Madhur Jaffrey & Padma Lakshmi In Conversation
Athena Calderone: Hello. I am Athena Calderone of EyeSwoon. Did you know that over 25% of New York City children are living in poverty? Many rely on free school meals when class is in session, but during the summer months, their families look to soup kitchens and food pantries to eat. The folks at Food Bank for New York City want you to know that unlike school, hunger doesn't take a break. Help them end child hunger by providing meals to families and children in need during those challenging summer months. Visit foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can volunteer, spread the word, and more.
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesqaud, you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female-focused food podcast in the whole universe. We are super grateful for today's sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools and Traeger Wood-Fired Grills. You both are the bombe. A little housekeeping, the Food For Thought Tour is coming to Asheville, North Carolina during the brand new Chow Chow festival. For this live podcast event on Saturday, September 14th, we'll be talking to some amazing members of the Southern Bombesqaud like Chef Katie Button, Vivian Howard of A Chef's Life and Cheetie Kumar of Garland. There are only a few tickets left on cherrybombe.com, so get one before they're gone. Thank you to Kerry Gold for sponsoring our tour.
Kerry Diamond: We are also coming to Seattle and doing our first ever Pacific Northwest Jubilee on Saturday, November 2nd. We can't wait to meet up with the West Coast Bombesqaud for a day filled with delicious food, networking and insightful talks and panels. The event is taking place at Block 41, a great event space in downtown Seattle. Early bird tickets are on sale now through September 20th. Speaking of Jubilee, for today's show we are airing a special conversation from our Jubilee conference in New York City earlier this year between Padma Lakshmi, the best-selling author and top chef star, and the legendary Madhur Jaffrey.
Kerry Diamond: Madhur is an icon who has changed how the world cooks and considers Indian food and it was truly special to see Padma and Madhur take the jubilee stage. Introducing them are Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau, the culinary superstars from Jamaica and the authors of the Provisions and Caribbean Potluck cookbooks. Before we get to the show, here's a word from Le Cordon Bleu.
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Suzanne Rousseau: Good afternoon, everyone.
Michelle Rousseau: Hello, everybody.
Suzanne Rousseau: In June 1977, at the ages of five and seven, respectively, we moved from Kingston, Jamaica to Port of Spain, Trinidad. Trinidad was vastly different to Jamaica, yet still very familiar. Up until that point, our life had been a series of birthday parties with donkey cart rides, bun eating contest, tasty beef patties, Ribena, D&G Cola Champagne, Milo with loads of condensed milk, along with warm grandmotherly hugs and an over-abundance of friends, family and loved ones.
Michelle Rousseau: Moving to Trinidad was dramatic for us. We were isolated, friendless, with little contact to home and our family as we had no phone for the four years we lived there. We were insiders and outsiders at the same time. Our family's move triggered at the explorer in us. We became each other's companion and abandoned ourselves to a fantasy life that we believed real; one that involved exploring gardens, seeking adventures, searching for fairies and magic, reading and storytelling, and a whole bevy of new foods to embrace.
Michelle Rousseau: It is there that we became exposed to an entire new cuisine whose roots hail from African, Indian, Spanish, French and Portuguese inhabitants. In Trinidad, we encountered ingredients and flavors in Caribbean food that were revelatory and we began to understand the juxtaposition of the refined with the rustic that is so typical of the islands. This dynamic and exciting new culinary discovery awakened our palate to that particular salt sweet spice balance that is unique to Caribbean food.
Suzanne Rousseau: Our daily trek home from school and any outing quite honestly, always included a variety of roadside street food episodes and exercise in the extremes of sugar, salt and hot pepper to be sure. Salt prune dust on the square of brown paper, tamarind balls that were simultaneously tart, spicy, salty and sweet, channa which is a crispy snack of fried chickpeas seasoned with cilantro, hot pepper and lots of salt, pepper mango, pepper cherries and pickled pomsite sold in plastic bags at all the local spots and roadside doubles, curry chickpeas on a fried flatbread. Shark and bake, a beachside, incredible fried fish sandwich and snow cones around the savanna, smothered with fruit syrup and the addition, again, of condensed milk. These foods were fantastic discoveries to our palates and the layers of flavor were mind-blowing, so we gobbled them all up.
