Celebrity chef and cancer survivor Geeta Lachmandas was just a normal girl, growing up in a conservative middle-class north Indian family, who had big dreams. But not of one day being a chef who would focus on healthy eating and treat celebrities like footballer David Beckham to her culinary delights.
No, Lachmandas dreamed of meeting her Prince Charming, falling in love, getting married, having children, having a beautiful home and building a thriving business through a profession in law. She was determined to be the greatest lawyer around and during her studies was voted most likely to succeed in corporate life.
“I started practising at age 22 and was an active litigation lawyer for five years. Then I met my ex-husband, got married and moved to Malaysia.”
Life would take a very different turn for her after the move, forcing her to end her days in the profession. “I could not practise as a lawyer as I was an expatriate wife … and Malaysia had strict laws then about an expat’s wife working,” Lachmandas says.
Her attention then moved towards the culinary arts, even though she only began cooking “properly after marriage”.
“Both my mum and mum-in-law were great cooks. My ex-husband challenged me and I took up the challenge and proved him wrong. He said I would give up after one week, but I started enjoying it.”
She would eventually build a fruitful business called Culinary Capers that showcases healthy food. Her mouthwatering and healthy offerings landed her a cooking show.
Things were looking up for Lachmandas – but she was then dealt another blow.
In June 2015, after a routine mammogram, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer which required immediate surgery.
With no hesitation or fear, Lachmandas decided to close her kitchen indefinitely until she knew she would be cancer free.
“It was difficult, but at the time I was diagnosed, I was already eating healthy. Still, I knew I had to up my clean eating regime even more and I was already empowered by my innate knowing that I had what it took to overcome this.”
A positive attitude and continuing enthusiasm for life helped her tremendously to fight the cancer, she adds.
Working in the kitchen helped too.
“I find cooking very therapeutic. Banging pots and pans around is a form of release for me. Like a jogger feels spent after running, I feel spent after furiously creating a good meal.”
She draws inspiration from both her mother and ex-mother-in-law’s north and south Indian curries, using fragrant masalas, various herbs and spices.
“I make a very good butter chicken masala, chicken biryani, Pakistani fish biryani, stuffed okra and spiced aubergines topped with yoghurt.”
And as a staple in most Indian households, she also whips up a delightful makhni dhal made with lentils.
“My cuisine is Indian but suffused with healthy touches. I call it modern Indian cuisine as I use healthier grains like ragi (millet) and incorporate many local herbs and spices.
“I experiment a lot and am not afraid to try new flavours and infuse new ones into age-old dishes.
“I believe that a recipe is only a canvas that you can embroider on and change according to your own inspiration.”
Natural eating, she says, means “eating real food, clean food, food as close to the source as possible, unprocessed and without the junk.
“I don’t like the word ‘diet’. I’m distinctly against dieting. But I believe in small lifestyle changes in cooking ingredients, methods and styles of cooking.
“Eating healthy is only the start to becoming clean, not just physically but emotionally as well. And that is what I practise by meditating daily and knowing that I’m being guided every single day by divine faith.”