Sunday, 10 March 2013

Genius Vs Genial

Hawaiian Pineapple Saar

Watching MasterChef Professional semi-finals on TV the other night and the much hyped lead-up to the (not so) scary chef Donovan Cook, we got talking about  chefs who find it necessary to yell and shout to get into the role. 

Oh yes, look at that Marco and even Ramsay…why do they need to holler so much!

It’s funny how in these days of an all-time-high-awareness of the importance of appropriate workplace relations, and of what constitutes workplace harassment and bullying, so many chefs get away with the shouting, yelling, bullying and terrorising behaviours.

First to jump to mind is the romanticised image of the chef as an artist whose creative idiosyncrasies are pandered to by staff and employers alike.  Insatiable in his or her pursuit for perfection, the chef should and must not accept mediocrity.

Well, let’s be fair, we perhaps have actually done a disservice to chefs by elevating cooking to the level of art and chefs as the lean, mean, exacting demigods - so why lament it when some chefs behave like dyspeptic and egoistic artists ?

In our quest for the genius have we lost the genial chef? 

The angry chef is as much a product of our pandering as he or she is of the harsh realities of working under pressure of service deadlines in hot and noisy kitchens, meeting contingencies, facing emergencies, coping with staff absenteeism and dealing with life-threatening accidents. 

Working weekend and late night shifts, facing occupational health hazards like cuts and burns, slips and trips on a daily basis and risking frozen shoulder, carpel tunnel syndrome, back problems and treacherous weight gain in the long term, perhaps make these people -who make others very happy- unhappy themselves.

Then the husband interjects, as he watches the chef admonishing someone in the team, “I am not sure if I would like to eat food prepared by this unhappy and stressed out bunch! And God knows how the chef’s minions must be getting their revenge... !”

I wonder where that “happy chef” concept has gone. The cherubic, plump face with the merry twinkle in the eye, lovingly leading kitchen teams and genially inviting you to partake of victuals…

I think I have just described my mother-in-law, who is another strong influence on my cooking, not just because I cooked alongside her and she taught me many dishes, but also by my vicariously learning from the reminiscences of her son, my husband. 

As a young girl who went to live with her in-laws, I had the most unconventional experience of being so warmly welcomed, loved and doted on by a new set of parents and a sister that I never had.  

We made a very efficient and effective team in the kitchen, my MIL - the genial chef de cuisine, I- the raring-to-go sous-chef, and my much younger SIL -the most energetic and diligent kitchen hand.

Our kitchen resounded with mirth as we joked, poked fun at each other and others, told anecdotes and gossiped and shared recipes. A most democratic MIL, mine would confer very cordially with me on menus, appreciate my cooking and very generously would teach me so many dishes.

Not just that, she enriched and added to lifelong trousseau of thrifty and nifty tricks and tips. And I have continued to add to this treasure by listening keenly to the husband describing his mother’s cooking and trying out her dishes.

Now in her late 70s, she’s slowed down a bit and doesn’t have to cook for an army like before, but is still enthusiastic about good food and ever ready to share a recipe.

When I phoned her the other day to get her recipe for her inimitable ‘saar pood’, she rattled it off from memory, leaving me scurrying for a pen and paper. Then again, she was keen to hear about the pineapple saar I made using the saar pood, and am sure she will give it a go one of these days!

Now, how many Chef De Cuisines will try out their Sous’ recipes?

Saar Pood (Madhavi Nargundkar’s recipe)


1 cup coriander seeds
3 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp black pepper corns
1 tsp methi seeds (fenugreek seeds)
1 tsp mustard seeds
12-15 curry leaves
2-3 whole dry red chillies (or more)
¼ tsp hing
½ tsp turmeric
A little salt
1 tsp ghee


Roast the coriander seeds lightly in a teaspoon of ghee.  Add the curry leaves at the start so that they will dehydrate by the end. Then add the methi seeds, pepper, cumin and mustard seeds. Break the chilli into small pieces and add to the roasted spice mixture. Add the hing, turmeric and salt to taste. Switch off the heat.

Cool and grind the mixture into a fine powder in a spice grinder.

Store in an airtight jar when the ground mixture cools.

Hawaiian Pineapple Saar

Do you remember the other day I made some pizza with pineapple? Well, on that day I had opened this large tin of pineapple loath as I am to throwing the juice down the drain, made this very Hawaiian Pineapple Saar.

Happy to continue the legacy of thrift...


2 cups light pineapple syrup (this is the juice in which pineapple slices come preserved in cans)
Alternately, you can use fresh or tinned pineapple blended with some water
2 tbsp chopped pineapple pieces
100 ml light coconut milk
1 tbsp saar pood (spice mix) or more
Lemon juice if required
Sugar/sweetener, if required
Salt to taste
A few curry leaves
A sprinkle of dried chilli flakes
About 1 cup water


Combine the pineapple juice, a little water to dilute if it’s too strong, pineapple pieces and curry leaves in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the saar pood, a little salt, chilli flakes and the coconut milk.  Let it come back to the almost same temperature in a minute or so, without allowing it to boil (sometimes the coconut milk will curdle when boiled). Turn the heat off and adjust the tastes, adding the sweetener/sugar and lemon juice and salt as required.

Serve hot with soft rice and a nice curry and some papad. Alternately, you can serve it with a nice vegetable pulao or masaley bhaat.

Or, better still, serve as an aperitif or mocktail.

This is my 7th and last post bolstering my friend Preeti Deo's event -A Humble Giveaway to fight plagiarism.


  1. Amazing way to use Pineapple...I am greatful for the saar pood recipe you think it will last for some time if I make and store!! Thanks for all your support in this cause:)

    1. Thanks Preeti - yes this saar tastes amazing! Yes, the saar pood will stay for some time, esp. in your London climate ! :D

      And I think it was a very good cause - so anytime !:)


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