Chef Amrita Raichand interview© Instagram

Chef Amrita Raichand On Her Journey And Her Love For Cooking

For the multi-hyphenate Amrita Raichand, her journey has been no less than a roller coaster ride. She may not have “strategically planned” her journey, but destiny and God did—and it always took her in the right direction, feels Raichand, who donned numerous hats until she found her true calling—cooking. Ever since, there has been no looking back for her, and the celebrity chef has only spread culinary magic with her easy, delicious, healthy and fun recipes.

With a professional culinary degree from one of the best Global Culinary Schools in Asia, Chef Raichand has been juggling the mum life and chef life perfectly for years now. Well-known for her stint in the popular cooking show Mummy Ka Magic, this actor-turned-chef is blessed with her cooking genes from her mother and is happiest when in her kitchen cooking for her child. She is vigilant about both taste and nutrition, and formulates healthy and delicious recipes for both kids and adults in a jiff. Don’t believe us? Just go to her Instagram and YouTube pages!

In an exclusive interaction with HELLO! India, the celebrity chef talks about her journey, her love for cooking, how the pandemic affected her professional career and her social media presence, the Indian culinary scene, upcoming projects and much more. You’ll also find the perfect recipe to make a crostini platter—right in time for New Year’s Eve. Here are the excerpts from the interaction.

HELLO!: From an actor to a chef, tell us a little about your journey.

Amrita Raichand: “Well, it’s been a very exciting journey and, all this while, even acting was never really a strategically planned career choice for me. But as fate would have it, I got spotted during my college annual gathering, and one thing led to another and I landed my first modelling assignment. But my family understandably had reservations regarding this career path, and made it very clear that they didn’t want me to pursue a proper acting career and venture into Bollywood. They were okay with me doing a few TV advertisements here and there. So, I became the face of many brands at a very young age and embodied the quintessential on-screen ‘mommy’ who was sought after for many TV ads.

Then, after I got married, thanks to my husband’s encouragement, I started dabbling a little bit in acting and started accepting acting gigs as and when they were offered to me at that time. I mean, I was also a very conservative person, so there were certain boundaries that I knew I couldn’t cross. So I took up a few roles that I thought I could pull off, which I did, and I enjoyed doing them as well, but I realised soon enough that this wasn’t really my cup of tea.

Whether it was modelling and being the face of countless brands or acting in movies and TV, I continued taking up projects that came my way, albeit in roles that were approved by my family. But nothing really inspired me to go for that next role, and I knew a major shift was in the cards for me.”

H!: Did you always enjoy cooking? How and when did you realise you wanted to make that career switch?

AR: “Marriage-wise I was enjoying thoroughly because I got the opportunity to travel all over the world with my husband, Rahul, with him being in the sports industry. I wasn’t really taking my work very seriously at that time because I was busy enjoying life, experiencing new cuisines and cultures and travelling with him. Then, once I had my baby, Agastya, I took a complete sabbatical from work to take care of him for about two years. Things started to change when I was first weaning him off breast milk, and I started experimenting with exciting and healthy kid-friendly recipes that he basically wouldn’t spit out (laughs), because he was so particular about what he liked and didn’t like, you know?

I believe my child has had a very developed palette right since the day he was born (laughs), and that sort of pushed me towards experimenting more in the kitchen and taking up cooking as a full-time career. Being someone who values nutrition, besides being a foodie, sometimes it gets challenging to balance out health and taste while cooking. I realised the dilemma of most mothers while dealing with my own son, hence started putting in a lot of thought while curating meals for him.

This is when the TV show Mummy Ka Magic got offered to me, which I thought was perfect, because it wasn’t any different from what I was already doing at home—cooking for my kid! For the first time, I felt like this was a natural extension of my personality and my love for cooking healthy, delicious food for children. I got to be my true self and I could connect with like-minded mums who wanted me to address issues I faced with my own son while feeding him. And it felt like home away from home.”

H!: What happened after you saw Mummy Ka Magic doing so well on TV?

AR: “Before I knew it, the show struck a beautiful chord with my audience and started doing really well on TV. That’s when I realised, cooking, sharing my recipes, and learning with the world were my true callings! With time and the circumstances that surrounded me, I realised that the possibility of becoming a celebrated chef from the comforts of my home and surrounded by my family was very real. That is when I embraced cooking and the food industry with open arms. Needless to say, it has been my best decision so far.