Michelle Rousseau: While eating these foods on the street, our mother regularly prepared classic Jamaican dishes like oxtail and broad beans, Escabeche fish and ackee and saltfish at home. She could also prepare Pekin duck from scratch and regularly made homemade yogurt, rum and raisin ice cream, doughnuts and beef stroganoff. Our favorite Sunday suppers were built around the British classics like roast lamb with potatoes and mint sauce, or roast beef with Yorkshire puddings. Mommy's repertoire also included regional dishes from our new Caribbean home like Pelau, a one-pot dish of chicken rice and pigeon peas and Guyanese pepperpot, a rich meat stew seasoned with Cassava Syrup. She was the consummate home cook and hostess, and through her we began to understand the connection to cooking as a way to show love, forge a sense of belonging, welcome strangers, create memory and celebrate heritage.
Suzanne Rousseau: When we first started in food 25 years ago, our desire was to replicate the experience of living, dining and growing up in the Caribbean where food at its essence is a mix of home-cooked meals and street food that varies from island to island, home to home and from street to street. As we sought our voice as restaurateurs, we had an innate knowing that these childhood memories and the contradictions of our upbringing, along with the unique blend of flavors, cultures, and cuisines that we had been exposed to, were the fuel we needed to feed the growing fire of our culinary identity.
Suzanne Rousseau: We sought guidance in the books of women who we felt mirrored this kind of elevated home cooking, Silver palate, Barefoot Contessa, and Martha Stewart to name a few, yet these were all external references and not necessarily relatable to a Caribbean lifestyle. Alongside these classics always sat the works of Madhur Jaffrey. It is our honor and privilege to introduce two incredible women who most certainly understand the contradictory experience of growing up in an ethnically diverse country that was once under British colonial rule where the expectation is that one must be simultaneously British, but not too much, speak proper English, to extend your As and pronounce your Ts, yet retain your knowledge, love and respect for your own culture.
Michelle Rousseau: Two women who, like us, left that culture and made new homes in a new place. Two women who, despite not coming from traditional culinary backgrounds, are respected epicureans, pioneers and leaders in the world of gastronomy. Two women who each, in her own way, has managed to carve out a space in the world of culinary storytelling that is uniquely her own. Our immediate thought when we first saw Padma Lakshmi was on the screen that is of course on Top Chef, is, "Who is that?" Feminine, graceful, elegant.
Michelle Rousseau: She reminded us of the women we were surrounded by growing up. She presented us with a new visage in the world of food TV. This was no sweaty, cursing, white alpha male in a chef jacket. She was poised, chic, stylish and she looked like the women that we knew.
Suzanne Rousseau: How can we begin to explain the impact that Madhur Jaffrey's prolific body of work has had on us? Many times in our career, even as we set out to write our first cookbook, we thought to ourselves, "If only we could be the Madhur Jaffrey of Caribbean food." We were never interested in being known as the best restaurateurs or chefs but as wisdom keepers, storytellers, guardians of our culture. Madhur, a woman who was educated, cultured, dignified, and refined but accessible, was a model we wanted to emulate.
Michelle Rousseau: All great storytelling has the capacity to trigger nostalgic memory in the reader and listener. Padma describing her favorite papri chaat, crunchy, fried semolina dressed with the Holy Trinity of cool tart yogurt, rye, cilantro mint chutney and tiny tamarind date chutney reminds us of our favorite street-side Trinidadian snacks, pholourie balls, accra, and saheena. Basically, different forms of fritters made with split peas, salted cod and callaloo dressed gloriously with an array of typical Trini sauces, tamarind, shado beni, curried mango and hot pepper.
Suzanne Rousseau: And Madhur's description of her young self climbing and foraging mango trees with her elder siblings and dipping the spoils of their labor in a mixture of salt, pepper, chili and cumin while the adults of course took afternoon naps, triggers memories of our own lazy childhood summer days which also included the requisite tree climbing and perpetual search for the perfect, not quite ripe, mango to make mango chow, a pickle made with green or tarred mangoes cut into thin slivers and marinated with salt, pepper, vinegar and hot spices, which we devoured out of a big bowl, barefoot and happy, in the backyard.
Michelle Rousseau: Food has the power to unite us through a web of shared remembrances, experiences and flavors. By sharing our food stories, we share culture, we encourage diversity, we teach about heritage and community, and we celebrate the Legion of female ancestors and wise women who have cooked and cared for so many for so long. It is with profound pleasure that we present Padma Lakshmi and Madhur Jaffrey.
Madhur Jaffrey: Thank you so much.
Padma Lakshmi: That was so-
Madhur Jaffrey: That was a lovely introduction.
