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Madhur Jaffrey

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Title: Madhur Jaffrey  
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Subject: Autobiography of a Princess, Heat and Dust (film), The Assam Garden, Saeed Jaffrey, The Guru (1969 film)
Collection: 1933 Births, 20Th-Century Indian Actresses, 20Th-Century Women Writers, 21St-Century Indian Actresses, 21St-Century Women Writers, Alumni of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, British Chefs, British Television Chefs, Chefs of Indian Cuisine, Cookbook Writers, Food Network Chefs, Honorary Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, Indian Chefs, Indian Emigrants to the United Kingdom, Indian Emigrants to the United States, Indian Film Actresses, Indian Food Writers, Indian Stage Actresses, Indian Television Actresses, Indian Television Personalities, Indian Women Writers, Living People, People from Delhi, People from Hillsdale, New York, People from Manhattan, Silver Bear for Best Actress Winners, University of Delhi Alumni, Women Chefs, Women Cookbook Writers, Women Food Writers
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Madhur Jaffrey

Madhur Jaffrey
Madhur Jaffrey at a book signing in Vancouver in October 2010.
Native name मधुर जाफ़री
Born Madhur Bahadur
(1933-08-13) 13 August 1933
Delhi, British India
Residence New York
Ethnicity Mathur Kayastha[1]
Education Miranda House
B.A. English 1953
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Acting Diploma with Honours
Spouse(s) Saeed Jaffrey (1958 - 1965)
Sanford Allen (1969 - present)
Children Zia Jaffrey (b. 1959)
Meera Jaffrey (b. 1960)
Sakina Jaffrey (b. 1963)
Website .com.madhur-jaffreywww
Culinary career
Cooking style Indian

Madhur Jaffrey is an Indian-born actress, food and travel writer, and television personality.[2] She is recognized for bringing Indian cuisine to the Western world with her debut cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973), which was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2006.[3][4][5] She has authored over a dozen cookbooks and appeared on several related television programs, the most notable of which was Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery, which premiered in the United Kingdom in 1982.[6] She is the food consultant at Dawat, considered by many food critics to be among the best Indian restaurants in New York City.[7][8][9]

She played an instrumental part in bringing together film makers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant[10][11] and acted in several of their Merchant Ivory Productions films such as Shakespeare Wallah (1965), for which she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress award at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival.[12] She has appeared in dramas on stage, radio and television.[13]

In 2004 she was named an honorary Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her services to cultural relations between the United Kingdom, India and the United States, through her achievements in film, television and cookery.[14][15]

In 2006 she released a memoir of her childhood in India during the final years of the British Raj, Climbing the Mango Trees.[16][17]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Delhi (1950 - 1955) 2
  • London (1955 - 1957) 3
  • New York City (1958 - 1969) 4
  • Merchant Ivory films 5
  • Other films and television 6
  • Theatre 7
  • Cooking 8
  • Awards 9
  • Family 10
  • Bibliography 11
    • Cookbooks 11.1
    • Children's Books 11.2
    • Memoir 11.3
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Early life and education

Madhur Jaffrey was born Madhur Bahadur on 13 August 1933 in Civil Lines, Delhi into a Kayastha Hindu joint family.[18][19] She is the fifth of six children of Lala Raj Bans Bahadur (1899 - 1974) and his wife, Kashmiran Rani (1903 - 1971).[20][21] When she was about 2 years old, her father accepted a position in a family-run concern, Ganesh Flour Mills, and moved to Kanpur as the manager of a vanaspati ghee factory there.[22] At Kanpur, Madhur attended school at St. Mary’s Convent along with her 2 elder sisters, Lalit and Kamal.[23] In kindergarten at the age of 5, she played the role of the brown mouse in a musical version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.[24] The family lived in Kanpur for 8 years until her grandfather's deteriorating health caused a move back to Delhi in 1944.[25]

At Delhi, Madhur attended Queen Mary's Higher Secondary School[26] where her history teacher, Mrs McKelvie, encouraged her to participate in school plays. Madhur played the role of Titania in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream followed by the lead role in Robin Hood and His Merry Men.[27]

Madhur's brothers, Brij Bans Bahadur and Krishen Bans Bahadur, who were much older to her, were enrolled in St. Stephen's College, Delhi. Every winter, St. Stephen's students put on a Shakespearean play that she would watch avidly from the front row.[28] Madhur recalled watching Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson also perform Shakespeare at St. Stephen's College.[29]

