First of all the team KhanaPakana.com would like to thank Anika for allowing us to conduct this interview.
Anika (Neeku) as her family and friends like to call her, is a talented and creative young entrepreneur, from Karachi, Pakistan. Her early childhood was spent in Nigeria, and after marriage had a short stay in the UK, before moving to Dubai earlier this year. Anika was selected by Masala TV Cooking Channel, to host a dessert show 'Temptations'. In October 2010, Anika won the second annual premier of the Chef at Home cooking competition.
HISTORY & PERSONAL MOMENTS/CAREER
• How did your love for food start?
I literally think about food all the time! I have always received praise and support from my family for my cooking. Whenever a recipe would go wrong the first time, my mother would say "it doesn’t matter, it will turn out better the second time around". I remember once I made mixed Karahi, and an uncle gave me a large amount of money as he was so pleased. I have always done things from scratch, I would love doing tables settings and taking pictures of my food.
• Why and how did you start you cooking shows?
It all started when I was about to complete my BBA Honours in Marketing in Karachi and I was looking for an internships. My mother suggested that I should apply at Masala TV and the other cooking channels. "Since cooking is your passion and you are talented so why not make a career out of it, worse comes to worst they would say no", she added.
I had no family links in media and had never before thought of coming to TV. So I sent my CV to Masala TV, and told them about my passion for cooking, and how I would like to work with them. Masala TV called me into their studios for a chat; I met the team and showed what I can do in the show, and said that given the chance I can do well even with my lack of relevant qualifications. Masala offered a pilot shoot, to see how I would be in front of the camera/on set. I was told "it's about how you talk and conduct yourself that makes a difference".
My mother accompanied me to the pilot shoot, and where I cooked Thai beef chilli curry. Everything was new to me but at the same time I felt that this is what I have always wanted to do. During the pilot shoot, a man came up to my mother and said “she will go a long way”. After 10 days I got a call and was offered a show on desserts, called ‘Temptations’.
In December I came down to Karachi for my graduation, my producer insisted that I shoot a 2nd season of my programmes as the result of first season was excellent. So in 10 days I did back to back recordings of 26 shows, which meant I would be in the studio very early till very late at night. My mother would always accompany me. I got a lot of support from my family, my parents and my sisters.
• Did you attend any classes, if so where and what were they about?
I didn’t get any professional training as such, however I undertook a food & beverage course at PITHM (Pakistani travel and tourism institute). At Pitham I learned how to launch my own cafe, restaurant or book, as well learned a few other food related subjects. Personally I did this course from a business point of view.
• When did you get married?
I got married in July 2009 and went to London. On my wedding day my first show was aired!
• Is anyone else from your family also interested in a career in cooking?
My father is very good in cooking, often girls say that we miss my mother’s cooking, but I say I miss my father’s cooking.
• What is your favourite food?
Anything edible, I love FOOD! I love Nihari and often have late night cravings for eating Nihari. I also love Pizza, Pasta, and Sushi.
• Favourite cuisine?
Thai Chinese and Italian
• Do you eat out often, if so what do enjoy eating out the most?
I can eat out every other day as I simple love eating out. I enjoy experimenting different foods, from road side dhaba’s to 5 star hotels. I feel that until you don’t appreciate your own cultural food you can’t move on to understand the tastes of other cuisines.
• What kind of food do you dislike?
I don’t really dislike anything, however Kareylay (Bitter Gourd) I my least favourite. Apart from fish and prawns I don’t eat other seafood dishes.
• Which dishes does your husband request from you to cook?
My husband is a diet control freak, so likes grilled, low fat salads and mutton chops; basically more protein foods. I on the other hand like to cook with heavy ingredients such as cream and cheese.
• The most difficult dessert to cook?
Baking is always a bit difficult for most, pies and cookies can easily go wrong as well.
• The easiest dessert to cook?
Cheesecakes I think are the simplest to make.
• Your personal favourite dessert?
I love cheesecakes.
• How do you balance between family and career?
I was the eldest child and had more responsibility and following the right path, so from a young age i started balancing thing. My family, husband and my in-laws are very supportive so this encourages me to succeed more so. When i see that my husband is supporting, helping and understanding I am able to do even more, and encourages me to do more for him. I also try to make it up to him for days where I lose track, and would request to Masala TV that I have to start early so that I can finish early.
• What cooking or chef inspires you & who is your favourite Pakistani chef?
