Indian Food on YouTube: The Vah Reh Vah Chef

Chef Sanjay Thumma is my current favorite time suck.

It's refreshing to watch someone demonstrate mouth-watering dishes with uninhibited joy, a matter-of-fact globalism and minimal make-up. It helps that I love so many cuisines in India, but what immediately appealed to me is his stance as a teacher. It's a very different experience to learn about traditional foods from someone who assumes, from the beginning, that his audience is not comprised of outsiders. Like a student whose teacher sets high expectations, viewers and home cooks rise to the challenge.

His balance of expert advice with friendly reassurance is neither oversimplified nor condescending. He's a professional who knows his stuff, yet he doesn't gleam with that over-polished, over-packaged look of television. Each video, from 2 to 10 minutes, covers one specific dish -- just enough for a mouth-watering work break if not dinner inspiration.

Don't expect super-high production value. Two still cameras and a complete lack of location shots does not a sexy food show make. But what Thumma's demos lack in glamour, he more than makes up with passionate enthusiasm (a taste of Hydrabadi mutton biryani literally brings him to tears), humor and generosity. Both veg and non-veg recipes appear in his demos, and he discusses the food of diverse communities across India.

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Thumma seamlessly blends traditional techniques and modern adaptations. His simple yet brilliant two-step rice cooking for biryani ensures perfectly cooked basmati throughout the pot. His secret ingredient for butter chicken reveals the wonderful ways that food crisscrosses the oceans. Mentioning Indian restaurant cooks in the U.S. and England, Thumma holds up a bottle of "tomato ketchup" and squirts some into his sauce to finish it with just the right texture and tangy flavor.

While cooks already familiar with basic Indian spices will have a headstart, the demonstrations are geared to beginners, whether you're mixing your first raita, simmering a batch of comforting chana masala, making your own herb-infused paneer or--for the ambitious--rolling and stretching roomali roti to serve with kebabs.

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There are many, many cooks demonstrating recipes on YouTube. I'm looking forward to watching the better ones emerge as new stars of the wide, wild culinary world.

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