Indian MasterChef Finalist Oindrila Bala Gets Candid

Had we met Chef Oindrila Bala a few years ago, we would have found her drowned in a pile of books and files, making cases at her corporate job as a tax consultant in Delhi. Now you are most likely to find her in her kitchen, drowned in flour, butter and sugar, this time. The culinary journey that started at a tender age of four while she watched her mother cook led her to take the plunge after 11 years of toil in the corporate sector. The kitaabi keeda, as she calls herself, Chef Oindrila tells us that she loved reading about food in her leisure time during her MasterChef days and the habit has lingered on. Dropping in some hints about her to-be-written cookbook, she shares with us her innate passion for food and her love for her nani’s special childhood recipe. 

The bong who doesn’t like fish or desserts took out some time to join us for an interactive tête-à-tête and give us insights into her culinary journey ahead. Excerpts from the chat. 

Q1. A tax consultant turned chef. How and what made you take such a massive leap? 

I have always wanted to cook, you know. I thought that I am going to be a chef someday but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I remember I was sixteen years old and I had my class 10 board exams. I had a chemistry exam and it was the UK equivalent of the board exams here. I thought that there was no way I was going to pass this exam because I was always in the kitchen, cooking. I had convinced my dad that I’m not a promising student so open me a pizzeria or the like. Surprisingly, he had agreed at that time but later on, I stood third in the country and all the plans flew out of my dad’s head. He thought that my girl seems promising that is why she has stood third and that’s when my culinary dreams took a backseat. It was limited to only weekends. I told my dad I wanted to cook but cooking wasn’t so glamourized 20 years back as it is today. Today, you’ve got so many influencers, back then Chef Sanjeev Kapoor was the only big name and he is the God even today. My entire family was very well educated and my dad told me that the women in our house our lawyers, teachers and a lot of things but not cooks. So I completed my CA and other qualifications and worked as a tax consultant for 11 years in Delhi post which I shifted back to Kolkata. It was on my 30th birthday that the realization struck me that I’m feeling empty and I should pursue my passion i.e. cooking. 

Q2. Our sources tell us that you’ve been cooking since you were 4 years old. What inspired you to be inclined towards food at such a tender age? 

I really believe this that I was put on this planet to cook. I recall the time when we were in Coimbatore and my father retired from his job. My mother had bought steel bartans (utensils) with names engraved on it. That’s when I expressed the desire to have my own bartans too and was given miniature ones with my name on it. Then my brother or father built me a small oven from tea boxes and a spirit lamp was set as fire. The earliest memory I have of cooking would be that of strawberry jams and was also the stepping stone because I started cooking with fire. 

Source: Chef Oindrila Bala

One of the dreams that I had before MasterChef happened was that I wanted a job which involved food and travel. I wanted to be a food/travel show host, trying different cuisines and experiencing different cultures because you understand a lot about the culture of a place through its food. I would want someone to make a show on the places which are less-explored in our country, like the food at the mountain-tops in Ladakh or Uttarakhand. Another thing I really like is lost recipes, the history food, how it started etc. 

Q16. 5 Pantry essentials? 

Cheese, garlic and mixed herbs, I always have them handy. Potatoes and some carbs like pasta are also essentials that I keep. 

Q17. If we open your fridge today, what are we to find stocked up always? 

I work as a home-baker so you’ll definitely find things like butter, cheese and fresh cream in my fridge. Apart from that, for personal use, you’ll find lots of vegetables like carrots and beans. 

Q18. Any upcoming projects/exciting ventures we should look out for? 

I am hoping to take out time to work on my book idea. I’m really lazy but I hope get to it and you’ll see a book to my name soon hopefully.