The decision also made sense because I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was 8 years old, and my mum is also a fabulous cook. In fact, she’s a very well-known cook in her community back in Jamshedpur (my birth place, and my late father’s ‘karma bhoomi’). So, automatically, I was blessed with those chef genes. No one really knew that it could turn into a legitimate career, my family just like everyone else’s, was very education-oriented and wanted me to follow the tried and tested path of getting my bachelor’s degree, then my master’s and stuff, but of course, destiny had other plans for me.”

H!: Did you go to a professional culinary school? If yes, why did you think undertaking formal education was important for you?

AR: “Because I had decided to tap into this niche and take up cooking as a profession, I went to Sunrise Global Chef Academy in Singapore and undertook an advanced culinary course to gain expertise and technical knowledge about things like knife skills, preservation of foods, certain nuances of cooking, and hone my skills under the guidance of professional chefs.”

H!: What did you do after finishing the course?

AR: “I came back to India and worked in a 5-star intercontinental hotel located in Marine Drive in Mumbai to hone my skills further and understand what really goes on in a commercial kitchen. What you do at home and what you do in a professional kitchen is a completely different ball game, you know; and I wanted to learn all the aspects of food before I dived in the field with all my heart and soul.

Especially when you have an audience who is following you and looking up to you for advice, it’s very important to ensure that whatever you’re teaching them is backed up with lots of research and information. Being in the healthy food space, and on a mission to keep learning more, I’ve also done a course in gastronomy and nutrition from Le Cordon Bleu London to really fill in all the knowledge gaps. That’s the kind of approach I’ve always had in life, and it has definitely paid off.”

H!: What role did social media play in your career?

AR: “When social media took over everyone’s lives just before the pandemic started, I began curating my existing content, besides doing a few TV shows. I created many interesting intellectual properties (IPs) including ‘Monday Motivation’ and ‘Mere Ghar Ka Khana’ using which I started teaching people how to cook homemade food during lockdown. I began upping my YouTube game as well. All this gave me access to a larger audience and a varied one at that.

The constant love and encouragement that I’ve received from the world over, has truly been a very exciting and fruitful journey so far and I’m extremely thankful to God for holding my hand and guiding me through this path with humility and honesty.”

H!: What is your opinion on various food and recipe trends that keep popping up on social media? And do you ever try viral recipes?

AR: “I do try viral recipes sometimes, but I steer clear from terrible combinations like the ones with instant noodles doused in strange toppings. I don’t blindly jump on social media food trends, because I think I’ve worked very hard to build a certain credibility when it comes to cooking, and I don’t think I need to resort to following trends to be noticed on social media at this stage of my career.

Instagram is definitely rife with budding talent and everyone’s got so much wonderful content to share with the world, which is lovely, but you see, I am not a product of social media and I haven’t built my audience solely with the help of these platforms. Instagram or YouTube is simply an extended platform of my personality and my body of work that I started accumulating 25 years ago.

For me, I use social media to show a little bit of my fun side and foods that I like to cook, eat and propagate. So, if there’s any food trend going around that’s in that arena and fits with my personal brand, I do give it a go at times.”

H!: What do you think about the current culinary scene in India, and how does it fare on the global map?

AR: “I think it’s going really well and I feel we’ve gone beyond our standard butter chickens and our curries when it comes to recognition around the world. Divided by borders and language, yet united by spices and cuisines, India will always give you a hands-on culinary experience. I think people across the world are recognising this and are kind of looking up to us for food inspiration and to diversify their palettes.

Baking is also taking precedence in the Indian culinary scene. I’ve just been a judge on ZEE TV’s new show called Baker’s Studio, and we’re filming the second season currently. Televised competitions like these also up the ante of home bakers; they get a chance to be noticed and move forward in their careers. Indian bakers are doing amazing work and are also coming up with new baked goods. We’ve now reached a point where we can find delicious macarons around every corner of the city, and that’s just fabulous!”

H!: You will be donning the judge’s hat for Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly – Bakers’ Studio Season 2. How do you plan to approach the show?

AR: “I am someone who is very particular about what and how I am judging a show, so of course the participants’ cooking technique, look and feel of the dish is very important. But for me, it’s also important to know the human angle to a recipe. I feel recipes are not just about steps, techniques and about making the food look aesthetically pleasing, it’s also about telling a story.

Food is an expression of love and a reflection of your personality; and there’s always a story behind every ingredient and every step that goes into making it, you just have to look for it. So, when I look at a recipe as a judge, I always try to find the story behind it and elements of the maker’s identity and creative expression peeking through. I would much rather a contestant weave a story through their creation, than blindly follow the steps in pursuit of ‘perfection.’

