I hold a special regard for people who discover a passion in their adult lives, something that they have never done before, and find the courage to pursue it with single minded focus. Protima Bedi was one, who discovered her love for classical dance when she was already a mother at age 26, and defied all odds to not only learn the art, but to excel in it. In our times, the same could be said for Maria Goretti.
How It All Began
A successful VJ, dancer and choreographer, fame was not alien to Maria even when she married Arshad Warsi, much loved in his role as Circuit in Sanjay Dutt's Munna Bhai. What was alien though, was the kitchen. And if you had told teenage Maria that she would be popular as a chef, she would have laughed heartily. "My mother always wanted me and my sister to learn how to cook. So we rebelled. Our logic was, what was the point of all this education if all we did at the end of it was to cook rotis for our family", she recounts. Ironically, it really was her family which eventually led her into the kitchen. Or rather her (then) two year old son Zeke. She started cooking only to feed him healthier food. The ploy worked till her kids turned around 8 and realized that pancakes were actually white in colour and not brown (made of ragi) that their mom cooked up for them.Back to School
A spark that ignited from a mother's instinct, grew into this hunger (pun intended) to learn more. She understood ingredients and how to work with them but she realized that without proper techniques, there was only so much you could do. So Maria gathered her guts, bid adieu to her toddlers and went off to the Mecca of food learning, Tante Marie in London and did her Cordon Bleu Certificate course in culinary skills and bakery. There was no easy way out, she had to start from scratch. Literally. In her first week there, she realized that this was no joke. Not only did you learn to cook, you also washed every utensil you used, cleaned the kitchen and chopped your own ingredients. Coming from India, where a lot of this is taken care of, this was her first reality check. But by the end of her first week there, she laughingly recalls, they would be so tired after the classes that they just wanted to get over with the clean-ups so that they could sit down and eat.
The course was all about basics. And when she came back to India, she realized that the kitchen was her oyster. There was so much you could do with a bunch of ingredients. She started experimenting and there was no going back.
Maria tells me all this as we chat in a cosy corner of the newly opened Fable Café in Juhu, Mumbai. As we chat, she digs into a hearty breakfast of eggs, spinach and potatoes, having come straight from the gym. Which also defines her health mantra. "I was never the skinny kid. Honestly, I never wanted to be. I love food and there's nothing I won't eat. But I run and I work it off. Diets were never my thing". And we couldn't admire that more. Diets offer short term goal achievement, but it is a switch to healthier ingredients, healthy food habits and an active lifestyle that is a more sustainable way of remaining fit.
From Chef to Author
Sitting in a café dedicated to books and the art of reading, it is only befitting that the conversation veered towards the book she has just published - From my Kitchen to Yours. A collection of recipes from her kitchen, she tells the tale of how the book came into being. Having rejected the first two publishing offers (with the thought that she was too new to the world of cooking), she finally caved in to the third. The process, however, took two and a half years and what came out at the end of it, was a labour of love. Each recipe, she promises, is exactly how she would make it. Local ingredients, no fancy techniques and simple to understand, an hour chatting with Maria and you understand how this represents exactly the person she is.
In a world where people are always one step ahead of themselves, it is refreshing to meet someone who answers "What next" with a "I really have no idea". Exhausted from her recently finished book and a 10 part series for a new television channel, Maria just wants to take it easy now. She's just finished doing up her house, a passion for interiors that is reflected in the end result, a lovely homely space with quirks peeping out when you least expect them. "I'm also thinking about writing another book, this one on forgotten East Indian recipes, as homage to my roots," she reveals. As we wrap up and she rushes off to pick up her kids from school, I am left wondering at the incredible energy Maria Goretti brings along with her, and the unmistakable ease with which she dons her many hats.