Padma Lakshmi: I want a copy of that.
Madhur Jaffrey: Thank you so much.
Padma Lakshmi: That was so cute.
Madhur Jaffrey: Thank you. And I miss callaloo so much.
Padma Lakshmi: Aww. Oh, shit, we have a hard act to follow. Okay, so I'm sure that everyone in this room knows Madhur and who she is. I'm going to ... No? Okay. Yes. Is there anyone who doesn't know? Okay, Madhur Jaffrey is the greatest living writer on Indian food ever. Okay? One, she's also the only Indian woman to win a best actress award, and a silver bear it's called, at Berlin Film Festival. No one has done that. Not at Berlin, not at Cannes and not in Venice, before her or after her. Two, Madhur was one of the first brown women that any of us, whether we were Indian or Trini, or Filipino, saw on the cover of a major book in major bookstores, not only in America but also in England.
Padma Lakshmi: She is also the first brown person we saw talking about our food on British television during the golden age of BBC programming in the 80s. She's a lot of other stuff, we're going to get to it now, but that gives you the Haikus version. I'm going to start really far back and I want to move quickly because I want to get to all of your lives. You've had an extraordinary life. I want to know a little bit about the family that you were born into. I remember reading in your memoir that you ate with 30 or 40 relatives in a joint family, like most Indians in the last several decades, in a big house outside of Delhi. Right? And you ate most meals with 30 to 40 people constantly.
Padma Lakshmi: And this I know as well, that all the women in that family would jostle to try to get the best tidbits from the table for their children. This is like a big joint family with many siblings and sister-in-laws, and everything. I want to hear about your family, but first I want to hear about how that fact shaped you and how you grew, or if it did at all.
Madhur Jaffrey: We lived in this huge family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and there was a hard aspect to it and there was a wonderful aspect to it. The hard aspect, I think, was for my parents' generation because they had to deal with each other. They had to keep their little family, their nuclear family intact and somehow part of the bigger family. But for us cousins growing up, we were so many, so many of us little ones, and many of them in the same age group. I was in the same age group as all boys. There were no girls my age. They were in my sister's generation, my brother's generation, but not in mine, so I had a very different life for most people. I learned how to play cricket. I learned how to fish.
Madhur Jaffrey: I did all the things that a boy does and wondered why I was a girl. And I never knew. I never understood that girls are different. I thought I was the same as my cousins. I did the same things. I was as good at the same things. And then I began to learn that it's not the same, that boys are like, "Oh, he's going to inherit his father's property." And so, the servants even would talk to the boys differently and talk to the girls as they are going to go away to some other household, so the boy is the one to be worshiped and treated well because he's going to be in the house forever. I began to sense that difference, began to resent that difference. And I think that aspect of the Indian family life stayed with me.
Madhur Jaffrey: And then I also saw all these inner fighting going on, especially in my mother's generation, where each mother would try and keep the best thing for her children. Some were very good and generous, and didn't do that and some did, and so you saw how possessive and selfish people can be. But I was learning having a lifetime's experience of living in a kind of world, it was a whole world. But I was having it with just these 30 or 40 people that I saw constantly. So I came up with a desire to break through, not worry that men were men and would get more. I saw it happening and I said it's not going to happen to me or I'm going to get out of here.
Madhur Jaffrey: And I did get out of here. That was one of the things that prompted me out of India. It was this seeing every day that a woman's position is not the same as a man's position, and it did have a very, very important effect on my life.
Padma Lakshmi: In your early childhood, you were living basically in Delhi, outside of Delhi.
Madhur Jaffrey: In Delhi.
Padma Lakshmi: In Delhi proper.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: In Gandhiji's India. What was that like? Because you were 14 by the time he was killed.
Madhur Jaffrey: Well, yeah. Right.
Padma Lakshmi: Do you remember where you were when you heard Gandhi was killed?
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. What happened was that my father belonged to the Congress party, which is the party that was fighting for independence against the British. And we would do things like when we went to a movie, the British national anthem was played and we would all stand up and my father, my mother, their six children would all walk out. This was one of my father's doing. He just taught us to walk out when the God Save the King or God Save the Queen played. So, we did that. It was our own form of protest against the British Raj. And then I also learned because Gandhiji was teaching all of us don't buy British fabrics, don't buy British anything. Weave your own cloth. Make your thread, weave your own cloth.
