation with homemade masalas. He's the catalyst behind my spice-infused culinary journey.
Tell us about your retail brand, The Secret Kitchen.
TSK offers ready-to-cook gravies, setting us apart from other brands in the market that provide plain gravy bases. Our gravies require no additional masala or extra flavour, ensuring consistency in taste even when a restaurant changes its Chef. With versatile options, you can create a variety of bhajis using different gravies. Moreover, you can experience restaurant-style dishes in the comfort of your home with our hassle-free, ready-to-cook gravies.
You have opened a new restaurant in Sydney, besides three in India. Tell us more about your plans.
The Secret Kitchen in Australia embodies the essence of Indian cuisine, thoughtfully curated alongside a serene ambience. As overseas restaurants don't focus much on the ambience, we have a state-of-the-art interior representing Indian culture and cravings. As we venture into new territories, TSK has already made its mark in Canada, and by year's end, Toronto will welcome its very own outlet.
In what ways does travel influence and inspire your cooking?
Travel has profoundly shaped my culinary path. During my childhood, I used to regularly visit the quaint village of Anjar in Kutch. I remember there used to be a shop, overseen by generations, near a very old bus stop that offered a delightful surprise: samosa-shaped ghughras (a popular Gujarati sweet). Entranced by their distinct flavours, I have included this local delight in the menu of my international kitchen, which is treasured as "Caged Samosa," symbolizing its journey from a hidden village gem to a global gastronomic marvel.
Tell us about a memorable travel experience you've had.
I have had numerous memorable travel experiences. Every small town in Kutch boasts unique and age-old Indian recipes. For instance, there's an authentic shop in a small Kutch town called Nakhatrana where they sell kulfi. These kulfis are prepared on the spot, with one person boiling the milk while another deep-freezes it before proceeding with further steps. A long line of locals are always crazy about these lip-smacking kulfis. There are many such dishes in Kutch, and thus every time I travel to this place, I always bring memories back and infuse them into my cooking.
Being from Gujarat, what's something that sets you apart as a chef?
Unearthing these newfound delicacies during my travels serves as the wellspring of my inspiration and attracts me more towards my passion for cooking. My efforts have been dedicated to elevating these microlocal delicacies onto the global stage. Each time I embark on a journey and stumble upon such captivating gastronomic tales, it ignites my inner chef.
Any easy recipe you would like to share with our readers?
Among the plethora of recipes I wish to share, there's a particular gem, the Donut Gulab Jamun.
200g gulab jamun mava
25g refined flour
5g corn flour
25g milk powder
1 tsp baking powder
Water as required
Oil for frying
First, in a bowl, add gulab jamun mava, flour, corn flour, milk powder, baking powder, and a little water. Mix everything nicely and prepare a semi-stiff dough. Now take a small portion of the dough, roll it into a thick disc, and cut it with the help of a doughnut cutter. Fry the doughnuts in hot oil until they puff up a little and turn golden brown. Now top it with chocolate ganache, white chocolate ganache, strawberry jam, Nutella, etc., and your Gulab Jamun Donuts are ready.