Madhur and her cousins would regularly answer summons from the nearby All India Radio station for parts in radio plays or children's programs. As she was paid a small fee for each session, Madhur considered this to be her professional work.[30] Meanwhile, Madhur's father had moved to Daurala as general manager of Daurala Sugar Works, a factory owned by family friends, the Shri Ram family. Madhur, along with her brothers, her younger sister, Veena, and her mother remained behind in Delhi in to avoid disrupting the children's education.[31] During this period, Madhur's elder sisters were at boarding school in Nainital.[32] In the letters that they exchanged with their siblings and cousins at Delhi, they addressed each other only by their initials. This tradition cemented over time so that Madhur became M for her circle of close friends and family.[33] Madhur's father eventually returned from Daurala and joined Delhi Cloth Mills, a textile factory owned by the Shri Ram family.

Delhi (1950 - 1955)

From 1950 to 1953 Madhur attended Miranda House, a women's college, where she got a B.A. degree in English Honours with a minor in philosophy.[34] She took part in her college's all-women productions of Hamlet and The Importance of Being Earnest.[35] During college, Madhur joined the Unity Theatre, a repertory company founded by Saeed Jaffrey in 1951 in New Delhi.[36] The Unity Theatre staged only English language plays. Through her roles on stage there, Madhur discovered playwrights like Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau, Christopher Fry, and Tennessee Williams.[37] At night, she worked as a disc jockey for All India Radio, where Saeed Jaffrey was Radio Director.[29] She fell in love with Saeed and got her father's permission to marry him eventually.[29]

During this period, Madhur also met Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a British novelist who had moved to Civil Lines, Delhi after marriage to Cyrus Jhabvala, an Indian architect, in 1951.[29] Madhur answered a casting call by Ruth and went on to work with her on All India Radio plays. For her first novel, To Whom She Will (1955), Ruth based the protagonists, a young couple who work at a radio station in Delhi and fall in love, on Madhur and Saeed.[29][38] The novel was released in America the following year as Amrita.[39]

Madhur decided to pursue acting as a profession. She won a grant from the British government that she could use to pay for education at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), a drama school in UK.[40]

The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at 62 Gower Street, London WC1E 6ED.

The head of the British Council in India was impressed by her performance in Tennessee William's one-act play, Auto-da-Fé, and offered her a scholarship. Armed with these two sources of money, Madhur sailed in 1955 from Bombay on a Pacific & Oriental oceanliner to Southampton via the Suez Canal.[29]

London (1955 - 1957)

Madhur joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) with Diana Rigg, Siân Phillips and Glenda Jackson as her contemporaries.[41] She won a scholarship from RADA after an audition. This supplemented her earlier grant and scholarship. Her father would send her a small amount of money periodically and her total income proved sufficient to live modestly in London. She rented rooms from at least two different landlords before settling down in a bedsit in Brent with a young Jewish family, the Golds.[42] Her landlady, Blanche Gold, was roughly her age. Blanche had one child and another on the way.[29]

Madhur found British food and Indian restaurants of that time to be terrible.[43][44] She wrote to her mother, begging her for recipes of the home cooked meals of her childhood. Her mother responded with recipes written in Hindi on onionskin paper in letters sent via airmail. The Golds allowed her to use the kitchen and their utensils to cook her own food. The first recipe that she tried was potatoes with cumin. Next, she did a meat dish with cinnamon, cardamom and bay, a cauliflower dish, and egg curry with hard-boiled eggs. She bought pumpernickel from a neighborhood Jewish bakery as a substitute for chapatis.[42][45]

Jeera Aloo is made with potatoes (aloo), cumin (jeera) and Indian spices
Mutton curry is made with goat meat, onion, tomato and Indian spices
Aloo gobi is made with potatoes (aloo), cauliflower (gobi) and Indian spices
Egg curry is a spicy dish made with hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, and fried onions. 

In 1957 Madhur graduated from RADA with honours. After graduation, Madhur sailed across the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Mary to teach pantomime at St. Michael’s Playhouse, Winooski, Vermont.[46]

New York City (1958 - 1969)

In 1958 Madhur joined Saeed Jaffrey in Washington, D.C. where he was a drama student at Catholic University on a Fulbright scholarship. They got married and moved to New York City where they lived on 26th Street, between Sixth and Broadway. Madhur got a job as a guide to the United Nations while Saeed did public relations work for the Government of India Tourist Office. Madhur and Saeed also did Off-Broadway theatre.[47] Between 1959 and 1963 they had three daughters, Meera, Zia and Sakina. They divorced in 1965.

In 1969, Madhur married Sanford Allen, who at the time was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.[48]

Merchant Ivory films

Madhur Jaffrey is said to have been responsible for introducing James Ivory and Ismail Merchant to one another.[49] She appeared in several early Merchant Ivory films: Shakespeare Wallah (1965) (a role for which she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival),[12] The Guru (1969), Autobiography of a Princess (1976), Heat and Dust (1983), directed by Ivory, and The Perfect Murder (1988). She starred as the title character in their film Cotton Mary (1999) and co-directed it with Merchant.

Other films and television

She has appeared in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Vanya on 42nd Street (1994) and Prime (2005). She starred in and produced ABCD (1999) and guest-starred in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Name" as a psychiatrist, and the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "The Healer" as a lecturer. In 1985, she was in the Hindi film Saagar where she played the role of Rishi Kapoor's grandmother. In 1992–94 she appeared with Billie Whitelaw in the British television series Firm Friends. In 1999, she appeared with daughter Sakina Jaffrey in the film Chutney Popcorn. In 2003, she played Roshan Seth's wife in Cosmopolitan, a film broadcast on PBS. She also starred alongside Deborah Kerr in the 1985 made-for-TV movie The Assam Garden. In 2012 she played a doctor in A Late Quartet who diagnoses Christopher Walken's character with Parkinson's Disease.


In 1962, she appeared in A Tenth of an Inch Makes the Difference by Rolf Forsberg.[47] In 1969, she appeared in The Guide, based on the novel by R. K. Narayan,[50] and in 1970, she appeared in Conduct Unbecoming, written by Barry England.[51] In 1993, she appeared in Two Rooms by Lee Blessing.[52] In 1999, she appeared in Last Dance at Dum Dum by Ayub Khan-Din.[53] In 2004, Jaffrey appeared in Bombay Dreams on Broadway, where she played the main character's grandmother (Shanti).[54] In 2005, she appeared in India Awakening by Anne Marie Cummings.


Jaffrey is the author of cookbooks of Indian, Asian, and world vegetarian cuisines. Many have become best-sellers; some have won James Beard Foundation awards. She has presented cookery series on television, including Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery in 1982, Madhur Jaffrey's Far Eastern Cookery in 1989 and Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India in 1995.[55] She lives in Manhattan and has a home in upstate New York. As a result of the success of her cookbooks and TV, Jaffrey developed a line of mass-marketed cooking sauces.

Ironically, she did not cook at all as a child growing up in Delhi. She had almost never been in the kitchen and almost failed cooking at school.[56] It was only after she went to London at the age of 19 to study at RADA that she learned how to cook, using recipes of familiar dishes that were provided in correspondence from her mother.[57] Her editor Judith Jones claimed in her memoirs that Jaffrey was an ideal cookbook writer precisely because she had learned to cook childhood comfort food as an adult, and primarily from written instructions. In the 1960s, after her award-winning performance in Shakespeare Wallah, she became known as the "actress who could cook" and was hired by the BBC to present a show on Indian cooking.[58] After an article about her and her cooking appeared in the New York Times in 1966, she received a book contract that produced An Invitation to Indian Cooking, her first book.[59] The recipes in that book came from her mother, although she adapted them for the American kitchen.[60] During the 1970s, she taught classes in Indian cooking, both at the James A. Beard School of Cooking and in her Manhattan apartment. In 1986, the restaurant Dawat opened in Manhattan using recipes that she provided.[7]

The social historian Panikos Panayi described her as the doyen of Indian cookery writers, but noted that their and her influence remained limited to Indian cuisine. Panayi commented that despite Jaffrey's description of "most Indian restaurants in Britain as 'second-class establishments that had managed to underplay their own regional uniqueness'", most of her dishes too "do not appear on dining tables in India".[61]


