Our series continues, where we ask leading specialists about themselves and their field. (We're ready to cook up a storm - see the recipe link at the bottom!)
Meet Mallika Basu, food and drink industry commentator, and communications and strategy consultant. Mallika
is the author of two cookbooks – Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living (Harper Collins) and Masala: Indian cooking for Modern Living (Bloomsbury) and
formerly co-founded SIZL Spices, a heady and high-quality range of spices for passionate home cook. Mallika set up a consultancy to advise organisations and individuals to be culturally relevant and sensitive during the pandemic.
Mallika, tell us how you first becameinvolved in the world of food and what food means to you.
I started teaching myself how to cook the food I missed from back home in India when I was doing a master’s degree in journalism in London. I was astounded at how many people thought the food of India was difficult and time consuming to make, with lots of hard-to-source ingredients. So I started documenting my trials and tribulations in the kitchen in a food blog, which quickly led to my first cookbook. I wanted to inspire other busy people to cook wholesome and flavourful meals at home. That then led to more food writing, commenting, a second cookbook, a spice business and more. Hilariously, I started life as a child who hated food! It means the world to me to help others establish positive relationships with food, cooking, ingredients and the people behind it all.
You have combined two decades of experience in the corporate world with some 17 years of experience in the food industry as a food writer, industry commentator and brand owner to help brands negotiate cultural relevance, sensitivity and diversity in the food industry and more. Why is this so necessary and important now?
Major shifts in culture, i.e., the way we live today, and global movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter have exposed the deep rooted, structural and systemic inequities in the power structures that exist in society. Alongside this, customers and consumers are also expecting organisations, brands and businesses to be more morally and socially aware and do their bit for people, society and the environment. Being purpose-led and mindful of ESG is increasingly becoming an expectation, and not a nice to have. I’ve had a long career in communications, reputation management and strategic advisory so I added being culturally relevant and sensitive to the mix to help clients navigate these challenges and the opportunities they present to do things differently, better and achieve commercial success.
What has been your proudest moment?
The last three years have been quite the ride so there are a few to report. Nigella Lawson attending my “culture and mindset” talk was quite something. She has been a huge supporter and went on to give me a glowing testimonial. Then there was the time I got nicknamed Jamie Oliver’s Offence Advisor by the media. I’ve also had the huge pleasures of writing Borough Market’s 2030 strategy and helping Waitrose develop their new range of Cooks’ Ingredients sensitively. Seeing your efforts actually deliver positive and practical change is just wonderful.
With your particular lens on, what would be your top tip for someone starting out in the food industry today?
My biggest advice would be to research the culture and nuances of a community you don’t belong to, before you commercialise it. This applies to anyone starting up a brand and seeking inspiration from elsewhere.
What is your favourite dish and can we get the recipe?
I love making a simple chicken curry as it demonstrates so well how spices and ingredients change texture, colour and fragrance. You can find below and my posts on culture and diversity in my newsletter.
Chicken curry for the win
This Bengali-style Murgir Jhol, or Chicken Curry, is testament to the magical transformation of the Holy Trinity of spices - turmeric, chilli and garam masala alone. There are whole spices in the hot oil at the outset, when a pinch of sugar caramelises to give the curry its crimson glow. I hope you enjoy cooking it and much as you love watching the spices do their thing.
- 4 tablespoons oil
- 1 inch whole cinnamon
- 4 green cardamoms
- 4 cloves
- 1 large bay leaf
- Pinch of white sugar
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, grated
- 1 and a half inch stick of ginger, grated
- 1 level teaspoon of chilli powder
- Half teaspoon of turmeric powder
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- Hot water
- 500gm skinless chicken thigh and drumsticks
- Half teaspoon of garam masala
- Salt to taste
- Fresh coriander and red chillies to garnish (optional)
Bring the oil to medium high heat in a pan, wok or kadai. When it’s hot, add the sugar and whole spices. As they sizzle, mix in the chopped onions.
Saute the chopped onions for five to seven minutes until they start taking colour. Then tip in the garlic and ginger, and stir for another five minutes until the masala starts turning golden.
Now mix in the turmeric and chilli powders for a minute, and then add the chopped tomatoes. Cook the lot until the tomatoes soften and you can see oil escaping them. You can a dash of hot water to loosen the masala if it gets stuck.
Next drop in the chicken and mix well to seal, coating the pieces in the spice paste for a minute. Add half a cup of water, cover and cook on a high simmer for 20 minutes stirring regularly.
Take the lid off for a final 10 minutes to allow oil to surface as a happy sign of the spices and ingredients marrying. Stir through salt to your taste, garnish with love and serve with steaming hot Basmati.