For a cuisine that uses approximately 200 of the estimated 381 ingredients known in the world, we're only getting the tip of the iceberg here in Singapore. For our second Chun Masterclass Experience, we explore the art of Indian home cooking with our friend and inspiration, Uma Raghuraman, also known as her Instagram handle @masterchefmom!
Hello Uma! Can you tell us more about yourself?
Hi Food Lovers, I am Uma Raghuraman from India! I am basically a Tamil Girl from Chennai in the South of India. I am a post graduate in commerce and also a professionally trained teacher. After getting married, I moved to Bangalore and later to Delhi to support my husband's career. Thanks to these movements, I learnt a lot about different Indian cultures, people, their habits, languages and most importantly different types of food.
When people ask me what I do, I often tell them I cook three healthy and tasty meals for my family and as easy as it may seem, let me tell you that it is a full-time job that I enjoy doing. I personally believe that a way to my family ’s heart is through their stomach and I think I have earned their love through my cooking!
How did moving to different cities in India inspire your culinary journey?
My husband believes in the adage, "Live to Eat" rather than "Eat to Live". This triggered my culinary journey and my first guru was my mother-in-law. The genes passed on to my kids too and this encouraged me to be open and curious to explore new cuisine, recipes and techniques from friends and people I met. I have always loved experimenting in my kitchen and it thrills me when my culinary experiments end up tasting great!
Sound like you have a family of foodies! Besides your mother-in-law, did you have any other culinary inspirations?
I have seen both my grandmothers, my mother-in-law and my mother, cooking 24/7, 365 days a year of delicious and wholesome food for their large families around them, always with a smile. I try my best to do the same as they are my constant inspirations.
Apart from cooking, I love to teach. I have spent a decade teaching and grooming little kids. Over the last few years, I have been fortunate to teach cooking and realise that is it indeed my true calling.
Dosai in 2 variations with a modern twist! (from left to right): Cauliflower Masala Dosai and Mini Dosais with Curry Leaves Chutney
Is that what inspired you to start your blog/Instagram for @masterchefmom?
Challenges in life bring out the best in us. Like most families today, I too had my share of challenges making both my children eat healthy, especially when they were small. I used to come up with interesting and creative dishes that are both healthy and visually attractive to appeal to my fussy little eaters.
When I quit my job in 2014, to be a stay at home mum, I started sharing the dishes I created in my kitchen to the world through social media. It was a huge hit and many people wanted me to share detailed recipes, the process and stories behind the dishes and this culminated in me starting my blog ‘Masterchefmom’.
Through my blog, I want to inspire young mothers to cook healthy, creative and interesting dishes that will not only excite the person who eats but also brings loads of enthusiasm to the person who cooks. I received a lot of love for my recipes and also requests to share more than just lunch box ideas, so I started sharing recipes of everyday Indian dishes recipes with step-by-step pictures which I cook from scratch. Currently, there are close to a thousand recipes on my blog to help young mothers who are going through similar challenges everyday.
What is your favourite Indian dish to eat/prepare?
This is a difficult question as I have not one but many dishes that I love to prepare! I really love making rasam (a kind of soup). I also love making chutneys and sambar ( a tamarind based lentil curry). I really enjoy eating a good dal with hot rice and ghee.
Do you have a certain food philosophy when it comes to preparing your dishes?
I cook with loads of enthusiasm and enjoy cooking using fresh and local ingredients. I like to cook from scratch and use my heart to decide the menu for the day. I use my creativity to give even regular dishes a twist that make the dish interesting and unique. I also share vegan and gluten-free options for traditional recipes. This way, everyone can try my recipes. Also, it is interesting that many South Indian recipes are by nature vegan and gluten-free. I also come up with fusion recipes to satisfy my creative juices and this has been appreciated and loved by my readers. I also like to bring back many lost recipes and traditions, like serving food on leaf plates daily.
How often do you come up with recipes for your blog and Instagram (ie. the whole process of cooking, styling, shooting and blogging!)?
I feel very happy and excited to see my dishes being recreated in many homes. That being said, food blogging is a lot of hard work. Cooking the meal, styling and then photographing the meal takes a lot of time. Following that, sharing the story behind the meal and the detailed recipe with accurate measurements, steps and ingredients takes a minimum of 2 -3 hours depending on the complexity of the dish. There are days when I have cooked the dish but don't get the time to sit down and update the blog.
At the same time, I also take my readers to my roots, by teaching them traditional, heirloom recipes that only require a few steps. As I cook three meals a day, I try and share at least one to two recipes from that day’s meal on my blog. So, I plan my menu accordingly.
From left to right: Choliya Kuzhambu and Dalia Bisi Bele Beth, loving prepared at home and styled with elements of Uma's Indian heritage and artistic flair of hand painted boards and colourful traditional fabrics.
That sounds like a lot of work! What is your usual creative process like?
I shoot pictures of my lunch preparation which is usually a three to four-course meal on average. This, I share on my Instagram and Facebook, while a few individual recipes from each meal gets shared on my blog. For these recipes, I shoot pictures of each step to help the readers get more clarity and try it in their kitchen.
Sometimes I also shoot them separately to highlight a particular dish. With regards to styling, I always want a part of me reflected in my food. The picture should talk for itself and share a story. You will always find my styling very real and ethnic. I also paint my own boards as I want every bit of the picture to reflect the love and warmth with which I share the food.
All in all, the entire process of cooking, styling, shooting and blogging for every recipe takes a minimum of 10-12 hours. It is more than a full-time job!
Are you looking forward to your Masterclass Experience at Chun Tsubaki?
Yes of course! Everyone has a dream. My dream is for the world to know and acknowledge real Indian cooking as an ancient art, where food is considered a medicine that heals. There are so many ingredients that have so much healing power and brings about good health and wellness. Most of man’s problems today are due to the fast life that includes fast foods and many do not know the secrets of recipes handed down across generations.
I am so thrilled that Chun Tsubaki is giving me an opportunity to collaborate and share a few gems of Indian cooking with the people of Singapore. Through this, I hope to make people fall in love with Indian food and also motivate them to cook these healthy and healing foods at home.