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Vikram saw her dreams become reality when she was selected to compete on Master Chef 3. Her enthusiasm and
dedication make her a great chef, but what set her apart this season was her
ethical eating: The skillful chef refused to taste the meat that she was
required to cook, creating an additional hurdle for the devoted vegetarian. But
that didn't stop her success. She was selected as one of the Top 100, then Top 36, and then Top 24 from more
than 30,000 competitors.
We chatted her up about
her recent success, the challenges of reality TV cooking, and what it means to
spread the vegetarian message to the masses:
You have been vegetarian for 32 years. What made you go vegetarian?
I was born in the
state of Kerala, India, and my entire family—my mom, dad, my grandparents, and
my brother—were all vegetarians. I would give my parents a lot of credit for my
beliefs on vegetarianism. As I grew, I strongly believed that animals were not
meant to be killed and eaten. I always felt like they are like us human beings
and probably need as much care and love or even more!
What kept you committed to vegetarianism as you learned to cook?
I truly believe in it,
and my respect and love toward animals has been one of the biggest forces in my
commitment toward vegetarianism. I also got married to my husband who was
raised as, and is still, a vegetarian. We raise our kids vegetarian also, and
as I learned to cook, I designed new recipes and menus that catered to
vegetarians as well as meat-eaters. It is amazing how much one can work with
veggies, fresh produce, and lentils that are filled with nutrition and protein.
It is such a misconception that vegetarians miss meat—that's absolutely not
true. There are such wonderful substitutes like tofu, eggplant, tempeh, seitan …
and you would be surprised how many different delicious dishes one can create
with these. The list is endless!
With your appearance on Master
Chef 3, you have really jumped into mainstream consciousness. How does that
change things for you professionally?
Season 3 was a great opportunity and a platform to spread the word on vegetarianism!
Shows like these have an enormous audience, and it's the best way to get my
message about vegetarianism across. More than half the country is trying and
struggling to adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy. To me, it is easy to
gain or lose weight at a particular moment in your life, but what's more
important is to follow a healthy regimen of cooking and living!
People need help with
more recipes to come up with healthy, wholesome, delicious meals that can be cooked
in a short amount of time. In the time it takes for someone to get something
frozen from the supermarket, get back home and microwave it, you can utilize
the same time to prepare a quick, wholesome delicious plate of food. Trust me
when I say this: We need more awareness, and we need to instill confidence in
people that they can do this. I can help them do it with my recipes and ideas
of all-natural healthy vegetarian cooking.
How will things be different now that you're famous?
has definitely opened several doors for me. I have lined up a few cooking
demonstrations at various supermarkets like Whole Foods, Kings, and also stores
like Williams-Sonoma that will help me get my message and recipes out to
people. Also, I am starting to work on various programs and all-natural vegetarian
menus, so whether you're a novice or
experienced cook, new to natural foods or expanding your cooking repertoire, we
have a class tailored especially to you.
Some people love to just watch a cooking demo, take notes and my recipe
cards, and are good to go. Others might be interested in jumping in and showing
their knife skills or even want to join me in cooking some of those dishes. My
main objective is to tailor every class to each person's preferences as well
make it fun and make sure they walk out with confidence!
I have gotten a lot of catering orders in the past through word of mouth from
close friends and family. Master Chef
gives you the confidence to take everything to the next level.
You were also one of few vegetarians who have made it onto the
show—and the only one this season! Why do you think vegetarian chefs are less
common on shows like these?
I feel there is still
a hesitation to accept vegetarians, and skepticism means that they don't get an
opportunity to shine!
I think people and
society need awareness of vegetarianism, and more vegetarian people should dare
to get onto shows like these. It's a slow process, but my belief is that eventually
future shows will become more open to vegetarians, and vegetarianism will be
more widely accepted in general. It is such a great platform to bring about
awareness of nutrition, healthy cooking, and creative recipes that are
wholesome yet delicious so people lose their fears and are more confident in
trying vegetarian recipes.
There are very, very
few vegetarians who feel that they can go on a show like this and take up a
challenge, but I would definitely feel that I succeeded if I see people getting
inspired and gathering courage to go on shows like these. It is a great way to
reach out to millions of viewers.
More and more vegetarians
need to step up and prove that they are capable of handling such a level of
competition and being successful.
Of course, we'd love for you to share a recipe with us.
Here's a link to my
food blog for some recipes and to know more about me: curryliciousme.wordpress.com/.
I would definitely
love to share a quick, healthy recipe with all of you. Being a mom of two
girls, I am always pressed for time and love to come up with easy recipes, and
this is one of my favorites! When I came up with this dish, I immediately took a
picture and tweeted Gordon Ramsay, and he re-tweeted it and replied back, "Wow."
I was thrilled to see it coming from him. So I hope you enjoy!
Follow me on my
official fan page at Facebook.com/MC3Nandini or on Twitter @MC3Nandini.
Baked Cauliflower With Pecans and Caramelized Onions in a
Cilantro Soy Yogurt Sauce
1/2 head cauliflower,
cut into florets
1/4 cup pecans
Salt, to taste
2 tsp. turmeric
tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. coriander
Extra virgin olive oil
large onion, chopped
4–5 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
leaves, chopped and stems trimmed
1/2 cup soy yogurt
tsp. cayenne powder
1 tsp. lemon pepper
Do you watch Master Chef? If so, do you agree with
Nandini that more vegetarian chefs need to step up to the plate?
Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.