She is India's recipe queen. And over three decades, Tarla Dalal has retained her crown by keeping up with the tastes of middle-class India, writes Ruchi Shah
Thirty years and Tarla Dalal is still cooking for desperate housewives. Before December curls up, Dalal will have three more cookbooks in stores, taking the count to 110. "And there I was, wanting to give it up 10 years ago," she recalls. "At 59, the biggest thing was to look forward to retirement, no more big moves, big risks and big eats." Her family, especially her younger son Sanjay, helped her drive the thought of retirement out of her head. They told her she wasn't done yet.
In the 10 years that followed, Dalal corralled the recipe market like never before, with a television show on Sony; a bi-monthly magazine Cooking & More; the portal www.tarladalal.com, created in 1997; and 50 of the 107 books published so far. "After all, how long could I have partied and played cards," says Dalal, happy that she decided to continue. The icing on the cake: the Woman of the Year Award in 2005 from Indian Merchant Chambers. Tarla Dalal's present is a future any woman would want when she turns 69.
Now, Dalal is finally taking a break from the kitchen. "I don't cook at home anymore," she says. "I just buy the vegetables. And supervise to the last detail. A team of nutritionists and chefs create recipes for my books." Her team is currently busy with her next three books: Good Food for Diabetics, 7 Dinner Menus and Healthy Sabzis and a Jain food special, still untitled. The only time Dalal cooks herself is when her nine-year-old granddaughter Tarini demands cheesecake—it's her favourite too. Dalal has also taught Tarini how to use the microwave to make cheese and crackers. The doting grandmother is delighted that even though her three children, Deepak, Sanjay and Renu, weren't inquisitive about her recipes, one of her grandchildren is.
Of late, she's also found more time to devote to her lavish Napean Sea Road apartment in South Mumbai. For the first time in the past 30 years, she's changed the upholstery of the sofa—she's chosen an extravagant red, as if to add the colour that left her life with the demise of her husband of 45 years, Naveen, early this year. "It's a battle living alone," she confesses. "It needed all my courage. Ironically, I found the strength not by drowning myself in work but by taking time off. It's not about lazy hours, though, but spending time constructively."
Dalal has her time management down pat. After a breakfast of cereal or porridge, she spends the first half of the day in her Lower Parel office. She comes back home to a Gujarati thali cooked by the book before hitting the gym at 3 pm (on alternate days), followed by an hour of rest. In the evening, her daughter Renu comes over to spend time with her for an occasional accounting session—keeping tabs on the portal, book sales and occasional workshops. Earlier, her husband handled her accounts. Dalal breaks the grind with regular visits to Nair Hospital to chart diet plans for diabetic children. She also spends time at some charitable organisations through the Rotary club, to which she donates returns from her cookery workshops, dominated mainly by the Gujaratis, in India and abroad. "But that's only once a week," she declares.