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04 - 10 Aug, 2012

Shireen Anwer – The Kitchen Queen
Shireen Anwer – The Kitchen Queenby WAJIHA JAWAID

When did you realise you wanted to be a cooking expert?
Since childhood I was always inclined towards cooking but I actually started cooking after marriage. Before that I never used to cook as servants were responsible for household chores. After the engagement my fiancé made it clear that as his wife, I would get every facility except for a cook. It was good for me because cooking was my passion and my husband loves good food.

So when did you decide to make cooking your career?
I have been conducting cooking classes since last 30 years. But I joined television almost four years ago.

What is your speciality?
I just love to bake; it is my core area of interest. Other than that I simply love to make desserts. I have a sweet tooth so naturally I keep on trying different sweet dishes to satisfy my cravings.

From where do you take inspirations for your new recipes?
Cooking is actually a very creative process and the idea to create a certain recipe can come to mind anytime – even in the middle of the night. Moreover I try to visit new restaurants to try new recipes. It helps in bringing variation to my cooking.

What are the challenges in teaching people how to cook?
One has to be very patient with the students. Usually a learner asks the same question again and again and at times it becomes really difficult to control your anger. As a cooking expert, it is mandatory for us to humbly respond to peoples' queries.

What is the most difficult part of being a celebrity chef?
Undoubtedly it is a great feeling that people love and admire your work but to deal with fame is not an easy task. Fans expect a lot from us, they try to approach us anytime anywhere which greatly affects our personal life.

Do you agree that television has given you a lot in terms of fame and name?
I absolutely agree; wherever I am today it is just because of my exposure on television. For the past 30 years I was conducting cooking classes at home and was famous in Karachi alone. But now with my shows I have earned a global identity which is incredible and was not possible without television.

What is your priority while cooking – healthy ingredients, presentation or taste?
Well, my priority has always been the budget. My show is for the masses so I try to use ingredients which are affordable and are present in everyone's kitchen. Taste is of course very important because if the dish is not delicious nobody will like it. Lastly, presentation has its own significance as it makes the food tempting.

How can one make their cooking interesting?
By making easy and quick recipes. In my shows, I try to work with limited 5-6 ingredients to make some easy, tasty and quick recipes.

What is the biggest advantage of cooking channel?
They have provided viewers with 24/7 access to culinary experts, who share their vast cooking experiences. It is simply incredible that you can learn international cuisines while sitting at your couch absolutely free.

Is it true that these cooking shows have given a sense of empowerment to our Pakistani women?
Yes, there is no doubt about it. My viewers often tell me that the show has brought a significant change in their lives. Girls have admitted that their in-laws, who once were complainant of their poor cooking style now like their food just because their cooking has improved through my shows. I have shared my lifestyle cooking experience with my viewers and if one follows it regularly they can even start their own catering business or initiate their own cooking classes.

During the past few years cooking reality shows have gained popularity worldwide. How do you see this trend?
I think it is a positive move. It gives potential chefs a chance to explore their hidden talents and make a name in the culinary field.

In your opinion what is the best method to learn cooking: reading recipes, watching television shows or by taking professional cooking classes?
Cook books or recipe literature cannot teach anyone how to cook because they have insufficient information and one cannot actually witness the process. Whilst on television, although you are watching each and every step, you cannot taste the food. Professional cooking classes are the best as you are part of the process.

It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Your comments!
I completely agree with this statement. I have won my husband's heart with my cooking, he proudly prefers my dishes over those from top notch restaurants.

Does frequent travelling contribute in expanding your cooking horizon?
I think travelling is the best education. The kind of exposure one gets in exploring different part of the world brings prominent changes in cooking behaviour. I have been travelling since 1965; my father used to take me to foreign countries every year. Even after marriage I have travelled a lot and during my visits I have always tried to learn about the food and cooking skills of that particular region. I have done a salad course from Singapore and recently I went to London where I learnt to make 45 different types of cup cakes.

How can one make their iftar menu appetising yet healthy?
The key is to plan your meal ahead; if you are planning to make four snacks try to select healthy ingredients for at least two snacks. Frying is not a good option; even baked dishes are very delicious to eat. Go for low fat options such as low fat cheese and make your iftar plate colourful with fruits and vegetables.

What would you recommend for sehr and iftar?
For sehr, try to include yogurt in your menu so you won't feel thirsty all day long. Try to have non-spicy and light food items such as white karahi and keema gothala in sehr. My iftar is incomplete without pakoras and a cup of tea.

You have written two cookery books, what was the motivation behind it?
My family members especially my children and my mother encouraged me a lot to pen down my recipes. My first book was about Pakistani cuisine; it received immense appreciation which motivated me to write my next book focusing on continental cuisine. Right now I am working on my third book, Beijing To Bangkok; it will include different cuisines of that region including Thai, Malaysian and Chinese.

What do you think is the main reason behind your success?
My sincerity to my profession has given me the true success in my career. I never hide anything from my viewers and always share the complete authentic recipes with them.

Any piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring chefs?
Just be sincere to your profession and be patient, success comes to those who work hard and are honest to their jobs.

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