|Rida Aftab– Turning Passion In To A Profession
by WAJIHA JAWAID
"To win anyone's heart is very easy, just prepare delicious food and serve it with a smile," says the renowned cooking expert Rida Aftab. She turned her passion for cooking into a successful career with her first cooking show on a private television channel almost ten years ago and has now become a household name with her hit cooking show, Tarka on Masala TV. In a candid chat with MAG she talked in length about her career and much more. Excerpts:
When did you decide to pursue cooking as a career?
Cooking is my passion but I had never thought about pursuing it as a career. I belong to Abbotabad where it is not common for women to work outside their homes. Luckily, I got the chance to join media and have been successful so far.
How did your first cooking show on television happen?
Since childhood, I was interested in cooking and used to send recipes to various newspapers and magazines. My recipes were regularly published in Dalda Ka Dastarkhawan. Once the its photographer Kashif Mahmood, offered me to do a cooking segment for Nadia Khan Show on a private television channel but I reluctantly refused the offer. Later I did cooking shows on two local channels before joining another from where I actually gained fame.
How did your family react to this decision?
My father was very strict and never allowed me to join showbiz, but my husband and my in-laws supported me a lot. It was my husband's immense support that I was able to pursue my passion.
What were your feelings when it all started?
They first called me for an audition, although I was camera-shy, I did the audition with full confidence. I consider myself very lucky that I did not have to go to anyone to enter this field. I am always called because of my work ethics, perfection and professionalism.
What is your speciality?
My interest lies more in desi cooking. I love to cook traditional dishes for which ingredients are easily available in everyone's kitchen.
From where do you get your inspiration for cooking?
I do not have to look for inspirations anywhere, just give me any ingredient and I'll prepare a delicious dish with it.
Is there any particular ingredient that you enjoy working with?
I play with our basic traditional spices and can make scrumptious recipes with them.
What is your favourite dish to prepare at home?
Vegetables are my absolute favourite and I enjoy creating different recipes while utilising them. I can prepare delicious biryani and zarda in just half an hour if guests are coming at home.
How difficult it is to prepare two or three recipes in a limited time, such as a TV show?
It has never been tough for me to prepare two or three dishes in a short span of time but when I got the offer from Masala, my husband warned me that it would be difficult to survive in the presence of big names. I consider it my success that I have been getting the highest ratings since the day I have joined this network.
In your opinion, what have been the factors of your success?
I have never taken success on my head and have not changed with time. I give respect to everyone from a peon to my boss. I have come here to earn respect not money.
What do you do to update yourself with latest cooking trends?
I go through different local and international magazines to look for new recipes. Whatever continental food I prepare, I always try to give it a traditional flavour to make it acceptable for local taste buds. Chinese cuisine is very tasteless but I try to make my recipes tasty by adding local spices to it.
How can a person make her/his cooking interesting?
Always cook your food with full interest and do not take it as a burden. Always enjoy whatever you cook. If you make something with your heart, it's a guarantee that everyone will find it tasty and appreciate your efforts.
How have these cooking channels helped people in improving their culinary skills?
Cooking channels have given people easy access to their favourite food. Everyone is busy nowadays; young girls find it difficult to give proper time to both their studies and household chores. 24/7 access to their favourite cooking experts through these channels have definitely helped them learn about different cuisines. They can note down recipes and prepare it whenever they have time. They don't need to attend cooking classes and all information is now available to them just at the click of a button.
Do you test all your recipes before making them live?
No, I do not do it anymore. I simply write the recipes on a piece of a paper and make it on-air during my live transmission. I am always sure that the ingredients I am using will give me the desired results.
What are the challenges of doing a live show?
I enjoy doing a live show a lot as I can get instant feedback which helps me in improving my skills. If during a show I don't have a particular ingredient, I suggest alternatives to my viewers for example red pepper can be used in place of paprika and so on.
Do you agree that the eating habits of Pakistanis have changed during the last few decades?
Yes, it's absolutely true! We have around 200 basic traditional dishes and people are tired of eating daal chawal and alao gosht. They want variety in food, which we are providing them by making new dishes with old ingredients. In my shows, I have made different types of biryani such as shola biryani, lasani biryani and Bombay biryani. I have shared recipes of variety of kebabs and desserts.
Have you ever thought about writing a cookery book?
Several people have approached me in this regard but I haven't thought about it as yet. Actually, I believe that once my book appears in the market, people will lose interest in my cooking shows and I do not want that. My viewers are always excited as to what I have in store for them in my shows. I want to keep that excitement alive, so writing a cookery book is not my priority for now.
How do you feel when your fans treat you as a celebrity?
It is of course an awesome feeling but I always try to keep my feet on ground.
Who is the one person you would love to cook for and why?
I love to cook for my children. My elder daughter doesn't have much interest in food but my son loves my cooking and always gives me a long list of favourite items. He likes to eat biryani so I often make it especially for him. I also try to cook tempting dishes for my youngest daughter, Dua.
How do you spend your off day?
I try to spend it with my family.
Who do you consider your cooking mentor?
I learned about basic cooking from my mother, but now I do not hesitate to even ask a thela wala about the ingredients of his recipes. I treat street vendors as my elders and give them same respect I give to my parents.
Are you a foodie person and what is your favourite eating spot?
I do not like to eat much. I enjoy preparing and serving food to others more. Dining out is not considered very acceptable in my family and we avoid going out for dinner or lunch. I prepare everything at home.
You have recently launched a boutique, how did you get the idea of starting your own clothing line?
Opening a boutique is a safe investment for me. I have stepped out of my home to support my family. Instead of wasting my money in buying expensive clothes I decided to invest it in a business. In a short span of only two months, I have received a tremendous response because I am offering a quality product at an affordable price. I have also started my catering business.
What tips would you like to give to a working woman?
Housekeeping should be the first priority of every girl whether she becomes a lawyer or a doctor. She should know how to cook delicious food to win everyone's heart. It's truly a moment of delight when a father appreciates her daughter for cooking delicious food or your husband tells you that his friends love the food you cooked for them. It is of course very important to get proper education, but running a house successfully is far more important.
Any cooking tips that you would like to give to aspiring chefs?
To make a successful career in the culinary field, always show your interest in whatever you are cooking. It is not necessary to get education from international cooking schools, you can prepare delicious food if you just watch cooking shows and follow the tips that experts give during their shows.