Madhur Jaffrey: So I learned how to weave. I got a little spinning wheel, I think I was 10 years old at that time, and followed Gandhi's instructions and I wove thread which was sent then to be made into cloth, and we were all trying to wear homemade stuff. Food always comes to my head. Anyway, so we grew up in that period and one day my mother's said to me, "I would like to hear Gandhiji speak." And he used to have these prayer meetings up on a little hill and everybody sat below and listened to him. And we went, my mother and I. I said, "I want to come with you." So, I went with her to listen.
Madhur Jaffrey: There were millions of people. It took hours to get there. There was dust, there was chaos, cars trying to get in. Anyway, we got in just in time, we heard him and we came back. And just a few days later, within the week, we were listening to Gandhi because it was also broadcast on the radio. We were listening to Gandhiji speak and we heard he'd been killed. And it was like everyone was listening on the radio, everyone. All the people around us, all our neighbors, were on the radio. It's like when Kennedy died.
Padma Lakshmi: Because there's only one channel also.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yes, right. Right.
Padma Lakshmi: It's not like here where you have 70.
Madhur Jaffrey: Everybody came out into the street and said, "Oh my God. Oh my God, what is going to happen?" And we thought it was a Muslim that had killed a Hindu, but it turned out it was a very right-wing Hindu that had killed Gandhi because he tried to say we're all one, let us all live together. Well, that was not good enough for this very virtuous right-wing Hindu, and he shot him to death. I remember that awful feeling of running out into the street, everybody looking at each other and saying ... His last words were, "Hey Ram, oh God." And we were all saying, "Hey Ram, oh God. What has happened? What has happened?"
Madhur Jaffrey: So, I think there were things we shared as Indians and one of them was, "British, get out." That was one of the things, and the other was, "This is our India and Gandhi was the great, great leader for us who was shot." And that was really, really hard.
Padma Lakshmi: You talked about getting out of India and you went to the UK. You had a scholarship at RADA.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: At Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Can you talk about that experience? Had you been abroad before?
Madhur Jaffrey: No. I was about 20 years old, 19 or 20. I'd done my BA in English because I had wanted to go to art school. I used to paint as a kid and I wanted to go to art school but my family, particularly my elder sister whom I listened to a lot, said, "Why would you want to go to art school? You can always do art afterwards. But go get a degree and get a degree in English."
Padma Lakshmi: And philosophy, right?
Madhur Jaffrey: In English.
Padma Lakshmi: Only English?
Madhur Jaffrey: English with history and philosophy as minors. "And then you'll be able to read and write and at least you'll have that behind you and then go to school afterwards." Well, of course, I went and did my English honors and I started acting in the amateur theater in Delhi at that time so then I was full of the theater and that's all I wanted to do. I applied for a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and I got it then went to drama school. My father just put me on a boat and said, "Okay, go." The interesting thing was that my father had six children. He had two perfect boys, two perfect good looking girls and then me who was a sort of ... He didn't know what I was.
Madhur Jaffrey: I didn't know what I was. I was ambitious, I wanted things, I got angry. I was unlike any of the others and so I became my father's wonderful experiments, she can be what she wants to be. And then my youngest sister was my youngest sister but I was allowed freedom. For example, I loved to suck bones. I still do. I'd be in the dining room and I'd be eating a bone and then everyone would have finished and I would take my bone out into the next room. And my mother would say, "No, you can't suck a bone." And my father would say, "Let her be. She wants to suck the bone. She must need something in it." I became his glorious little experiment of a free child who was really allowed to do what she wanted and I thrived.
Madhur Jaffrey: I thrived under that situation. When I said I wanted to go to RADA he said, "Okay, fine. You go." And he took me, put me on a boat, a piano liner, that was going to Southampton alone. I was alone and I was fine. I was ready for the world. I was ready to face the future. Anything that came, I was totally, totally right for it. And on the boat, it's funny what foods you think are exotic. When India was fighting with the British against the Germans and the Japanese, we all had to do what the British wanted. And the British Army, once the war was over, let loose these things called K-rations which came into the boxes wrapped in brownish wax paper.
Madhur Jaffrey: They had so many of them fighting the war in Burma and things like that. They just released them for one rupee each or something into the streets of India and we would get them and open them like Christmas bags. And inside it was cigarettes, there was fruit cocktail with cherries. There was tinned pineapple. Forget the good pineapple we could have. This was tinned and it was really different. There were olives which I had never had before. There was spam, wonderful, wonderful spam that came in little tins that you opened up. This became the exotic food for us and it was so amazing and so wonderful. We thought this was the greatest.
