Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Chat with Mohana Gill

It's always exciting to meet people who are passionate about the world of food – cooking it, owning shops that supply the tools, creating fabulous dining experiences for the rest of us, and writing about it. This post is the second of a series .

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with Mohan Gill, who was in Toronto, in part to visit with old friends (she went to University of Toronto and then was the first woman at Western University in the MBA program there) and also to promote her new book, Fruitastic! already very successful in Malaysia where Mohana lives with “her four men” - husband Satwant (who is very involved in Anti-Aging, or as she would prefer to call it – healthy aging) and her three sons, Sanjeev, Anil and Rakesh.

Before I share some of our chat, I want to mention her beautiful coffee table book that honors 30 different kinds of fruit, many of which are abundant throughout Malaysia and other tropical climates but will seem exotic to most of us living in North America, unless you live in a large multicultural city with ethnic markets. The photographs are lush and you can almost see the juices dripping off the page and smell their sweet perfumes.

What I love most (because so many of these fruits are very unusual where I live) is the first half of the book that gives the history, description and nutritional value of the fruit. I randomly opened the book and found soursop. Did you know that it is used in Jamaica and Haiti to treat fever and kill parasites? Or that it has a pineapple- like aroma? Or that some varieties are best eaten like a melon and others work best cooked? Champola and carato are favorite drinks in Brazil and Puerto Rico where ice creams and sherbets are also popular. And did you know that pomegranate is widely perceived as a symbol of fertility? You have to read the little story about Persephone to find out why.

The second half of the book focuses on cooking. Notice I didn’t say “recipes”. Mohana purposefully presents more of a guide to cooking and lists general ingredients since the size and sweetness of the fruits will vary from country to country and she hopes you’ll use the book as a starting point to adapt her ideas to your own taste. You will find ideas for everything from the expected, like juices, jams, desserts, chutneys and salsas to main courses like curries, briyanis and koftas. In fact, inside the front cover is a fork and inside the back cover is a knife to convey the idea that fruits can make a complete meal. Mohana has given a lot of thought to the presentation of her book. The front cover has a perfect apple because it’s universal while the back cover stars the lychee because it’s exotic and the book holds everything in between.

Since we are coming up to the Sugar High Friday event I’m hosting this month for Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess, Mohana has graciously allowed me to share her grilled fruits with lime and ginger marmalade….check out the recipe below.

But now on to our chat….
Mohana is a fascinating and vibrant woman who was born in Burma, and has always had a passion for cooking and a love of fruit, nature’s pure source of all things good for you. In fact, she has 14 different types of fruit trees growing in her garden in Kuala Lumpur. And after you’ve a wonderful feast there, her husband will always say “I hope you had a fruitful visit”.

R: When did you start cooking?
M: I’ve always enjoyed cooking for others even as a young student. My biggest joy is to prepare a feast and see everyone enjoying the meal.

R: What gave you the idea for this book?
M: For many years people have been pressuring me to write a book but I really got the idea when I attended an Anti-Aging Conference in Las Vegas with my husband. There were so many exhibitors that were selling cosmetics and food supplements and I thought of writing a book about food for healthy living.

R: Why fruit?
M: At home fruit is always the center of our meals. Fresh fruit has all the nutrients one needs for a healthy life and it’s easy to prepare. My intention with the book is to provide people with the invitation to surprise their guests with the richness, variety and visual appeal that fruit can bring to the table.

R: What was the biggest challenge?
M: Initially the writing of the book was purely for fun, but as I got more involved with the project I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own. I was fortunate to gather a great team to help me with photographs, layout and editing which took about six months.

But the biggest challenge is to get the book to markets outside of Malaysia where it is already very popular. I want people to be more aware of the natural power and goodness of fruit. I hope that mothers can give their children a love of fruit from early on using simple recipes.

R: Well I think the book is wonderful….so what’s next?
M: I’m writing a sequel that should be out by the Fall, 2006 – Vegemania that will have the same format but focus on 30 of the most nutritious vegetables. And I would like to do some children’s books on fruit with pictures, stories and simple recipes that they can use to give them an awareness and joy of “playing with their food”.

Fruitastic! can be purchased through MPH Publishing


Grilled Fruit with Lime, Lemon & Ginger Marmelade

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Vineela said...

Nice Post.
And my recipe is ready to mail you for "SHF".

Ruth Daniels said...

Vineela, thanks and your ginger peanut bars look awesome - great SHF entry!

Melissa, thanks

Babe_KL said...

I saw this book at MPH, flipped thru it and liked the pictures a lot but I have yet to purchase it. Might give it a second look.