Local Chef Alamelu Vairavan Mixes Indian Dishes with a Dash of Humor

Sep 12, 2016

If you watch chef Alamelu Vairavan on her PBS show Healthful Indian Flavors, or read from one of her three cookbooks, you may think that she was born with the ability to quickly chop vegetables and sauté with ease. 

Yet, Vairavan says her success did not come that easily. During her childhood in South India her family employed a chef, which made her accustomed to eating good food but never actually cooking it. "When I got married and came [to the United States], I asked my husband 'where is our cook?' and he said, 'you're looking at her!'"

"I had seen all the spices and spice blends in the kitchen, but never knew how to use them, so I had to learn cooking in a hurry," recalls Vairavan. Her aunt and uncle lived in New York and also had a personal chef, so Vairavan began learning from them. "My aunt said, 'Leave Alamelu here, we will teach her the basics and how to turn the stove on and off carefully,' so that's how my cooking really started."

There were some initial trials and tribulations. "I remember when I was making my madras coffee - which is like a cappuccino or a latte - for my husband...He took one sip and spit it out and said, 'Alamelu, what did you put in?' So I took him to the kitchen, and we found out that instead of sugar I had put baking soda."

More recently, Vairavan took up a mission of sharing her taste for South Indian food as well as healthful cuisine with Milwaukeeans, and she wants it to be simple and quick. 

"My way of cooking is get into the kitchen and do whatever you need to do for 45 minutes and get out of the kitchen. I do not like spending a whole day in the kitchen, but I love to eat and make a wonderful meal," she says. 

This piece originally aired August 15, 2016