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A Skill Worth Learning

Photo courtesy of MPTV

February 2015

Alamelu Vairavan is the kind of person who greets you with a hug, not a handshake.

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.

Vairavan moved 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.

Two cookbooks 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.

Vairavan is 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.

Vairavan also 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 mantra."

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 or

This story ran in the February 2015 issue of: