Monica Bhide is a celebrated food writer, modern Indian recipe creator and a frequent contributor to NPR’s Kitchen Window. A storyteller at heart, Monica combines her love of family, friends and food – along with personal anecdotes highlighted by her Indian heritage – to help people add an exotic, unexpected and most-welcome new element into their lives.
Tell us more about yourself and what you do? You traded a well-paying job as an engineer to become a food/travel/parenting writer. What inspired you?
So technically, I am a geek! I have an engineering degree and two Masters degrees. I worked in corporate America for over 13 years and yes, it was a well-paying job! However, it was not something that made me wake up in the morning with energy and enthusiasm. It always felt like something was lacking. Then a very close friend of mine passed away and it really forced me to look at my own life and what I was doing. I quit my job, overnight, and decided to write. It has been ten years and I have four books out now!
What are some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
I had no idea what a “writing life” really entailed. I had no idea who an editor was, how to pitch them (or even what a good pitch was). I entered an industry that I knew nothing about. The only thing I knew for certain was that I loved to write. I spent a lot of time reading books on writing, on interviewing, on writing query letters. I attended conferences, I begged successful writers to help me get started. It was a steep learning curve and the playing field seemed to change every day (magazines closed, editors left, etc.). I am still learning!
You have authored three cookbooks and more recently a collection of short stories. Tell us about your latest book ‘The Devil In Us’. Where did the inspiration come from and why this shift from food to fiction?
Actually, I wrote the first draft of this book, The Devil in Us, 10 years ago when I quit my corporate job to become a writer. However, all the advice I received at the time suggested that I write nonfiction and focus on what I really love. I love to eat, so I spent the next 10 years writing about food! I have loved every minute of those years and plan to continue with my food writing, as well, but I felt I owed it to myself to finish the book I really wanted to write.
Everybody is talking about home cooking and its connection to sustainable, local food; engaging kids in the kitchen, building communities by involving your friends and family. Your thoughts?
This is how I grew up! We purchased from local farmers markets, cooked with my parents in the kitchen and yes, the whole community seemed to be involved every single step of the way! I think this is true for most folks who grew up in Asian or Middle-eastern cultures. It is just a way of being.
What advice would you give to aspiring food writers? Any favorite food critics/writers you draw inspiration from?
I think for any aspiring writer, my advice is always the same — just write. Don’t talk about it, don’t dream about it, don’t worry about it – just write. Most people claim that they don’t have time to write. I think you have to find time. If it is something you REALLY want to do, you will find the time. It may be a few minutes here and there but you will find it.
As far as inspiration, oh yes! There are so many people who inspire me. In food, I adore Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. In food writing, I am a huge fan of Ruth Reichl. In fiction, I adore the writings of Yasmina Khadra, Rohinton Mistry, Diana Abu Jaber and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
What’s your regular comfort meal? Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
My favorite comfort food is scrambled eggs. Anytime, anywhere, give me an egg and I am a happy person! Guilty pleasures are OH so many — I love Nutella, I am a secret fan of Cheetos and, of course, a chilled soda. Mmm.. so good.
What is your idea of an empowered woman?
Great question. I think it is someone who has the self-esteem to move forward without needing the approval of others.
Message for our readers related to women’s personal safety and the issue of violence against women.
If you see abuse, report it. Please. So many people hesitate thinking it is someone else’s problem or that someone else will help. You can be that SOMEONE. If you see injustice, if you see domestic violence, if you see someone being harmed, report it. This is critical. You could be the person who makes the difference.
Monica Bhide is an engineer turned writer based out of Washington, D.C. She has built a diverse and solid audience through the publication of three cookbooks, her successful website MonicaBhide.com, her blog, and is actively published in top tier media, including: Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Saveur, The Washington Post, Health, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, AARP-The magazine, Parents, and many others. The Chicago Tribune named Bhide one of the seven food writers to watch in 2012. In April 2012, Mashable.com picked her as one of the top ten food writers on Twitter. Her work has garnered numerous accolades, including her food essays being included in Best Food Writing anthologies (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014). She has published three cookbooks, the latest being: Modern Spice: Inspired Indian recipes for the contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009).
Monica is a frequent presence on NPR, serves as a speaker and teacher for organizations such as Georgetown University, the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ), London Food Blogger’s Connect and the Smithsonian. Her first fiction short story debuted in Singapore Noir (Akashic Books, 2014).