Chef Renu Dalal On Taking Tarla Dalal’s Legacy Forward
Image Credit: Renu Dalal, with her mother, Padma Shri Tarla Dalal

If you have had the chance to watch the movie Tarla recently—and you are truly missing out if you haven’t--then you would of course be familiar with the long and arduous journey Padma Shri Tarla Dalal had to undertake to make an indelible mark on the Indian culinary scene. But, as shown in the movie, the journey Tarla Dalal undertook and her immense achievements as a cookbook author and then a television host wasn’t hers alone, but also her family’s--especially for her daughter, Chef Renu Dalal

Like mother, like daughter might be a proverb you are familiar with, but Chef Renu Dalal proves that she is not only taking her incredible mother’s legacy forward, but also creating her own unique style that is utterly relevant for our times. In case you are unaware, Chef Renu Dalal is a cookbook author who cooks vegetarian delights with a touch of fusion, and now, health and climate consciousness. In an exclusive interview with Slurrp, she opened up to us about the impact her mother had on her culinary journey and the way she is crafting her own path now. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Renu Dalal

Learning From A Master Chef, That Too At Home 

Growing up as the daughter of Tarla Dalal, who started cooking classes at her Mumbai home, Renu had every opportunity to learn the best straight from the master. “My mother used to take cooking classes, photo shoots for her books and we had fabulous food around us all the time,” she says. “We were at a very young age, and my dad used to maintain a book where he used to write who would come and what food was served. For us, the meals used to be very special. If you are coming home, the family would serve you something special. Plus, my mother was always trying out new recipes with us.” 

But that’s not all, because Renu says she even attended her mother’s cooking classes as a child, picking up things that the students were learning too. “We used to attend the classes whenever we had school holidays,” she explains. “The phone was buzzing all the time and there was a huge waiting list for those wanting to attend the classes. So, there was a lot of excitement around food in the house. It was food all around us, so I did get a start at a very young age.” 

As she grew up, however, Renu pursued a corporate career but food was always there at the back of her mind, like a strong foundation. “My mother continued to discuss her new menus and recipes all the time,” she says. “My mother passed away on November 6, 2013, and a couple of months after that we realised that she had been the source of all the joy around food. The “dial mother” option was no longer available for me. But we still wanted to put something new on the table. So, I started writing down all my recipes on a spreadsheet. I was very thrilled because this was a new beginning for me.” 

Moving On To The Next Bit Of The Journey 

Soon enough, Renu also started gathering praise from her friends and family for her own recipes. “Two-three years later, it was natural progression for me to think that I should come out with a cookbook,” she quips. “My mother was famous for writing books, so I also decided to work on which recipes to put in the cookbook, how to present it to the audience, etc. My first cookbook, Modern Vegetarian Recipes, was released on June 3, 2018—on my mother’s birthday, as a tribute to her.” 

Once she started her own culinary journey, Renu hasn’t looked back. She is now the author of three cookbooks, is very popular on social media and shares her new recipes with a younger generation of homecooks and food enthusiasts. “I love creating new recipes,” she says. “It’s in our DNA and I love doing it all the time now.” She also notes that though she has learnt a lot from her mother, this is a new era and keeping pace is very important. “My mother cooked at a time when there was no Internet, even television came later,” she says. “The India we live in now is very different and the aspirations of the women have also changed. Women are working and have careers. They are multitasking, so my recipes are for them, to make it easier for them.”  

All About Tarla, The Movie And Real Life 

She further explains that with the new movie Tarla, featuring Huma Qureshi in her mother’s role, an interest has once again arisen in the legacy of Tarla Dalal and the art of writing cookbooks in India. “Piyush Gupta, the writer and director of the movie, approached my brother, Sanjay, many years back because my mother had made an impact on his life too,” she explains. She mentions how Gupta’s team moved ahead with the movie with the family’s consent, and naturally the movie’s plot reflects parts of real life as well as the creative licenses a filmmaker must take while retelling a biographical story like this.  

“They had to condense it in a shorter period of time than what my mother’s journey was,” she cites as an example. “So, they showed the movie ending with the beginning of her television show, but my mother moved far beyond that during her lifetime. Piyush Gupta spoke to all three of us kids and one of the things he noted was how amazing our father was. There could be no Tarla without Nalin, especially at the time when the movie is set.” Aspects of the movie like her parents’ dynamics, Renu says, were largely true and so were the little descriptions of her mother’s initial days as a teacher and cookbook author.  

“Yes, we would have those new recipes for our meals and yes, my father was rating them too,” she says. “There is a lot of hard work that goes into creating recipes, perfecting them and putting them out there for the world. The movie showed it all very cutely, but you must note the hard work that goes into every cookbook.” She adds that it was this aspect that led to the heartwarming reception the movie got. “People have been so touched and moved by the movie, because they identified with my mother, they felt they knew her,” she says. “Even though there has been such a generation shift between her lifetime and ours, people still read her books, visit her website, learn from her. She is now and forever will be an inspiration for us.”