Awesome at 80: a chat with the 'actress who can cook' Madhur Jaffery

Born in Delhi in 1933, Jaffrey is considered a world authority on Indian cuisine, and has appeared in more than 20 films, including Shakespeare Wallah. She will be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, in March

MUMBAI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 17, 2007: Indian-born actress, food and travel writer Madhur Jaffrey. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
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If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?

I would be in the Seychelles. Any one of the islands would be just fine.

You are sitting down to the perfect meal. Where are you, what are you eating and whom are you with?

I am in Kyoto, Japan, in a little restaurant where we are sitting on the floor, eating wonderful abalone in a mustard sauce, and fish grilled right in front of us on a tile with coals burning underneath it. Our dessert is just fresh, ripe persimmons, so it's obviously November or December. The snow is falling outside, but inside it is warm and cosy, and we're drinking Japanese tea.

What is life's greatest luxury?

The greatest luxury is the ability to do anything I want, when I want.

What was your first-ever luxury purchase?

It was probably a pair of very nice, high-heeled Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, when I was very young.

Are you a collector? If so, what do you like to collect?

Oh, too many things. I'm afraid I'm one of the squirrels of the world. I travel a lot and I pick up all kinds of wonderful things. It could be ceramics, it could be antiques, lacquerwear, fabrics – I love old fabrics from different countries. It could be paintings or pieces of furniture that I then have to cart back home with me.

What are you reading at the moment?

I hate to tell you this, but I'm just in the middle of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. The details are juicily terrifying.

E-reader or old schoolbooks?

I used to love reading old-school books, but I'm afraid I've taken to the Kindle. I feel quite guilty.

What's your next holiday destination?

We're just trying to figure it out. The last one was Peru. We went to the Andes and the Amazon, which were absolutely marvellous. I'm not exactly sure what's next, but it might be the Gobi Desert. In Peru, we climbed Machu Picchu and then went into the Amazon on a boat. It was wonderfully adventurous.

What three things do you always take on your travels?

I'll always have a notebook because I'm constantly writing things down, especially about the food, because you never know what might come up, and where. I always have my wonderful Indian slippers, or juttis, which are comfortable – and my toes don't get cold. The third thing is all my different pairs of glasses, now that I need one pair for every kind of distance.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

To see both sides of an issue. And if it comes to it, draw up the pros and the cons, and make a decision after that.

What does your dream home look like?

It's definitely got a courtyard in the middle of it. It's a bit like those wonderful houses in Seville where there are orange and lemons trees in the courtyard, so I'd definitely want a garden inside the home. Both in India and places like Morocco I've known such homes, where you enter through a big gate and you see nothing, and then you proceed through one courtyard and then another, and another. My parents were raised in homes like that as well, in India. That's my dream.

Do you have a favourite city?

I don't have a favourite city. I'm happy in many cities – I'm based in New York, but I'm happy in London, I'm happy in Paris and I'm happy in Sydney. I'm from Delhi, but it's beginning to bother me because the air is so bad, so I wouldn't call it a favourite anymore.


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