Madhur Jaffrey: 'I save cash by bulk buying rice'

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The actress and doyenne of Indian food, avoided a spoilt attitude to money despite a well-to-do upbringing in Delhi.

Madhur Jaffrey was born in Delhi but learnt to cook only when she came to Britain in the mid-Fifties to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada). The award-winning actress has written more than 15 cookbooks and is regarded by many as the world authority on Indian food. Madhur lives in New York with her second husband, the renowned American violinist Sanford Allen, and has three grown-up daughters by her first husband, the actor Saeed Jaffrey.

= How did your upbringing influence your attitude to money? =

It was like being the queen I never handled money or had any idea of values. Others did all the spending. I came from a relatively well-off family in Delhi and, although there was poverty around, this was not part of my life. This does not mean I have a spoilt attitude to money I am careful about how I spend it.

= Is it true you could not even boil rice until you came to Britain? =

Yes. I arrived in London at the age of 19 having never cooked a dish in my life. Some of the food was terrible grey beef and cabbage with watery potatoes. I wrote to my mother and she would reply with details of how to cook Indian food. There was a lot of "a little bit of this or that". This is why I am so precise and particular when providing cooking advice I have done all the experimenting beforehand so that the reader does not have to worry about it.

= Should we spend more on our curries? =

You find great curries in the most fascinating places and tightest of budgets. I tend to stay in and cook rather than spend lots of money at fancy restaurants it is cheaper and I can do a better job. I recently had chips and curry sauce in Glasgow the sauce was made from a yellow powder from China mixed in a bucket with hot water. It was actually quite pleasant. Save (Berlin: HWL.BE - news) money by buying rice in bulk a 25lb bag of jasmine or basmati is far better value than lots of small half-used rice bags at the back of the cupboard.

= What about the term ' curry' do you despise it? =

I used to shudder when the word curry was used to cover all Indian food, but you can only fight it so long. The British have always insisted on the term no matter where it comes from or the dish. They also invented the balti. Even what might seem like a traditional dish like chicken jalfrezi has its roots in British cuisine.

= What was your first job? =

I see myself as an actor first rather than a writer or cook. I was fortunate enough to pick up minor acting roles on BBC TV and radio thanks to Rada, where money was tight and I had to survive on scholarship funds. I had never had a bank account and when I arrived in London it was hard to open one they wouldn't accept Indian rupees. It taught me to be frugal. My first big acting break was in a 1965 film called Shakespeare Wallah .

= Are you a saver or a spender? =

I am a saver but getting older I am finding it easier to let go and spend, too. I did not understand the meaning of money until I left home but then found how vital it was if I was to be independent and look after myself. Now I am letting go a little and enjoying its benefits food, quality clothes, house and family.

= Do you have a financial adviser? =

Yes. I have a broker who is fantastic and helps me choose investments based on stocks and shares. I do not always listen to her advice but it is great to have an expert to argue with. I often make decisions for the strangest of reasons and the investments do not always turn out too well. For example, I put money into Royal Bank of Scotland (LSE: RBS.L - news) as it was the bank used by my acting agency. I thought this meant it was a safe bet. But I enjoy learning from my mistakes.

= Can money make you happy? =

No, but food certainly can and you need money to buy that. The great benefit of money is it helps you to live more comfortably and provides support when trying to realise your dreams. But it is certainly not the answer on its own.

= What do you think about the celebrity chef culture? =

It doesn't bother me at all. I try to do a serious job and educate rather than entertain. If being a celebrity attracts people to learn about cooking, then what can be wrong with that? I have three grandchildren. Rather than sitting in front of the television watching cartoons, they might sometimes watch a food show instead they have taught me things from what they have watched.

= What's been your best buy? =

I do not have a favourite dish, herb or spice it all varies depending on my mood. I grow my own herbs where possible and buy whole spices that last forever. I have a red coffee grinder that I use for grinding them. It cost just a few pounds but works miracles. It is not to be confused with my husband's black coffee grinder that also sits in the kitchen and is used for making coffee.

= And your worst? =

I spend a lot of money on trees. Some of my favourites are fruit trees for the orchard. Unfortunately a tree that I have bought that always seems to die is the Japanese maple. It is such a lovely tree but I only seem to be able to kill it so for me it is a terrible buy.