In the national capital to collaborate with another acclaimed chef, Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, Manfield presented a series of recipes from her book Tasting India: Heirloom Family Recipes.
Forty trips to India and counting. No wonder, Christine Manfield is known as the woman with a bindi on her forehead in her native country, Australia.
She is also known as the spice woman, which could explain her inherent love for India and its food. A celebrated chef in Australia, Manfield describes herself as a curious cook, curious enough to travel extensively across India for the past two decades, uncovering its culinary wealth.
In the national capital to collaborate with another acclaimed chef, Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, Manfield presented a series of recipes from her book Tasting India: Heirloom Family Recipes. Be it a simple dal cooked with banana flower, an unexpectedly creamy beetroot coconut relish, a rich lamb served with a tangy pumpkin tarkari, or her favourite vegetable, eggplant with tomatoes, everything packs in oodles of flavour. But then, flavour is guaranteed in chef Mehrotra’s kitchen, who himself is a champion of regional Indian cuisine.
As Manfield prepares to catch a flight to Kolkata, and travel further ahead to Assam and the north-east, she looks forward to exploring the gastronomic diversity in that part of the country, somewhere she has not been very exposed to yet. Ask her which part of India she likes most, and she is confounded for an answer. “It’s difficult to choose. What I love about India is the diversity. Sadly, most people have this impression of India that the food is all about tandoori, tandoori and tandoori. But it’s so much more than that. My book attempts to put forth some of the recipes I have experienced across my travels that depict the sheer range of Indian cooking, which changes from region to region, state to state, city to city and person to person. Everyone has their own way of cooking.”
What she is most impressed by in Indian cooking, which keeps bringing her back, is the scientific blend of spices and seasonings, which she finds to be very astute and in sync with nature’s seasonal cycles. She marvels at how every home cook knows which vegetables to cook in which season and which spices to use. As she points out in her book, even contemporary cooking is firmly rooted in ancient Ayurvedic principles in choosing spices and ingredients that have myriad healing properties.
Which is why she opted to collect recipes for her book that have been conveyed to her by various home cooks, not altering any of them. And which ones does she like best? “It could be a beetroot pachari from Kerala, the curry leaf chicken that is just so delicious. It could be a simple pulao or biryani or a quick fish fry. I like snacky things.” As for eggplants that are the most featured in her recipe collection, she “could write a whole book on the personal favourite”. “It’s a staple around the world, and it takes on flavours so well,” she says.
For someone who has mentored and collaborated with many chefs, and is the name behind three acclaimed restaurants—two in Sydney and one in London—she terms her pop-up with Mehrotra as “easy”. As simple as that.