Vairavan is the kind of person who greets you with a hug, not a
I arrived at her
home in Whitefish Bay on a sunny December morning and was welcomed
inside with a warm smile and gentle embrace. And although Vairavan is
best known locally for her culinary talent, it soon became clear that
her kind nature, passionate spirit and zest for life have contributed
to her success, too.
to the United States from India in the early 1970s, a time when she
knew "absolutely nothing" about cooking. "I didnít
even know how to make a cup of coffee or tea!" she laughs. But
after encountering what she describes as "bland" American
fare, Vairavan found herself missing her native countryís
flavor-packed foods, so she began working with a professional chef to
learn how to cook with various spices. "Necessity, they say, is
the mother of invention," she quips.
and a 30-plus-year career in health care later, Vairavan quit her day
job to pursue her culinary passion full time. "On the day I
resigned, I got a phone call from a reporter at USA Today, asking if
she could interview me about my cookbooks and recipes," she
remembers. "I immediately knew it was my calling."
She has since
authored three additional cookbooks, contributed to two others, and
currently stars in her own TV series, "Healthful Indian Flavors
with Alamelu." The seriesí third season premiered on Jan. 3 on
MPTV (channel 10), and the show is also broadcast nationally on Create
TV. Vairavan specializes in vegetarian-friendly recipes, so the series
focuses on the preparation of these healthful dishes. "Iíve
found a lot of joy in teaching people how to take any vegetable and
cook them with flavors," she says, adding that she incorporates
spices and legumes into her dishes to enhance their taste.
quick to add that many of her recipes require only one pot or pan and
take no more than 20 minutes to prepare. "People say they donít
have time to cook, right? They eat everything on the go. When youíre
young, itís OK, but as you age, what happens? Diabetes,
hypertension, heart disease, cancer, etc. Eating highly processed
foods, which are packed with salt and fat, just add to the risk,"
she explains emphatically.
And in Janaury
2013, Vairavan experienced the power of a healthy diet firsthand, when
she was struck by a pick-up truck while out walking. Badly broken and
bruised, she spent 40 days in the hospitalís trauma unit and 18
months undergoing an intense rehab and physical therapy program.
"My doctors called me a miracle, saying that I healed well
because I was eating right and exercising," she says.
stresses that while cooking is undoubtedly a skill worth learning, itís
also one that bonds people together. "Cooking is love," she
adds. "Healthy can be delicious, and health is wealth. That is my
A mantra that
she practices daily, no doubt. As I was about to drive away from her
home later that day, I noticed Vairavan walking toward my car,
signaling me to wait. She disappeared to the trunk of her car and
emerged with her latest cookbook, a collection of gluten-free dishes.
I rolled down my car window, and she slipped the book into my hands,
recalling my earlier comment about how I love to cook. "Keep
cooking!" she said, smiling generously. I returned the smile,
thanked her and pulled away. A skill that bonds people together,
indeed. To learn more about Vairavan and her show, visit
www.curryonwheels.com or www.mptv.org.