Doff of the chef's hat

Noted cookbook writer Tarla Dalal passed away of a cardiac arrest at her Napean Sea Road residence on November 6, Wednesday, at approximately 7 am. Tarla Dalal, who is a byword in vegetarian cooking and one of the highest selling authors in India, cutting across all genres of writing was in her late ’70s.

Tarla Dalal
Tarla Dalal leaves behind a legacy to savour

News of her death brought a pall of gloom for those connected with the food and hospitality industry. Tarla Dalal ruled in an era when chefs and the food industry in general were not as glamorous or visible as is the case now. Her classes in the city, decades ago, attracted eager beaver housewives hoping to add a trick or two to their culinary repertoire, nervous-with-the-ladle nellies wanting to get rid of their culinary qualms and soon to be married young women, yearning to impress the significant other and his family with their cooking prowess.

Tarla Dalal
Tarla Dalal at a cookery programme organised at Vile Parle (W) in 2010. Pic/Rane Ashish

She started teaching in an age when olive oil was not easily available off the counter at the local kirana store and a pasta in white or red sauce was considered exotic. Today, so many women, now with more salt than pepper in their hair, laugh as they recall their days at Tarla Dalal’s cooking classes, her old books - well thumbed and dog eared at certain recipes - still on their shelves, sighing as they tell their grandchildren, “I don’t know what I would have done without Tarla Dalal.” That perhaps is the ultimate accolade, even more significant than labels like MasterChef and Michelin stars.

Young Tarla Dalal with her family
Young Tarla Dalal with her family

Said Chef Hemant Oberoi, Corporate Chef, Taj Luxury Hotels, “I think every housewife in Mumbai knew who Tarla Dalal was at one point of time. I think even in our younger days, one had heard about her being the only cookbook writer with such a widespread readership base. I met her a couple of times and we would always laugh and talk about how she would make the housewives happy, while we chefs made the men happy. Yet, I corrected her a number of times, saying she too made the gents happy, because of their wives’ superlative cooking.” Chef Oberoi added that Tarla Dalal was respected throughout the fraternity, “Especially since she brought food to the masses.”

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

For Dominic Costabir, director, Hospitality Training Institute (HTI), it is the from housewife to professional leap that has been outstanding. Costabir said, “Tarla Dalal is literally before Sanjeev Kapoor. She was a housewife who became at that time, the doyenne of the food industry. It was a huge and creditable shift, to turn a passion into a profession. Even with all the recognition, I think she has not got the laurels due to her.

Now, in her death if she is given the recognition she deserved, then she would be even more of an inspiration to other housewives I am sure there are housewives who are unusually talented cooks but they may not know how to turn that passion into a profession, or they may not have the moral and family support to do so. Tarla Dalal can be their beacon, in that sense. She created an industry, born out of a passion.

I can compare her to the legendary Thangam Philip.” Costabir signed off saying that Tarla Dalal may have overcome various challenges like business acumen, family responsibilities and in that way she was also a symbol of women’s empowerment.

For food blogger Manisha who uses only her first name when she blogs on her site,, “Tarla Dalal’s recipes were always simple and spot on and made cooking easy even for amateurs. She will be sorely missed.” Executive chef Ajay Chopra (Westin, Mumbai Garden City) says that yesterday was a black day for the industry because it suffered a double blow.

“We lost Charlie Trotter who was a very famous US-based chef, he was the one who changed the face of modern cooking, nearly 25 years ago. Then, of course is the passing away of Tarla Dalal. What can I say except that we all in this industry sons and daughters of her legacy. She made home food so exciting and actually brought commercial food into the home, she was a pioneer and even though with so much success, retained the housewife next door aura,” he ended.

A little away from the food industry, senior journalist and columnist Taru Kajaria, recalls spending this year’s Navratri with Tarla Dalal. “We met at a common friend’s home and there were several senior citizens there. They were speaking about how they cannot do the garba (dance) any longer, but Tarla Dalal just got up and started doing garba. I remember that we actually played garba for a long time.”

Kajaria says that it was her innocence and zest for life that was part of her appeal. “Of late, she had been heavily involved in charity work too. I will always remember her smiling face.” While the superlatives flowed, from pioneer to super talented, courageous and pathbreaker it is evident that in a complex world, Tarla Dalal stood out for her simplicity, in her recipes and in her way of life too. To twist an advertisement slogan - the greatness of this person lay in her simplicity. Now and forever, in the kitchen and beyond, let’s all look for the Tarla Dalal in us.

Sugar ‘n’ spice and something nice
The news of Tarla Dalal’s death wiped the smile off celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s face and those deep, instantly identifiable dimples disappeared for a moment or two. He said, “This is so sad and shocking and of course, news like this is not something one can ever be prepared for. I can only say that what she was able to build is simply phenomenal and she will be hugely missed.

Having known her personally too, what I will miss immensely are her niceties as a person. It were those traits that were extremely inspirational. Her chirpy, smiling face is now part of fond memories for me. When it comes to food in India, the first celebrity was and always will be Tarla Dalal.” 

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