H!: Do reality shows play an authentic role in honing the talent of young/upcoming chefs?

AR: “They totally do! Just like social media, such TV shows also give young cooks wings to fly. A lot of people can’t afford great culinary schools or even imagine getting into TV, so these platforms are a wonderful way to get their foot in the door. It’s a whole process, and not everybody can dream of making it, you know? I think I just got lucky to get to where I am today in the culinary and media space.

In spite of being talented, not everybody gets the opportunity, so I think if they get a platform where they can display their skills, there’s nothing like it. And it’s great for not only the participants of the show, but also for the viewers because it becomes aspirational for them; it’s an encouragement for them to go out and pursue their dream of becoming a professional.”

H!: What are some common myths that you’ve had to bust over the years about cooking, culinary art schools, being a chef and their work? (the field in general)

AR: “Well, I don’t know about myths, but there are many preconceived notions and perceptions people have about the field. For instance, people may believe that going to a culinary school and undergoing training is mandatory in order to become a successful chef. Now, I never undertook formal training in the initial years of my career, but here I am, I’m a celebrated chef today. However, I’d say that when I did finish culinary school, it helped me a lot. A school is not just about textbooks, it’s also about interacting with your peers, learning from them, it’s about teamwork and also character building. So even though it’s not mandatory to take a course, it’ll certainly give you an edge as a professional.

Then, I’ve heard things like only men can become professional chefs, women can’t handle that job. It’s a wrong notion, to say the least. And people have different priorities in life, you know? If a woman decides to forego a professional career to raise her kids and be there for them, it’s her personal choice. It’s not because she isn’t capable of taking on the gruelling shifts, long working hours and the pressure of being in the hospitality industry, and people need to understand that.

In fact, in my case, my child was the very reason I even took up cooking as a profession; I just wanted to do it on my own terms. We are the masters of our own life and our destiny, there’s no point in comparing your journey with others’. God has a plan, you know? I think if you just believe in yourself and have faith in what you want to do, you’ll eventually find your destination.”

H!: What was your favourite food while growing up? And has it changed now?

AR: “One of my all-time favourite meals is good old daal chawal, tamatar ki chutney, aloo ki bhujiya, when it comes to comfort food. My family and I love Japanese food as well.”

H!: If you could eat only one dish/food your entire life, what would it be?

AR: “I would change my life, because there’s no way I could stick to only one dish my entire life. And being a chef, it’s just impossible, I make ten variations of one dish!” (laughs)

H!: What is the difference between crostini and bruschetta? And what’s your favourite/go-to crostini topping/recipe? 

AR: “Crostini literally means ‘little toasts’ in Italian. They are small, thin slices of bread that are brushed with olive oil and toasted to make them crispy. Then they are topped with savoury/ sweet toppings.

Bruschetta on the other hand, in Italian means ‘to roast over coals’. So basically in this, traditionally one makes garlic bread which is topped with toppings and then warmed or grilled. Ideally it’s savoury. I would say my favourite crostini toppings are dill and yoghurt, it’s really fresh, light and flavourful.”

H!: Can you share with us a recipe for a simple crostini platter?

AR: “Sure! There are so many ways in which you can serve this versatile appetiser or amuse-bouche as the French say. It’s sure to be a hit at your next party. Here are 3 of my favourite ways to serve crostini.

crostini platter©Chef Amrita Raichand
  1. Mix cream cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper. Spread on crostini, then fold thinly sliced cucumber on it. Top with capers and sprig of dill each. Serve!
  2. Finely chop red and yellow bell peppers, onions, olives, baby mozerella, tossed in olive oil, oregano, minced garlic, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, chilli flakes. Top it on the bread and enjoy!
  3. Mix cream cheese with some hung curd, salt, pepper, honey. Spread it on the crostini, add roquette leaves, cut fresh figs and top with caramelised walnuts.

H!: What advice would you give young, aspiring cooks looking to find success in this field? 

AR: “Follow your passion, follow your heart. And if you’re looking to achieve something, go all out and do everything that you possibly can to be the best at it. Don’t worry about what people think and society’s expectations and ‘log kya kahenge’. If you are happy and your family is happy, that’s all that matters.”

H!: One chef you really look up to and why?

AR: “My mum, without a doubt; I learnt the very ethos of cooking from her, you know? I learnt everything I know from her, she blessed me with her genes and I look up to her so much.

She always cooked with so much love and a bright smile on her face; she loves feeding people around her and sharing all her meals, and I think that quality imbibed in me as well.”