Madhur Jaffrey: We grew up at this time where the British were just leaving, and I left during that period and went to drama school in England. And England was at that time, we're talking about 1956, '57, something like that. There was smog. There was literally pea-green smog in England at that time. And it was just after the war and the food was terrible. Terrible. We, rather, had a cafeteria on the fifth floor so you would climb up the stairs and go up and then you would get this see-through slice of gray roast beef, mashed potatoes that had been cooked for days, cabbage that was all sad from having being cooked and cooked and cooked. And I would dream of Indian food and the food my mother had in our house.
Madhur Jaffrey: That's when I started writing letters to my mother and saying, "Please teach me how to cook. Teach me how to cook cauliflower potatoes. Teach me how to go meat with whole spices. Teach me how to cook dal. Teach me how to cook rice. Teach me how to make tea. I didn't know anything. She started writing me little air letters and-
Padma Lakshmi: Aerograms.
Madhur Jaffrey: Aerograms, exactly.
Padma Lakshmi: I remember you folded them in three.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yes.
Padma Lakshmi: It was baby blue paper.
Madhur Jaffrey: Exactly, baby blue paper.
Padma Lakshmi: But she only gave you ingredients, right?
Madhur Jaffrey: No, she just said ... There were three lines and in Hindi, "Take a little bit of this, little bit of that. Brown it a little and then put some water and let it cook."
Padma Lakshmi: If you had to boil it down, that's a great-
Madhur Jaffrey: Yes, that's what it was.
Padma Lakshmi: ... short recipe for anything Indian that's ... Yeah.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah. But the one thing I write about in my memoir, and it's something that I didn't discover till I was writing that memoir which is around 2000 ...
Padma Lakshmi: And six.
Madhur Jaffrey: Six, it came out. But-
Padma Lakshmi: I'm channeling my best James Lipton right now.
Madhur Jaffrey: It was then, when I was writing it, that I began to realize that the senses are very important. We are not all born with all good senses, developed senses. Some people like my husband have a very good ear but what does it mean? It means you hear well, but you retain it and you remember it and you can compare and contrast and do all these things in your head because you are hearing it so well. Obviously, I was born with a good eye but I was also born with a good palate and I didn't know this. Everything I had eaten, I remember the taste. It had gone up to my head and was like files in the brain and I could recall.
Madhur Jaffrey: And even to this day when I shop and I look at green beans if they look good, I say, "Now, shall I make them with a mustard seeds and this and this?" And I taste it in my mouth and I say, "No, I don't think I feel like that today." Then I try another set of ingredients and I taste that and I say, "No, not that." Or, "I think I'll do it with ginger and garlic." I am tasting it. And a lot of people have good palates and they can taste, but it is one of the senses that is crucial to remembering and retaining and recalling and being able to recreate.
Padma Lakshmi: And then just 10 years after that, you won the Silver Bear for Shakespeare Wallah.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: Okay. I have a specific question about that. We talked about you being the only one and I just want to know, because often in my own career I have felt like the odd duck just because I didn't see people around me who had similar backgrounds or stories who look like me. Not that you need that, to be with somebody or be inspired by somebody, but I just want to know. That's happened to me recently, like 10 years ago even. What was that like in 1965? Can you just describe being in Berlin? I saw a beautiful, fabulous, glamorous picture of you with Edie Sedgwick at the New York Film Festival which was divine. But what was that like in Berlin? It must have been surreal.
Madhur Jaffrey: It was so unexpected. Nobody expected me to win, least of all me. And if anybody was going to win it was going to be Felicity Kendal, who is a British actress, who had the lead part in the film. And everyone was disappointed that I won except me.
Padma Lakshmi: I'm not disappointed. I'm glad you won.
Madhur Jaffrey: And I had to hide it because everyone was angry at me that I had won. And I remember James Ivory coming up to me and saying, "You go and talk to Felicity. Say something to her. Apologize to her." Okay, okay. But I just felt so alone and out of it because I hadn't planned this. I'd just done my role and got out but it just ... I don't know. It was an awkward time. And I've had many such awkward times when I'm an unexpected, unprepared winner of something. And it's happened quite by accident and quite by chance and I don't know what to do and I'm left apologizing.
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Padma Lakshmi: And so we're going to talk about your food a little bit because it's Cherry Bombe and we only have a few minutes left.
Madhur Jaffrey: We definitely should.
