In Conversation with Karuna Mehta

People like Karuna Mehta come few and far in between. Her life is inspiring as one who has found and pursued her passion to great lengths. And we love such stories. And for your reading pleasure, we have reproduced her story here in her own words:

1)Tell us about your first food or kitchen memory? And where has your journey gone from there?

My first food memory comes only post marriage. As a young girl, I rarely went into the kitchen. But once I got married, I moved far away from home into a large family with a number of domestic helpers. While this meant that I did not have to slave in the kitchen, it also meant that I was left with nothing to do daily. And so I entered the kitchen, essentially to pass my time. I began by making simple and easy dishes, religiously sticking to the recipes. I soon found Tarla Dalal’s books and she became a huge inspiration to me.

My husband is not particular about his food and prefers dal ne rotla type of food.  But I found support and motivation from my brother-in-law, who as a young boy would always ask me, “What are you making today?” He became one of my biggest supporter and critic. I would enjoy waiting to eat with him and getting his opinion. But that time pass activity has changed and today I am a passionate and enthusiastic cook. Being an amateur, I have learnt everything by trial and error, relying heavily on books, magazines, food shows on TV and my own travels across the world. I am not very tech-savvy but for recipes and food research, I will use Google and search the internet.  I also attend cooking classes to learn techniques that are difficult to pick up from books. I experiment with ingredients till I am satisfied with the dish. For instance, despite numerous attempts, I am still looking for the perfect cheesecake recipe.

2) So, on a regular basis, what motivates you to wake up and cook?

Well, I usually spend my afternoons looking for my next culinary experiment and I will allot a day or time to try it out. I love spicy tangy food and sometimes, the only food that will fulfil a craving is that which I make myself.  Burundi has a very limited social life and so we entertain people quite often. And I look forward to these occasions as they provide me a chance to try something new. Burundi is a very poor country and so does not have too many restaurants or cafes. There are a few French restaurants that are very good but most of them primarily serve non-vegetarian food which means that I cannot eat or enjoy French cuisine.

3) Any kitchen disasters in all these years?

Oh lots, lots! I can clearly remember the whole family sitting at the dining table and I would not come out from the kitchen. I would be crying because the food has not turned out well and I have nothing to serve them. But my family has always been very supportive and they would eat whatever I give them. My biggest critic was my brother in law; he would openly say, “Kayvho banaye che? Bekaar che!” (What have you made?? It’s really horrible!) and make me cry. But only with him, do I enjoy eating most.

4) Rushina was telling me that you have a garden at home? What all do you grow in it?

Yes, we do have a large garden at home in Burundi. It’s been three years now since I first started growing vegetable and fruits. Actually, I grow a lot of different things like tulsi, neem, basil, mint, palak, eggplant, bitter gourd, etc. We have just started growing tendli also. We have some fruits also like custard apple, pomegranate, etc. And it’s really wonderful, you know, to do this because if I am ever stuck wondering what to make for dinner, I will just go out into the garden and see what is fresh. That way the food is fresh, organic and it cooks very quickly also. And the taste is simply wonderful. That’s a real high for me.

5) For someone who does not really pay any attention to food, how would you encourage them to do so?

I would say that if you are ignoring or not paying attention to what you eat, then you are missing out on lot. If you are observant of your food, you will understand nutrition, your body’s needs, etc. But cooking meals is also a very therapeutic activity. It really reduces stress a lot when you are cooking alone in the kitchen. But best of all, is the appreciation and compliments people give when they taste and then enjoy something that you have cooked or experimented with. That to me is very satisfying.