If you don’t know who Monica Bhide is, perhaps you’re not reading enough books, magazines or essays about food because this woman is everywhere. She’s a Virginia-based food writer who writes beautifully about how our lives, cultures and emotions are influenced by food. She has written books, has an iSpice app every cook can use and recently launched a line of spiced chocolates that sold out in a few short days. She’s also a writing coach, mentor and speaker who helps people carve out a career in the food writing world.
I told you she was everywhere…
I learned of Monica Bhide myself when I began this blog in 2008 and desired to perfect the craft of writing about food, conveying recipes and simply communicating the art of describing anything edible. I took a correspondence course by Monica and learned so very much about this career and what I needed to do if I wanted to be good at it. I’m still not done learning, of course, but she helped me to start out on the right food and I’m so glad I had one of the best in the industry to guide me.
Last year I was fortunate enough to meet Monica in person at the Eat Write Retreat in Washington, D.C. where I got to hear her speak passionately about building a career as a food blogger and developing a mindset for success, which can really be translated into any career one chooses. It was a gift and blessing to hear her speak and be able to ask questions in person of this dynamic woman who built her career after she had already established one in an entirely different field. I love to hear about people who not just follow their gut about what they’re meant to do in life, but they actively pursue it and don’t stop until they get it.
What’s more is that Monica helps others do the same.
I think you’ll find her fascinating not only in this interview but also in her own blog, A Life of Spice. Please pay it a visit and see for yourself after this…
And don’t forget to enter to win a copy of her cookbook, Modern Spice, at the end.
MHK: Monica, I’ve been a fan and admirer of your work for quite some time now, really enjoying the way you bring your love of spice, Indian food and culture to the forefront of your writing. I personally feel that you make Indian cooking approachable, especially for those who may consider it complex and something too unfamiliar to cook at home. I also love how your writing is a window into aspects of Indian culture that I don’t get anywhere else.
Your background and where you grew up is really quite fascinating. Can you tell our readers more about how you came to the decision to make a career in the food industry which involved a transition from a completely different field of work?
Bhide: I like to call myself a recovering engineer! About nine years or so ago, I decided that the life that had been chosen for me – that of an engineer with a couple of advanced degrees and a full-time corporate job – was not what I wanted to do with my life. I would like to say that I chose writing as a career but, in truth, I don’t think it was a choice. The yearning in my heart was so strong that I had to pay attention to it or else, I feared, a part of me would have died.
MHK: Very powerful words, indeed. How many of us can truly relate to that? I know I can…
Your essays, columns, articles and books have all been featured in some very notable media outlets (i.e. Saveur, Bon Appetit, The Chicago Tribune, and many, many more). What is it about the topic of food that really drives your passion to write so eloquently about it, and make an entire career out of doing it day after day?
Bhide: Even though I am a food writer, I don’t think I ever really write about food!! My focus is what food means to us – the memories it creates, how it nurtures us, how it (sometimes) divides us, and how it defines us….
MHK: I really love the Monica’s Indian Express: Simple & Sassy Weeknight Dishes series on your site where you offer recipes that inspire and make it simple for anyone to cook Indian food. It seems to be characteristic of your overall fresh, trend-setting approach to Indian cooking. Do you see this as the future of Indian food made at home? What was your inspiration for offering this?
Bhide: Thanks! When my book, Modern Spice, came out, the response was tremendous because the book introduced a simple way of looking at Indian ingredients and recipes and creating meals that were delicious but did not take forever to prepare (or use a million ingredients for that matter).
That was my inspiration to create this new series. I wanted to continue what I had started with Modern Spice and the response has been amazing so far.
MHK: It goes without saying that you don’t just write about food; you also cook and present your readers with truly flavorful recipes and meal inspiration (which I love to follow on Pinterest, by the way). In addition to your cookbooks and your website (A Life of Spice), you also offer an app with the same name. Can you tell us more about what the app is like and how it can be used?
Bhide: I like to call it the little app that could! It is basically your cheat sheet for spices. When you are at a store and you want to buy a spice, look it up on the app. It tells you what to do with it, recipes, how to store it, etc. and also gives you alternate places to buy it.
MHK: You are a busy mom of two adorable young boys- I’m sure a lot of our mom readers would love to know how you make Indian food fast, fresh and simple. What are your top three tips for putting Indian meals on the table over and over again? Are there some staples to always have on hand or shopping shortcuts that would help?
Bhide: My three tips are very simple – eat what you love, bring the family in to help you cook, and always be mindful of the way food effects you and yours. Here is what I mean by that last one: if we buy healthy ingredients and prepare them well, they will have a positive effect on us. If we focus on boxed ingredients and a lot of prepackaged meals filled with preservatives, then the effect is not so positive. We may think these things are saving us time and money but in the long run, they may be costing us our health.
I think sometimes people are afraid that good meals require long complicated recipes and nothing could be further from the truth. If you use good ingredients – say a sun-ripened luscious tomato – you have to do very little to it to make it work in a recipe. The focus of my weeknight series is just that – taking real ingredients and making good meals. Every once in a while I do admit to cheating and using something from a bag (but try to make sure it is preservative free and good for my kids) but ninety percent of the time, I rely on seasonal vegetables and good quality meats to make a meal.
My secret to cooking – use spices. They add flavor without fat and offer amazing health benefits. You have hundreds to choose from and so the combinations are unending!
MHK: Wonderful tips anyone can implement, thank you!
You have published four different books, three of which are cookbooks. Which one would you suggest for a newbie to Indian cooking and which do you suggest for someone who is experienced in Indian cooking?
Bhide: Definitely- Modern Spice
MHK: And you are so generous to be giving away TWO copies to our readers- I can’t wait to see how they use your book and what they make from it.
For those who want to know where they can read more about you, learn about Indian cuisine, the variety of ingredients and meal inspiration, please give us all the ways we can follow your work:
I am an engineer turned food/travel/parenting writer based out of Washington DC. I have been published in many major national and international publications, including Food & Wine, The New York Times, Parents, Cooking Light, Prevention, AARP-The magazine, Health, SELF, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and many more. I wrote a weekly syndicated for Scripps Howard Media, for a year, called Seasonings, and am a frequent contributor to NPR’s Kitchen Window. My work has garnered numerous accolades, including my food essays being included in Best Food Writing anthologies (2005, 2009 and 2010). I have published three cookbooks, the latest being: Modern Spice: Inspired Indian recipes for the contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009, which Padma Lakshmi called her personal – “BESTS.BOOK.EVER” in Newsweek. I also have a spice app for Apple products. In 2012, The Chicago Tribune picked me as one of seven note-worthy food writers to watch. And Mashable recently picked me as one of the top 10 food writers on Twitter. I am a monthly columnist for Cooking Channel on lucky foods.
Monica’s website: http://www.monicabhide.com/
Pinterest page: http://pinterest.com/mbhide/
Now for the Giveaway!
UPDATE: this giveaway is now closed- thank you to everyone who entered! Our two winners are: Bonnie K. and Megan. Please contact me with your full name, shipping address (no P.O. Boxes), and phone number. Congratulations!!
Monica is giving away TWO copies of her book, Modern Spice. To enter, please leave a comment at the end of this post telling us what your favorite part of this interview was. Winners will be selected randomly. Please follow these Official MHK Guidelines, as your entry indicates you have read those. Winners will be announced on this page on February 22, 2013. Please check back to see if your name is here and there will be follow-up instructions. Deadline to enter is February 21, 2013 at 12:01 am.