Padma Lakshmi: I know that through the movie, Ismail introduced you to the New York Times and to Craig Claiborne because he was just trying to get press. If you don't know who Ismail Merchant is, Ismail is a very strange and wonderful character who made a bunch of films including Howard's End with his partner James Ivory. And I wanted to ask you about your complicated relationship with them because a lot of collaborators have had very complicated relationships with them.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory were a duo. Actually, I introduced them to each other when we were all very young. Ismail was still at NYU doing business and Jim was a young, young filmmaker who had come from the west coast to New York. And I knew him first and I knew Ismail first and then we all started talking about ... Ismail was very ambitious, he had great dreams, he wanted to do films and he wanted to do theater. He wanted to do everything. He wanted to be the king of entertainment in America. And, of course, he would drag in anyone who was at all involved in the arts into it. And, of course, I certainly got pulled very much into it.
Madhur Jaffrey: He had a salesman's talent. He could sell his little finger to you. He could sell his grandmother to you. He had that enormous ability. He was such a character. He would persuade people like you. He would suddenly come to you and say, "I'm making a film in India and I can't do it without you. And you must come. Oh, you must come to India with me, and we are going next month." So, you would rent your house, you would say, "Okay, we are going." And when the time came, he wasn't ready to go. And he would say, "Oh, what should I do with my house? Oh, never mind. We'll go. We'll go, don't worry." Six months would pass and your house would be rented, and you wouldn't have a house.
Madhur Jaffrey: But he had a way of not somehow doing it and getting away with it each time. When he did another film, which you should rent and see; it's a one-hour film called Autobiography Of A Princess, and he said, "There are only two characters in this film, it's going to be you and Lawrence Olivier." I said, "Oh my God, this is going to be so wonderful. Lawrence Olivier? My God." And then the next day it wasn't Lawrence Olivier; it was John Gielgud. It's going to be John Gielgud. I said, "Okay, that's very good." This would go on and on and he gave me the script, but I wouldn't learn the lines because it's not going to happen. It's never going to happen.
Madhur Jaffrey: And one day he said, "It's James Mason and we are doing it next week." I didn't know my lines, I didn't know anything and I was suddenly in England having dinner with James Mason. He knew his lines. I didn't know mine. It was really sad. But I had read up on him and obviously he was absolutely wonderful. It's just, basically, the two of us in this Autobiography Of A Princess and it's quite wonderful.
Padma Lakshmi: Okay. Now you meet the New York Times and you meet Judith Jones, legendary Judith Jones. Tell me about your relationship with Judith, what it was like to work with her as an editor and as a friend.
Madhur Jaffrey: Well, it happened indirectly, that I had met ... That article by Craig Claiborne came out in the New York Times, it was like a whole page, and I was approached by a freelance editor who said, "We'd love to do a book." I didn't know about editors, freelance or not, so I said, "Fine." I started writing a book. And then, of course, he fell apart because he was not any real thing and the book was bought by one publisher then they dropped it. And I asked my friend, a writer called Vaid Netah what I should do. He said, "I have a friend called André Schiffrin and he's an editor of Pantheon Books, and let me ask him what you should do." He said, "Give it to Judith Jones."
Madhur Jaffrey: He took the book and overnight gave it to Judith Jones who, as you all know, was a fabulous, fabulous editor who did not only Julia Child, but a whole lot of other people. And she bought it overnight, didn't pay me much. Because you don't need to be paid, you're with this big house. I got very little money as an advance but I was bought by CAN. And Judith was a wonderful editor. I had already written most of the book but she honed it and she had very good ideas, like putting menus because people don't know what Indian food is, what would you eat with what, give people ideas about how you should eat. She became a lifelong friend also after that and I was lucky. I was very lucky to have one of the best editors in America to do my first book.
Padma Lakshmi: I heard that that book took you five years, which made me feel better because I took five years to do the memoir. What was that like after that process, to ... because you've written so many books? Madhur has seven James Beard Awards under her belt.
Madhur Jaffrey: When Judith asked me to sort of ... The book was fairly done and she said, "How long would you take to finish the book?" And I said, "Oh, six months. I don't know. It just won't take long." Took me five years because I had never written a book fully before and I'm a perfectionist. Everything has to be absolutely right before I handed it in. Every I has to be dotted. It has to be a clean copy. I will not hand in an unclean copy. I give the book as finished to my editor. I kept working on it. I wrote an introduction, long introduction. I wrote little introductions for all the recipes and it took me five years before I handed it in.
