Vandana Jain came to Dubai in 2000 and wowed people with her culinary skills. She specializes in vegetarian cuisine and has used her creativity to enchant not only Indian cuisine but Arabic, Mexican, Italian, Thai, Japanese and more. Her culinary institute, Vandana Jain Culinary Classes, is popular amid the rise of social media, which has been a disruptive force for many industries.
Awarded 62 national and international prizes, Vandana’s debut cookbook Vandana’s vegetarian creations was awarded “The Best in the World” and her latest cookbook Vandana’s paneer creations was awarded the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, known as the Oscars in the world of cookbooks in Paris. She was recently named Innovator of the Year 2020 at the Emirates Women Awards. “The journey,” she says, “was a cycle of happiness, creativity, passion and joy for me.”
In an interview with City times She guides us through her journey and explains why social media does not diminish the relevance of culinary institutes. Excerpts from an interview:
When did you start cooking and why vegetarianism?
As a young girl, the kitchen space was limited to my mother. She conjured up delicacies in minutes, which always awe-inspiring me. That’s where it all started. My mother is my mentor. Seeing how she conjures up magic with flavors and spices with the simplest of ingredients inspired me to cook.
Since day one, I’ve been discovering new joys with vegetarian dishes. As Jain, we’ve always seen the vegetarian side of cooking, and having lived in a meat-loving country like Africa (where I spent a good part of my childhood) and the United Arab Emirates, where I arrived in 2000, food has enables me to build social bridges and bring joy. At first I took part in many cooking competitions in Dubai and focused on a trial and error method to create unconventional and innovative recipes. My cuisine was widely loved and appreciated and that’s when I realized that vegetarianism is so much more and started giving cooking classes. I want to pass on my knowledge to people.
It is completely different when you cook yourself. Suddenly everything makes sense, because the magic breaks down and all the joy of creating takes over. From teaching various international cuisines with an emphasis on vegetarianism, be it Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Arabic, etc. to teaching more than 500 vegan, gluten and sugar free recipes today, the trip has developed quite a bit.
Are you a purist or do you think cooking is an art?
I think cooking is an art that starts from the heart. When I started teaching cooking and baking classes, I was fascinated by the passion people have with food. It is holy and divine. Every recipe I create and teach is strongly driven by stories and conversations with different backgrounds, cultures and experiences. For me, cooking is a cycle of happiness, creativity, passion and joy. I believe that eating right has the power to stimulate all of your senses in ways that everything else can. It’s a tangible manifestation of creativity and simplicity. My all-time favorite is trying new delicacies in international cuisines like Mexican, Chinese, and Thai, but with a vegetarian twist.
I keep my roots very pure, but in this day and age it is important to welcome and indulge new trends.
What is the impact of the popularity of social media on food, especially vegetarian food?
Social networks are arguably the most important marketing tool of the last decade and the most useful for entrepreneurs. In the food industry, we have particularly benefited from the fact that we share visual content directly with customers. My Instagram page (Vjccbakesandcooks) and Facebook page (Vandana Jain Cooking Classes) have definitely helped grow my business.
I ideally believe that food is an emotion, and being able to bring the story behind it to thousands of followers on social media is a blessing indeed.
Given the growing popularity on social media, what is the significance of culinary institutes?
One of my favorite questions! In this day and age of social media influence and online experiences, a culinary institute is a reality check platform for your skills in my opinion. Nobody has ever gone from being a good, normal cook to a maestro overnight, it never works like that through online videos. I believe the skills you can learn like basic knife techniques, food decorating, outdoor grilling, and basic cooking methods to familiarize yourself with your own kitchen and its appliances all take place in a real kitchen. That being said, maximum instruction includes dealing with international cuisine and its diverse forms of equipment and techniques that will help you achieve a realistic culture of its cooking skills. If you’re looking to kick-start your cooking career, the most important ingredient is self-confidence, which you can achieve through a like-minded platform that only a culinary institute can offer.
Tell us about the culinary courses offered by the VJCC.
Vandana Jain’s Culinary Courses (VJCC) is a modern culinary training center that aims to create the perfect home cook in the easiest possible way by training and developing unexplored culinary skills. VJCC trains its beginners in various ways to master the skills of exotic cuisine at an affordable price, expand knowledge of numerous healthy and delicious diets, become familiar with the etiquette of eating and serving / presenting.
