Over the years there has been a tremendous evolution of the culinary practices across the globe with a plethora of delicious dishes to try at least once in a lifetime, be it the West or Southeast Asian countries.
As food has the power to bring everyone together, TIME8 gets in touch with the Guwahati girl Sweta Tapan Choudhury. And yes, no guesses, the topic is definitely food!
So, let’s talk Food in the next few paragraphs as the conversation with the aspiring chef and the first Assamese making it to the quarterfinals of the UK series of the on-going MasterChef UK 2018 aired at the BBC One proceeds.
Sweta, who is currently residing in London is pursuing her PhD in Anti-War Politics, gets candid with TIME8 sharing her views experimenting with food and her journey in the MasterChef UK so far…….
T8: So how did it all start, the bug of cooking?
Sweta: I was born in a family of food lovers and good cooks. So cooking is in my DNA. My mum’s a fabulous cook. My dad was a connoisseur of good food. He loved spoiling his family and friends with exotic meats and fish. And my brother, quite lazily, just enjoys eating. So I was instinctively drawn to the kitchen as a kid. The aromas that would come out of the kitchen fascinated me and I started spending more and more time in there with mum. As a family, we love eating and cooking and having big family get-togethers. Food brings people together and strengthens their personal bonds, and this is the top reason why I enjoy cooking so much.
I wanted to go to culinary school when I finished high school. My parents didn’t particularly like the idea so they sent me to London to do my Masters. I ended up doing two and now in the middle of a PhD in anti-war politics. Ironically, they did me a big favour because London is the ultimate place for food lovers and cooks. Supermarket shelves were loaded with ingredients from around the world and I felt like I was ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Then there are the delis, farmer’s markets, gourmet food shops. The list goes on. And that’s when my real culinary journey began. I started experimenting with ingredients that I had never heard of and with recipes that I thought only professional chefs could make. In no time, I got addicted to cooking and I am super glad that happened.
T8: Tell us something about you, your interests apart from cooking?
Sweta: Music is my second love, Hard rock and heavy metal are my top genres and I also like reggae. I love going to gigs, concerts and music festivals and luckily London is a place where it all happens. I enjoy travelling and I travel to eat. I love animals – especially elephants and dogs because of their level of intelligence. In my free time, I volunteer in animal rescue centres and campaign for animal rights. I am a swimmer so the pool is my second home. I also like history – especially political history and natural history.
T8: Your Facebook posts are filled with mouth-watering dishes, which are the cuisines you love to cook?
Sweta: I have these phases when I am going crazy for a particular cuisine or flavour. Right now, I am experimenting a lot with Latin American ingredients and recipes. I have taught myself to make the best moqueca and feijoada, and almost nailed every taco recipe possible. I am also discovering Scandinavian cuisine and I think I can make a decent gravlax and kroppkakor. Last year, I was totally into umami flavours. At one point, I was also obsessed with soups and pickles from Russia and Eastern Europe. But that said, I love Middle Eastern food – Iranian and Lebanese in particular. I also love Hunanese and Sichuan cuisines for their strong, spicy, bold flavours. Thai and Indonesian have been constant favourites too – top ingredient being lemongrass. I don’t think I need to mention Indian here. It’s but obvious that nothing beats a good butter chicken, mutton korma or pork with the bamboo shoot!
T8: You are the first Assamese to reach the quarter-finals of MasterChef UK series, obviously Assam is so proud of you. How does it feel?
Reply: I was absolutely buzzing when I got selected to be on the show. The competition is fierce, they get huge numbers of applications for each series and people try for years even for an audition. So to be able to get in the first attempt was an achievement in itself. I have a busy life in London with the PhD and my anti-war campaigning work, and I did find myself in a situation where I thought ‘am I pushing myself too much with so much going on already’ but I took it one day at a time and before I knew it, I was cooking for John and Greg in the MasterChef kitchen.
T8: Share some of your MasterChef experiences.
Reply: Everyone is so good in that kitchen and they all love food. It’s a really tough competition – in fact it’s the toughest thing I have ever done. I am very pleased to have made it to this stage of the competition so far, especially in a country that is not my home country and to have introduced our cuisine to the British people and to the world.
T8: What would be your comfort food during difficult days?
Sweta: Joha saulor bhat with either homemade ghee or lokori (semi fried milk skin or malai with peas and spinach), aloo bhaji and boiled local koni for winter/Bhat and masor tenga with outenga and bilahi for summer. Deadly comfort food.
A hearty broth with dumplings, a super greasy, extra cheesy and extra large pepperoni pizza, Spaghetti with meatballs loaded with parmesan, Sausages (particularly Polish or Ukrainian pork sausages) and creamy buttery mash with onion gravy.
T8: What cuisines would this gorgeous chef suggest for the ones who are aspiring chefs out there?
Sweta: It depends on your palate really. Every place has their unique food and flavors. What exemplifies a great palate is the ability to embrace that with an open mind. Training your palate is as serious and important as your love for food itself.
T8: The compliments that you receive from people for your dishes.
Sweta: The best compliment I got was from an Italian friend who said I make better lasagne than her mum. That was something because most Italians are very good cooks, they are very particular when it comes to pasta and they take a lot of pride in their food. Compliments are good, they give you confidence to keep going. But what is more important is to recognize the fact that food spreads joy and strengthens personal bonds, and I am very glad and grateful that I am doing both with my food.
T8: Any plans to return back home and start something?
Sweta: I would love to if I get the opportunity to start a new venture in my hometown. But at the moment, I think it is more likely to happen in London also because I am in the middle of my PhD and I enjoy living here.
T8: Anything you would like to say to all the foodies who love to eat?
Sweta: EAT, COOK, TRAVEL then repeat. There is no greater joy than doing these three things. You can never finish discovering new ingredients and new recipes, at least not in this lifetime. And that, I think is one of the best things in life.
How people all over the world say, they make friends by ‘breaking bread together,’ TIME8 hopes Sweta succeeds in making people feel closer, and wishes her all the best in all her future endeavors!
Guwahati | First Published: March 17, 2018