It’s National Curry Week, so this week I feel honoured to interview Anjula Devi for my Wonderful Women series.
Anjula is one of the UK’s most celebrated chefs, founder of her eponymous cooking school, a champion of authentic and traditional Indian cooking, Brand Ambassador for the world’s largest Indian food company TRS Foods, winner of a prestigious BBC Good Food Bursary award and founder of her own brand – ‘Route 207’.
Anjula started cooking at the age of ten. The craft began as a gift shared by her beloved father during a childhood in which he imparted all of his culinary wisdom. The essential spices which form the foundation of much traditional Indian cuisine, remain central to Anjula’s culinary approach.
Describe a typical day for you?
I am smiling as I am writing this – there is definitely no such thing. I could be preparing for a street food lesson with a number of clients, it could be a meeting with TRS Foods, my agency, or my publicist. If I think about the last week, I met with a TV production company to discuss a potential project, and I spent a day volunteering at a school for children with special needs, teaching the children through cooking.
Most days involve elements of teaching, and managing my businesses through social media and communication, as well as looking after my own family and the family that I care for.
I always ‘get up and go’, and put all my energy into every day. Every day starts with me wondering what I can make for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are no different!
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
For a number of years my journey has been fantastically supported by my immediate family, full of personal and professional reward and challenge. Having become the appointee and carer for my autistic sister and her two children ten years ago, I have also raised my own family, putting my own career on hold until recently.
It was the burning desire to get my sister and her family to a safe home, and to a better future which drove me forwards. I feel proud of the difference I have made to their future prospects. In 2012, I was chosen to be an Olympic torchbearer because of my work as a carer and with children, with special needs.
Professionally, launching my own cooking school and my brand – ‘Route 207’ are highlights. I am really proud of Route 207. It is named after the journey that my Dad and I used to make on the 207 bus from Southall to Shepherds Bush Market, where we used to buy spices, fresh fish and vegetables.
What’s in your handbag/satchel etc?
My beloved iPad and my headphones: I love listening to music when I travel anywhere. When going into London – my nice shoes, I travel in my comfortable trainers until I get to the doorstep of my destination.
What are your ambitions in life?
I am very much value driven. My over-riding motivation is simple. I promised my Dad before he died that I would share his authentic, traditional Indian cooking, with all its benefits, with as many people as possible. My Dad was my food inspiration.
The other main passion in my life is helping children with special educational needs to learn through cooking. I plan to devote more time to this in years to come.
What advice would you give your pre-baby self that you now know having had a child?
I am sure I could impart more than a few grains of mistake-avoiding wisdom. I would say ‘unswervingly trust your judgement and your instincts’.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I would love to have published a series of books about great authentic Indian food. I want to find the right publisher who really ‘gets me’ though. When I was a little girl, my Dad used to keep a scrap book of his own recipe creations, and I have always wanted to turn those food memories into something inspiring and special.
I would also like to have achieved something outstanding, helping children with special educational needs.
I am drawn to these children, they seem to be drawn to me, and I have seen the incredible impact that teaching them through cooking has had.
What advice would you give a budding Chef?
Understand what makes your proposition (food/book/other) unique. Achieve this by never following the crowd. Follow your passion.
Also, focus on spending your time doing what you do best, as well as being prepared to work really hard and make some incredible sacrifices. My family has provided incredible support to me during my own journey.
Finally, happiness is…
Simply spending time with those I love. Creating new recipes in my kitchen. Singing in the bath at the top of my voice like nobody is listening!