Padma Lakshmi: And then after a couple of more books, you did the BBC series-
Madhur Jaffrey: Right.
Padma Lakshmi: ... in 1982. By the way, my mother has a copy of that original 1973 where she's looking very glam. It's a blue sari. You're looking very glamorous lounging with all these platters of Indian food.
Madhur Jaffrey: They always want a sari and lounge.
Padma Lakshmi: Yeah, typical like every exotic fantasy of feminine eastern food or whatever.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: So, what is it now, when you see all of these young Indian women coming up? I mean, I can't think of myself as young anymore but all these people who are now following in your footsteps. What's that like for you?
Madhur Jaffrey: They're my loves. All these young people like Priya, they are my loves because they are taking over. They're young, they're smart, they're more militant than I ever was. I never said, "I'm brown. Please, look at me." They are saying that. I'm letting them do that. There are all these young people here in America. And do you know Meera Sodha-
Padma Lakshmi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madhur Jaffrey: ... in London? She writes for The Guardian. Now, she's another one in London. She is me. She will carry on in the best way possible. There are all these wonderful people that I look up to and they will carry this banner forward.
Padma Lakshmi: You've also had a lot of goofy jobs. Not goofy, but interesting jobs. Did you know she was a DJ? She was a DJ, I'm not kidding, right after college before RADA.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah, I did that on radio.
Padma Lakshmi: All India Radio, that's right.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yes, All India Radio. The person who came after me was a Chinese program. It was Foreign Service. We were doing it for the Foreign Service. And so I learned how to say this is All India Radio, Delhi in Chinese because it was always the thing just after me. That's the only Chinese I speak.
Padma Lakshmi: I keep also waiting for Indian food to have its moment, in spite of all of us writing about it, like Thai food has or Vietnamese food has. Why do you think that it hasn't yet? Do you think that and do you think it's on the horizon sometime soon?
Madhur Jaffrey: It hasn't happened.
Padma Lakshmi: No, I don't think so.
Madhur Jaffrey: I've been saying from the day I came, and people have been saying to me, "Indian food will have its day." It hasn't happened. And I have a theory that America has relationships with foreign foods where they've had a war. They haven't had a war with India.
Padma Lakshmi: Thank God.
Madhur Jaffrey: Thank God. But therefore, there is no historical connection in any way. There's no deep blood connection in any way so Indian food has not, somehow, come into the heart of Americans the way Vietnamese food or Korean food has come into American society in a very basic kind of way. Indian food has never done that. But this next generation is doing a kind of Indian-American food including you, a little bit of that. And I think maybe what will come in will be this mixture.
Padma Lakshmi: I think that's because also when we came here or our parents came here ... I came here when I was four. A lot of these young women were even born here.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: I think when we came here because there weren't that many of us brown folk around ... Now, it's growing after the ... There are two waves of Indian immigration, right? The medical wave in the 70s and then now the technological wave after 2000, and over half of the Indians in this country are after 2000. But for the ones before who were brought up here as basically brown American kids, there weren't so many of us. There weren't any way of distinguishing the differences between different Indian ethnicities. You have to understand Indian food is so regional that food from the south in Tamil Nadu is so different from the north and Delhi or whatever, Gujarat and Bengali and all these places.
Padma Lakshmi: So, when you come to India you try to congregate and when you do it becomes a Pan-Indian diet. And then you think, "Well, we might as well throw in some American dishes that way because we're used to doing it." I mean, ours also was the generation of women that worked completely full time. I think you learned to cook after you left India because in India your mother, I'm sure, had servants.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah, we had cooks. Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: What do you think is the one thing that most westerners don't understand about Indian food? Is there one thing? I mean, I'm sure there's many things.
Madhur Jaffrey: I think they just don't understand Indian food. It's so regional. It's like going to Europe and then you see you have Spanish food and you have French food and you have Italian food and to somehow put all that under one umbrella. The only thing that we all have in common is that there are spices and these are arranged in different ways. Sometimes they're roasted, sometimes they're not roasted. Different oils are used in different states. You prefer different oils. There are different fruit in different states. Some states have coconut. Some states like where I grew up, I didn't grow up with coconut or coconut milk or anything like that because we were not a coastal state. We were right in the center. I think that understanding all that is, perhaps, too much to grasp in one fell swoop.