Do you feel like opening a restaurant one day? If so, in which city would you make your debut?
Yes indeed. Dubai has always been my favorite city. This city has given me so much and I believe in giving back as much as possible with my knowledge and skills. As this is a culturally diverse place, my USP would be a mix of healthy, nutritious food from different international cuisines where every culture feels welcome and at home. I believe that in this time of uncertainty in the world, my restaurant should be your feel-good place, where you can have a wonderful time with your family and friends, feel rooted in your culture and at the same time not have to worry about the calories you have gained!
Vandana’s favorite recent food trends
Vandana says it has been a roller coaster ride in terms of trends and eating habits for the past two decades. “When it comes to eating, there are few discouraging elements, but yes, I don’t appreciate the increased consumption of processed foods like oils, flour, sugar, and fast foods.” trends a:
Veganism: The hottest nutrition trend. I believe that eating a plant-based diet not only helps you get healthier, but also makes you happier. Vegans are less likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure than meat eaters. Vegans get all of the nutrients they need to be healthy, such as vegetable protein, fiber, and minerals. At Vandana Jain Cooking Classes (VJCC) we teach more than 500 delicious and mouth-watering vegan dishes, including finger food, main course, butter-free muffins and cakes.
Virtual cooking classes: The pandemic has accelerated the virtual learning trend and I am excited to see families learn and connect with each other from our virtual cooking and baking classes.
Immune-boosting foods: Over the years, consumer interest in functional, nutritionally specific foods and beverages has increased. Healthy immune warriors need good, regular nourishment that comes from the body’s fuel, food. Following this change, we offer healthy courses at our institute.
Some of Vandana Jain’s recipes:
Roasted Garlic Palak Paneer
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Preparation time: 15 minutes
For: 6-8 people
Spinach, blanched and mashed: 2 bunches
Fresh paneer, cut into cubes: 1 cup
Ginger and garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Green chillies, chopped: 2 tsp
Onion, chopped: 1 piece
Tomatoes, chopped: 2 tbsp
Garam masala powder: Â½ tsp
Jeera powder, roasted: Â½ tsp
Oil: 2 tbsp
Butter: 2 tbsp
Salt: to taste
Sugar: Â½ tsp
Black salt: Â¼ tsp
Fresh cream: 4 tbsp
Burnt garlic flakes: 1 tbsp
Heat the oil and butter in a pan. Add the ginger and garlic paste, fry until light brown.
Add onion, green chillies, tomatoes and sautÃ© again for two to three minutes.
Add the spinach puree and cook for four to five minutes. Add salt, black salt, garam masala powder, sugar and cream and bring to a boil. Add paneer and cook for a minute.
Serve hot, garnished with roasted garlic flakes.
Pesto paneer canapÃ©s
Cooking time: 2 minutes
Preparation time: 10 minutes
For: 4-6 people
Salted crackers: 10 pieces
Cottage cheese (paneer): 100gm
Pesto sauce: 4 tbsp
Cream sauce: 4 tbsp
Cherry tomatoes: 4 pieces
Fresh basil leaves: a few
Salt and pepper: to taste
Oil: a couple of tbsp
Cut the cottage cheese into thick slices. Add salt, pesto sauce, pepper and a teaspoon of oil and rub the slices well.
Use a cookie cutter to cut 10 small roundels out of slices of cottage cheese.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick grill pan, place the paneer rondelles on the pan and grill for two minutes. Take off the stove.
Apply a teaspoon of cream cheese to each cracker biscuit. Place a grilled curd cheese on top and top with a cherry tomato and fresh basil.
Paneer pineapple Malai Peda
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Paneer, crumbled: 1 cup
Mawa / khoya: Â¼ cup
Milk powder: 2 tbsp
Powdered sugar: Â¼ cup
Pineapple crush: 2 tbsp
Pineapple essence: Â½ tsp
Yellow food coloring (optional): a few drops
Pistachio slices, for garnish: 1 tbsp
Put all ingredients in a non-stick pan and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens slightly.
Take off the stove. Add pineapple essence and mix well. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
Shape the mixture into small balls and garnish with pistachio slices.