Nigella Lawson, and before I started my career I was always inspired by Chef Mehboob, as I loved his way of cooking and his recipes. Also Shireen Appa is doing a wonderful job, she cooks really well.
• Is there any ingredient that you particularly enjoy working with?
Most of my dessert recipes use cream cheese. I also enjoy cooking with mushrooms and baby corn.
OPINIONS AND GUIDANCE
• Are cooking schools worth attending/who do u think they are most suitable for?
Definitely they are very important, everyone has skills and these schools brush up skills and techniques and you learn a lot. In Pakistan we don’t have many cooking school institutions, it’s sad especially for girls in our society who have been told from a young age that you need to learn to cook. Their cooking interest can’t really be build on up unless they have something to look forward to. Just knowing the basics of cooking really helps; you can undertake basic courses and build on that to something that is really professional.
• Please give a full description of how you would host and cook for our Pakistani top celebrities at a dinner party?
Firstly, I plan and write down recipes. I make sure all food groups are included and think of recipes that people would appreciate the most.
For a mixture of cuisines, I would make a mix berry punch to serve on arrival of guests. I would then serve starters, that may include a few dips such as guacamole and cream cheese dip and serve them with Dorito’s, carrots, cucumbers or breadsticks; and then I would head for the main dishes, which will include herbed rice, spinach and chicken pie and end it all with a few desserts, one of which would be a cheesecake.
If I go for a single themed cuisine, such as Thai, then I would really make it a Thai night. I would serve coconut juice in coconuts and then to tom yam soup (Thai soup) or spring rolls as a starter, then serve a Thai green curry along with other Thai dishes to really bring in the Thai effect.
For my ‘themed Thai night’ I would go for a Thai décor that will have lots of cream, white and gold. I would use fresh flowers, candles, crepe paper, banana leaves, perhaps take a large punch bowl, with water and flowers and place it over a mirror for a nice look. I could have Thai related music as well so one could feel that you’re in part of Thailand.
• A quick starting guideline in how to create a creative dinner table?
Visit bookstores and look into food magazines to start off with to get ideas. To begin with, match your crockery together, taking colour scheming into account. Look for napkins that match the design of your plate. Use basic crepe paper as a table mat. Use decoration pieces that you already have at home, such as candles, stones, table clothes and even flowers and dupatas for a traditional Pakistani setting. Make sure everything stands out on its own, so do not create too much clutter. Lay out basic cutlery, as well as tongs, and serving spoons nicely, and make sure everything is clean and dry.
• Those who are hesitant to make desserts what steps would you suggest?
Be confident from the very start, bearing in mind that what you make may go wrong and be courageous in cooking. Once you start getting into the flow of cooking and baking dessert, it will get easier and better. Think of cooking as a challenge, always think positive, once you start believing in yourself you will succeed and there no age limit to all this.
• Can you offer a word of advice for the chef of tomorrow?
Firstly it’s very important to get education. Get as much relevant education as you can, and if you have the opportunity to go abroad then go there and do some nice courses, as professional training is very important. Don’t be disappointed in criticisms, be ready for constructive criticism. Always believe in yourself, whatever you do give it your best shot and don’t lose hope.
FUTURE & OTHER HOBBIES
• Do you have any other hobbies?
I love playing sports, such as squash going to the gym and I love travelling.
• What are your future plans?
I am thinking of giving cooking classes as people have recognised and appreciated my cooking. I have planned to write my own cooking book as well as have plans to open up my own café or restaurant.
• When you visit KhanaPakana.com, where do you usually go?
I mainly watch cooking videos of present chefs and cooking experts.
• What is the best thing you like about KhanaPakana.com?
The best thing about KhanaPakana.com is how it is up to date with all the recent cooking shows and recipes.
KhanaPakana.com has everything in a proper manner, starting from the recipes its self to ingredients and pictures; it all makes it easier rather than writing down recipes. It’s a one stop place for all Pakistani and other cuisine cooking, where you can get everything you want and have more than one cook! KhanaPakana.com has the Pakistani chefs, their recipes and videos, that’s why I think KhanaPakana.com is doing a great job and will go a long way Insha Allah.
• Is there any message you would like to give KP readers, in particular all those in the KP-Forum who are your fans?
I want my fans to love me the way they do and I really appreciate all the love and affection that my fans have for me as well as other chefs, and hope i can do even better for them.
On Behalf of KhanaPakana, we would like to thank you for your valuable time that you have taken out, we wish you best of luck with all your current and future projects, and hope for a healthy and ever-growing relationship between KhanaPakana and yourself Insha Allah.