Hari Ghotra has created a website that tempts even the most amateur of cooks to don an apron and get stuck in. Just browsing through her incredible recipes this morning, my senses started tingling and I knew that I would be recreating something delicious for dinner (I did, the Dhal Makhani, and it was AMAZING). When Women Make Waves asked me to speak to Hari about what inspires her, her passion for food and why she always ‘thinks big’, I jumped at the chance.
Women make waves (WMW): Hi Hari, In your website bio it says that you learnt to cook from your mother and that she inspired you with her approach, can you expand a bit on that?
Hari Ghotra (HG): Food and cooking was central to my life when I was growing up. Most Indian households of my mum’s generation learned to cook because they had to, and she, like me, learned to cook from her mum. Cooking was a necessary life skill (especially for girls) and when my parents came to the UK in the 60s, with very little, they tried to hold on to as much of their Indian heritage as they could. Luckily for me cooking was a big part of that. Cooking and eating together was something that did as a family everyday and my parents wanted to ensure that me and my siblings received an education in the kitchen so we all learned to cook; even my brothers are great in the kitchen! My mum is the best cook I know. Her food and knowledge of Indian food is amazing but it’s all contained in her head! I’m not sure my mum always truly enjoyed cooking as she had a big family to look after and I’m sure it was sometimes just another chore, but she always did it with flare. She only used fresh ingredients and more importantly, injected love and passion into her food, which is how I learned to cook. It’s all instinctively done by sight, smell, sound taste, and with lots of love.
WMW: When did you start creating your own recipes, and who do you use as a tasting panel?
HG: I have been creating recipes for years and some work better then others! I also love the classics and have spent a lot of time researching some traditional recipes to find out what has made them so popular. I think there are lots of recipes that have merged over the years, which has created this idea that all Indian food is ‘curry’, but it isn’t. Indian food is so versatile and each flavour depends on the style of cooking being used, as well as the region the recipe originated from. In terms of new dishes and ideas, I like to use both my English and Indian heritage (as my mum did) to create new recipes and concepts. Unfortunately for him, my family are my primary taste testers, and my children are pretty outspoken about what they do or don’t like!
WMW: Indian food has become increasingly westernised in the UK, to accommodate for a milder palate, do you think this is a good thing?
HG: Before I started my business I was very much of the mindset that the essence of Indian food is being lost in the UK so I only offered traditional Indian dishes in my cookery sessions. However, it became very apparent to me that Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Aloo and other mild dishes all have their place on the menu. These dishes are those that most people recognise and love so it would be wrong of me to dismiss them because they are not ‘traditionally Indian’. What I have tried to do is take them back to their Indian roots and create recipes which specific cooking styles, using fresh wholesome ingredients so you always get the lightest, freshest dish.
WMW: What made you decide to start your own website and blog rather than writing lots of cookery books?
HG: I started out by teaching people to cook, combining the two things that I am good at – cooking and chatting! Everyone has a skill that makes them feel good and mine is the ability to cook and inspire others to try new food. I have published a cookery book that I sell in my classes, almost like a textbook, but my main focus is really online and social media as I can talk about so much more! I want to share recipes and ideas quickly and I am a real advocate of getting people in the kitchen and cooking, rather than just thinking about it. This is why I keep my YouTube channel regularly updated and have started doing live Google hangouts where people can cook along with me. For me it’s about bringing great, authentic Indian food to the masses quickly and easily.
WMW: Your website is amazingly well laid out and very user friendly. Do you think this is the future of recipe sharing, rather than traditional cookery books?
HG: I know that when I look for inspiration I use the Internet first, so yes I do this this is the way forward for sharing ideas and recipes. There’s a world of new apps and technology out there that will have an implication on cooking and I want to be at the forefront of that. All this said, I am a recipe book collector and love the feel of flicking through a great cookbook so I think there is still a place for the cookbook; I’m just not sure how much they are used for cooking anymore!
WMW: As a committed vegan, I am always on the lookout for adaptable recipes. Are yours easy to adapt for vegetarians/vegans?
HG: They certainly are! I come from a Sikh family where the majority of people are vegetarian. For most of my recipes you can simply substitute the meat out but I also often create a vegetarian version too. I am always happy to give advice if people are looking for a vegetarian alternative to standard recipes.
WMW: Finally, what advice would you give to other women who are thinking about starting their own website?
HG: If you are passionate about something then you have to go for it! You will never know what could be unless you try and there is no point looking back and wishing you had done something. The best advice I can give is:
- Do your research – see what is happening in your chosen area of specialty. Talk to people and ask for advice, you will be amazed at what people can offer when you are willing to ask.
- Plan what you want to do (and think big). Break your plan into small, manageable chunks and be methodical.
- Don’t be disheartened – there will always be other people doing something similar but don’t see this as a defeat; its great to be aware of your environment. Keep your focus and believe in your abilities.
- It’s hard work so keep going!
Hari looks forward to continued experimentation with her cooking and is open to the idea of trying some fusion inspired dishes, bringing Asian, Latin American, South American and African influences into her cooking. I don’t know about you but I cannot wait to try absolutely everything that she posts on her website!
For more information and delicious recipes, go to harighotra.co.uk