Anjum Anand never dreamed of being a celebrity chef. Shy, private and overweight in her youth, she first started thinking seriously about making her own recipes as a way to lose weight.
A Punjabi immigrant growing up in London, Anand’s favourite food was Indian – and so she set out to make it a healthy everyday food.
“I was the typical yoyo dieter. At some point in my 20s I realised that to lose weight permanently, I need to enjoy my diet food, so that I wasn’t “on and off” a diet but always eating healthily,” says the mother of two, who now lives in London but has houses in Delhi and Calcutta.
“The way forward seemed to be to relook at my favourite food, Indian. It wasn’t that our home food was so unhealthy but to lose weight you need to cut back so I spent time in my mum’s kitchen after work, watching and experimenting.”
Anand wrote down her healthy recipes thinking she could pass them on to her future children. While her friends were thrilled when they were invited to dinner and found they could “enjoy an Indian meal but not feel heavy”, her parents were more apprehensive about the sudden change in their daughter.
“I think my parents were thrilled that I was cooking and in the kitchen as they thought it would probably make any future marriage smoother! But they weren’t so amused when I decided to make a career change into the food world. Unlike generations of Indian women who were tied to the kitchen, our generation was given the opportunity to be anyone and do anything we wanted to with gender being no barrier and here I was ignoring my education and wanting to work in a kitchen,” says Anand.
“They thought I would come to my senses eventually but finally turned when my first cookbook was released and have been proud of my career ever since,” she adds.
Anand decided to try turning her love of food into a career because she was not enjoying her work. “I decided to make a change and spend the next few years learning and working, as much as possible, in this new industry before writing my first cook book, which was the beginning of this wonderful career,” she says.
Anand published her first recipe book Indian Every Day: Light Healthy Indian Food in 2003 when she was just 25 years old. She has since written a total seven books, the most recent, Anjum’s Quick & Easy Indian, was released in March this year.
In 2004, Anand took the step onto the small screen appearing as a regular guest on UKTV’s Great Food Live, which ran until 2007. BBC TV spotted her talent and secured her to star in the BBC Two series Indian Food Made Easy in 2007. She quickly became dubbed the ‘Nigella Lawson of Indian cuisine’, after the curvaceous and notoriously flirty British celebrity chef, but laughed this off at the time calling it “preposterous”. The buzz propelled Anand’s second book Indian Food Made Easy onto the bestseller list
“The BBC came to me. They were looking for an Indian cook, interviewed all those who fit their profile (I know at the time they wanted a female and a home cook rather than restaurant chef, I imagine to keep it simple and make Indian food accessible to the home cook) and I was as surprised as anyone else when they developed the idea further with me. I had never even thought about being a TV chef, I am a bit shy and private and it wasn’t something I was looking for but really did enjoy when I did them,” she says.
The series proved a hit and was screened around the world. “Even when the series went to India, it was well received which was really great, as I did wonder how the Indians in India would feel about a British born Indian teaching them about Indian food,” says Anand.
In 2011, Anand launched her own range of chutneys, the Spice Tailor, which are available in Australia and the UK.
She said her latest book is best suited to people who want to cook and eat freshly made meals but don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen.
“The book is Indian but not overly so as even my Indian cooking has progressed over the last decade from being really traditional to a bit of traditional and a bit of something that I love but have decided to spice up with Indian flavours. It has allowed me to be more creative and have had a lot of fun writing the recipes,” she says.
“My books all reflect my life and passions but my last book was Quick and Easy Indian, which is still a trend here, but came about once I had had my second child and launched, The Spice Tailor. Life just got so busy that I was always thinking about meals which could be cooked quickly or easily and had to fit into my even more hectic life and I think it is a trend as so many people find themselves in the same situation,” she says.
“I also, do like to use seasonal and local foods but because when you see crates of beautiful fresh produce, it calls out to you to do something with it,” says Anand.