  • Best Actress Award from the Berlin International Film Festival in 1965 for her performance in Shakespeare Wallah[12]
  • Taraknath Das Foundation Award presented by the Taraknath Das Foundation of the Southern Asian Institute of Columbia University in 1993[62]
  • Named to Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation in 1995.[63]
  • Muse Award presented by New York Women in Film & Television in 2000.[64]
  • Honorary CBE awarded on 11 October 2004 "in recognition of her services to cultural relations between the United Kingdom, India and the United States, through her achievements in film, television and cookery".[14]


Madhur is the aunt of the British journalist Rohit Jaggi[65] and his sister the literary critic Maya Jaggi, their mother being Madhur's elder sister, Lalit.[66][67]

Madhur is cousin to the late Raghu Raj Bahadur, considered to be one of the world's top theoretical statisticians,[68] and his sister, the late Sheila Dhar.[69][70] In her memoirs Here's Someone I'd Like You to Meet (1995), Sheila Dhar recounts her difficult relationship with her father, referred to as Shibbudada in Madhur's own memoirs, Climbing the Mango Trees.[71]



  • An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973) (James Beard Foundation Awards Cookbook Hall of Fame winner) – ISBN 978-0-224-01152-5
  • Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking (1981) (James Beard Foundation Awards winner) – ISBN 978-0-394-40271-0
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking (1973) – ISBN 978-0-8120-6548-0
  • Eastern Vegetarian Cooking (1983) – ISBN 978-0-09-977720-5
  • A Taste of India (1988) – ISBN 978-1-86205-098-3
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook: Easy East/West Menus for Family and Friends (1989) — ISBN 978-0-330-30635-5
  • Indian Cooking (1989) — ISBN 978-0-600-56363-1
  • A Taste of the Far East (1993) (James Beard Foundation Awards Cookbook of the Year winner) — ISBN 978-0-517-59548-0
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Spice Kitchen (1993) — ISBN 978-0-517-59698-2
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Recipes (1994) — ISBN 978-1-85793-397-0
  • Entertaining With Madhur Jaffrey (1994) — ISBN 978-1-85793-369-7
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Flavors Of India: Classics and New Discoveries (1995) — ISBN 978-0-517-70012-9
  • Cookbook Food for Family and Friends (1995) — ISBN 978-1-85813-154-2
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking (1996) — ISBN 978-0-8118-5901-1
  • The Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook: Over 650 Indian, Vegetarian and Eastern Recipes (1996) — ISBN 978-1-85501-268-4
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Illustrated Indian Cookery (1996) — ISBN 978-0-563-38303-1
  • Madhur Jaffrey Cooks Curries (1996) — ISBN 978-0-563-38794-7
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook (1998) — ISBN 978-0-09-186364-7
  • Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian (1999) (James Beard Foundation Awards winner) — ISBN 978-0-517-59632-6
  • The Essential Madhur Jaffrey (1999) — ISBN 978-0-09-187174-1
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Step-by-Step Cooking (2001) (James Beard Foundation Awards winner) — ISBN 978-0-06-621402-3
  • Foolproof Indian Cooking: Step by Step to Everyone's Favorite Indian Recipes (2002) — ISBN 978-1-55366-258-7
  • Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking (2003) — ISBN 978-0-09-188408-6
  • From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail (2003) (James Beard Foundation Awards winner) — ISBN 978-0-609-60704-6
  • Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible (2003) — ISBN 978-0-09-187415-5
  • Simple Indian Cookery (2005) — ISBN 978-0-563-52183-9
  • At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka (2010) — ISBN 978-0-307-26824-2
  • Curry Easy (2010) — ISBN 978-0-09-192314-3
  • My Kitchen Table: 100 Essential Curries (2011) — ISBN 978-0-09-194052-2

Children's Books

  • Seasons of Splendour: Tales, Myths, and Legends of India (Pavilion, 1985) — ISBN 978-0-340377260
  • Market Days: From Market to Market Around the World (1995) — ISBN 978-0-8167-3504-4
  • Robi Dobi: The Marvelous Adventures of an Indian Elephant (1997) — ISBN 978-0-8037-2193-7


  • Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India (2006) — ISBN 978-1-4000-4295-1


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  62. ^ Southern Asian Institute | About the Taraknath Das Foundation
  63. ^ Madhur Jaffrey 1995 | James Beard Foundation
  64. ^ A look back: past Muse Awards & honorees | New York Women in Film and Television
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