JAFFREY, MADHUR

British Actor/Television Personality/Cookery Host

Madhur Jaffrey, born in India and based in Britain and the United States, has had a remarkably varied career encompassing film and television acting and some directing and writing. In Britain, it is for her role as a presenter of television cookery programmes that she is most highly renowned and respected.

Professionally, Jaffrey has worked largely in cinema with prominent roles in films such as the Merchant Ivory Production, Shakespeare Wallah (1965), for which she was awarded a prize at Venice, and The Assam Garden (1985). Her most prolific role as an actor in recent British television has been the drama series, Firm Friends (ITV, 1992 and 1994). Jaffrey plays Jayshree Kapor, cleaning lady turned business partner to white, middle-class Rose (Billie Whitelaw), in a show that is unusual in representing a racially mixed society without treating this as an issue. Whilst many of the productions Jaffrey has performed in draw on her cultural background, Firm Friends is also involved in unashamedly drawing on her culinary image--the business Jayshree initiates is selling cooked foods.

Madhur Jaffrey as an actor has not surpassed her popularity as a food presenter. Jaffrey's route into presenting BBC food shows was less than orthodox. Whilst a drama student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, she wrote to her mother begging her to send simple recipes. In India, her mother obliged, and thus Jaffrey learnt to cook by correspondence, although this was never intended as a career move. She was drawn into cooking as a business, after friends implored her to write a cookery book. Her immense success and appeal may be attributed to her flamboyant yet sensitive style of presentation and the way she has revolutionised and demystified Indian cooking--a cuisine particularly favoured by the British. By introducing authentic Indian cuisine to the British kitchen, Jaffrey has radically altered the way British people cook, eat and think about Indian food. Indeed it is fair to suggest that the recent ready availability of oriental spices and other Indian ingredients in British supermarkets is a direct result of Madhur Jaffrey's television programmes.

The inspirational presentation of food in the three BBC series--Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery (1982); Madhur Jaffrey's Far Eastern Cookery (1989); and Madhur Jaffrey's Flavour's Of India (1995)--is equaled by the warmth and charm of its presenter. Whilst her shows have been educational from a culinary perspective, they have also proved influential within television culture, as Madhur Jaffrey has always sought to contextualise the cookery by presenting it in the appropriate geographical location. In liberating cookery from the studio-bound format, these shows not only offer the viewing pleasures of a travel show, but also work to redefine popular perceptions of Eastern cultures. Jaffrey focuses on the recipes and their ingredients by presenting a variety of people--mainly cooks, professional and otherwise--and by exploring a wealth of market-places, local lifestyles and regional religions.

Whilst the gastronomic tour format may no longer be considered revolutionary, as it has developed into a standard set-up for the presentation of food, Jaffrey remains a guru of British television. Her series are particularly noteworthy for their stylish and sophisticated production values and their attention to detail--for example, Madhur dresses to reflect the cultural background of specific recipes. The greatest appeal of her cookery shows lies in her vibrant approach and personality, with which she has spiced up British television. Madhur Jaffrey has argued that she sees no conflict in her professional double life, as she treats the presentation of food as a performance equal to any acting role.

-Nicola Foster


Madhur Jaffrey
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute

MADHUR JAFFREY. Born in Delhi, India. Attended local schools in Delhi; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Settled in England to train as a drama student and subsequently appeared in numerous stage and film productions before establishing reputation as leading authority on Indian food, presenting her own cookery programmes on television and writing best-selling cookery books.

TELEVISION SERIES

1982 Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery
1989 Madhur Jaffrey's Far Eastern Cookery
1992, 1994 Firm Friends
1995 Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India

FILMS (selected)

Shakespeare Wallah, 1965; Autobiography of a Princess, 1975.

PUBLICATIONS

Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery. London: BBC Publications, 1982.

Madhur Jaffrey's a Taste of the Far East. New York: Carol Southern, 1993.