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Meena Phadkar

Known as the "Kitchen Queen" in a recent article published in "The Gulf Today" Meena Phadkar is a true Culinary "Artist" ! 

A graduate in Commercial Art from the Delhi College of Art. She has not only taught commercial art but has a successful business as a professional artist

She has a passion for cooking and creating. She is an avid cook and apart from cookery interests, she is also a good organizer of social events for ladies and for families on festive occasions. Her passion for cooking is fueled by her family who enjoy her creations. 

She has participated in many culinary competitions and has won many times. She is now, called upon to judge many cooking competitions since she is known for her keen eye and exquisite taste. She recently participated in a "Cookery contest" organized by Nestle Middle East held in the Dubai Intercontinental on 27th March. Approx 300+ multi-national entries were received. There were 9 judges belonging to the Emirates Culinary Guild. There were 25 third prizes, 4 second prizes and 1 first prize. We are pleased to inform you that she secured the FIRST PRIZE - a Kenwood microwave oven.

Her latest and very successful initiative being that of arranging to collect and dispatch clothes and food stuff for "
Gujarat Earthquake Relief" from and around her locality. 

Read all about her in this wonderful interview taken by our very own Chef-On-Line Medini Pradhan. Here are the categories. 

You can E-Mail her at MeenaPhadkar@cuisinecuisine.com 

Tell us how your interest in cooking started and at what age?

Good cooks within my family like my grandmother, mother and aunts influenced me towards the art of cooking. This lead me to experiment by preparing meals at weekends during my college days. My parents were the source of encouragement and their  valued inputs contributed substantially.

Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

Apart from my family of good cooks, what really inspired me towards cooking was my success while participating in the numerous cookery competitions held by various ladies' clubs in Abu Dhabi, UAE. My success at clinching the top prizes consistently was the biggest inspiration as I had not been through any professional cookery classes.

What do you enjoy most about being recognized as gifted Indian culinary artist?

I feel honored and privileged at being invited to judge major local cookery competitions as also to share my knowledge and experiences whenever an occasion arises. I therefore enjoy coming across a lot of talent, creativity and variety that non-professional individuals cook up as it adds to my constant learning process.

What has been your greatest success?

Being declared the first prize winner in a middle-east region-wide contest that won me a holiday in Rome for me and my family.

What was - if ever your biggest setback?

While not a setback, I was once deeply disappointed when, in my enthusiasm to participate in a major cookery contest, I had to transport my 3-course meal (with cutlery, crockery, cool-box with the desert) over 160 kms and I noticed upon reaching that my meal was messed up!

What have you done right that has made your career such a success and >brought you recognition, media attention, and awards?

Always placing my best foot forward on all occasions, paying attention to minor details and probably being at the right place at the right time!

Personal Preferences

What are the tools of the trade you use most?

- Fresh ingredients
- Right kitchen-ware (coated pots and pans) to help faster cooking as also using less fat / oil

What are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Why?

- Grinder (dry /wet) : a must for freshly ground spices
- Pressure cooker : to shorten the cooking process
- Blender : for quick shakes & soups
- Hand mixer /steel egg beater : great for mixing sauces
- Microwave:: great for defrosting, reheating and cooking

What are some of the skills that help all cooks/chefs succeed?

- To anticipate the likes and preferences of guests
- Striving for perfection including minor details
- Being a good cook is not enough. Some artistic skills are also desired to compliment presentation and finishing touches e.g usage of appropriate crockery / cutlery, interesting garnishing and appealing table layout.
- Presentation to suit the occasion makes all the difference between serving just a meal and a special meal!

Do you taste your recipe before you serve it?

Yes, at every critical step! (it also helps to random taste the not so fresh ingredients like almonds / cashews / pistachios to ensure its good quality/freshnes).

Which cuisine do you enjoy the most?

Besides having a taste for the Indian Cuisine, I also like Chinese and Continental / Italian Cuisine.

Which Indian festival inspires you to cook up a storm? And why?

Undoubtedly the festival of lights - Diwali! This is one festival which is spread over a few days and offers an opportunity to prepare a wide spread of colorful delicacies that one does not usually prepare during the year.

If there was one tip that you would like to share with our audience - what is your tip for home cooks?

Be prepared to rustle up a good tasty meal at short notice by keeping certain basic ingredients in stock at all times viz. spices, ground masalas, ginger / garlic paste, boiled meat / vegetables, chicken stock cubes, ice cream (for desert / milk shakes), sauces for toppings. 

Also, make sure you use "different colored" base masalas for every dish in the meal. This will ensure that you will get a different color and flavor for each dish, thereby making your dishes standout and add to the presentation.

What are three of your all time favorite dishes / recipes?

- Mutton biryani
- Stuffed pomfret
- Baked fish in white sauce

Please submit one of your favorite and easy recipe for our audience.

Easy Chicken Recipe

- 6 / 8 Chicken pieces
- Chicken stock cube (1)
- pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- 1 tbl soya sauce
- cut vegetable chunks ( 2 each of potatoes, onions, carrots, capsicum, tomatoes) + peas + corn

Place chicken pieces in a oven-proof dish, crush stock cube, add salt, pepper and soya sauce. Mix well. Add vegetables, mix again and cover with foil. Bake for 45 -50 minutes. Serve hot with bread.

A delicious, quick and easy-to-make recipe without fat!

Advice from the Expert

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed as a chef ?

Being a professional artist I occasionally hold exhibitions of my works (paintings, murals, pottery and sculpture). Art and cookery compliment each other and has helped me to integrate both in terms of table layouts, presentations, color combinations and displays.

What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the culinary arts?

Identify your aptitude and, if inclined, dare to experiment, observe, exchange ideas and never stop the learning process.

What advice can you give to busy working moms as far as cooking a nutritious meal is concerned?

Plan your meals for the week during the weekend and stock the ingredients. Use plenty of greens and less fat. Try microwave cooking for speed!

Do you encourage cooking for all - boys and girls and at what age should they get started? And why?

I certainly do and the earlier the better! Cooking adds a new dimension to an individual's personality (even as a hobby) and enables children and others to  appreciate the efforts that go behind a good meal.

Your favorite food quote is ....

- "Its the quality, not the quantity!"


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