Madhur Jaffrey: I don't know what the reason is, but I think more and more people are traveling. I was just speaking yesterday at an event where the guy who owns Russ and Daughters was also speaking and he'd just been to India. He'd just had this experience of what India really is and he was dumbfounded by what he had seen. I think people have to travel to India to see what it really is. And as people travel, what people are doing more and more, they will begin to understand it. Meanwhile, something like Priya's book Indian-ish, I think, becomes very important because she is writing for people of her generation who've been brought up in a certain way and they eat certain things and it's a mixture of East and West. And I think that will probably catch on before the old real thing ever comes in.
Padma Lakshmi: Traditional regions.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: In the very short time, we only have a couple of minutes left, what is it like now for you to see Sakina act? House of Cards, right?
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah. Yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: I just want to tell you also that first question, Sakina made me ask you.
Madhur Jaffrey: Which one?
Padma Lakshmi: The one about what it was like in the family when you ... She planted that. Her daughter, Sakina, is an actress who has been in many things. What's it like now?
Madhur Jaffrey: She's in Timeless. The last thing she was in is Timeless, for those of you who followed it. It makes me very happy that it's so much easier for her. It was so hard. When I came, there were no parts. They were just no parts. I could be a Middle Easterner dancing with a camel. There were parts like that. Then I played a lot of terrorist mothers. And there were just nothing, nothing.
Madhur Jaffrey: I remember going, at that time ... You're all too young for this, but Joseph Papp used to run the public theater, and I was sent to him. They said, "Go talk to Joseph Papp." Because I had gone with a lot of honors and whatever in acting. He said, "We'll try and fit you in." And you know what "fit" means. People didn't think in terms of anyone of any color doing Shakespeare, doing any kind of decent roles. It's changing now.
Padma Lakshmi: It's changing, barely. You know?
Madhur Jaffrey: Changing barely, but I see people working. I see young men working. I see young women working who have Indian/Pakistani background, and it gives me a lot of joy to see that.
Padma Lakshmi: This is probably now a decade ago, but I once went to see a casting person at ER. You remember that show, ER? And I said, "If you look at any American hospital, it's like looking at an Indian phone book so surely there must be a part for me somewhere here." And he was like, "Well, I think if we do well by the blacks, we think we're doing just fine." I don't think he ever wanted to say something rude, so I don't even think he realized, but I didn't know what the hell to say to him. I was so shocked, just my hung open. And I can't imagine how much worse it was.
Madhur Jaffrey: Yeah. Yeah. I eventually did get to play doctors.
Padma Lakshmi: Oh, good.
Madhur Jaffrey: Doctors, psychologists, therapists. I've played a therapist to Meryl Streep, which was great, so those ... then I got into the doctor mode and that was good.
Padma Lakshmi: Okay. Before we leave I cannot let you go without saying, she's got an Intapot book, so buy it. It's out soon, if not already. But the rap video, can you just tell us about the rap video? Who's seen this rap video? Everybody, get their phones out right now. No, I'm serious. I know you have them. Get your phones out. Google Madhur Jaffrey rap video. There's a New York Times piece about it that came out just very recently. As you leave, or on your next break, just tee it up, because I don't want to take more than our time, and watch this thing.
Madhur Jaffrey: It's just a three-minute video.
Padma Lakshmi: Yeah, it's a three-minute video, but I think you should always rock the silver long wig in the style of Cleopatra. She has full-on Cleopatra gangster eyeliner on. Anyway, on behalf of all brown women everywhere, but just all women, Madhur, I want to tell you how much you've meant to me personally.
Madhur Jaffrey: Thank you.
Padma Lakshmi: And just growing up and knowing you all these years and being inspired by you and giving me just even a reinforcement of the idea that I could pursue something-
Madhur Jaffrey: Oh, yeah.
Padma Lakshmi: ... of what you've done. I'm so honored to be here today.
Madhur Jaffrey: Thank you so much. Thanks.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to the Rousseau sisters, Padma, and the one and only Madhur Jaffrey. Thank you to everyone who attended, volunteered and spoke at Jubilee 2019. It was such an amazing day. Thank you to today's sponsors, Traeger Wood-Fired grills and Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools. Don't forget, we'd love if you could support the Hunger Doesn't Take A Break initiative from the Food Bank for New York City. Visit foodbanknyc.org for more.
Kerry Diamond: Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Thanks, Jess. Cherry Bombe is powered by Lauren Goldstein, Donna Yen, Audrey Pain, Maria Sanchez, Kia Damon, and our publisher, Kate Miller Spencer. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening, everybody. You are the bombe.
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