On a quest to popularise South Indian food and teach the world that the region eats more than idlis, vadas, dosas and sambar, chef Shri Bala was much feted. Now, her journey as a food researcher and chef after quitting her job as a chartered accountant has given her an opportunity that millions of chefs around the world can only dream of — to introduce celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to the complex culinary layers of South India.
As part of the all-new season of Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, featured on National Geographic channel, chef Ramsay will go to some of the most incredible and remote locations on earth in search of culinary inspiration and learn about the food, culture, and the history behind it all. “In India, they wanted to feature South India and I think they were right about the choice because South Indian food is really underrated and they wanted to show the world how nuanced and grand it can be,” explains Shri.
About how she was finally selected as the chef to introduce Gordon to the region’s food, she says, “It was like an audition. The lengthy process took some months to complete. It was all online.” Talking about one question that she had to face, she says, “towards the end of the selection process, they asked me ‘Do you think you are a better cook than Gordon?’ I said ‘yes’. Then came the next question ‘Why?’ ‘Because I am a mother,’ I explained,” says Shri Bala, adding that she thinks was what won over the panel of selectors.
Gordon Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the world and the media sometimes portrays him as ‘hot-tempered’ in front of the camera, especially on shows like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. “I found to my surprise that he is a cool guy — the opposite of what we have seen on those shows. I was also worried about my accent. But the image that I had in my mind disappeared the minute we started talking.
He is a great person, and moreover, a great family guy,” Shri says.
The filming happened at different locations in Kannur district in Kerala, and in Coorg. “The first part is like a scripted story where I meet him in coastal Kannur. Then I introduced him to the history of spices, our food, and its history. Then we cooked South Indian dishes with our own twists to it,” she explains.
Throughout the episode in India, Shri Bala introduces Ramsay to various traditional dishes, including Kandhari chilly fish curry and pork (Pandi) curry blended with bitter lime. In Coorg, they also met a group of women who make traditional liqueur, and taste their ware.
Continuing to talk about Gordon, Shri says, “He is an extrovert with a certain charm. In his company you can either feel intimidated or totally at ease. He has that unique personality which lets him switch roles very easily. He was very thoughtful and made sure I was comfortable. We share a unique passion for texture and the presentation of food.”
Shri Bala says she cannot think of a better chance to showcase the varieties of traditional south Indian food to the world. “It is also a mission to stop stereotyping south Indian food as nothing other than sambar, vada and idli. This was a great opportunity and I am grateful to all my well-wishers,” she adds.
Chef Shri Bala is a practitioner of the ‘your food your medicine’ concept.
“Given the situation we are in now, it is time to eat healthy to boost our immunity. South Indian food has a lot of medicinal value if it is prepared well,” she points out.
The TV show Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted is already being broadcast in US.
Chef Shri Bala says since the India episode is in the fifth slot, it will be aired by the end of July.