Ruchita Green

Aug 2, 2021Grimbarians - People

Ruchita Green is incredibly passionate about the power of food – how dishes filled with flavour and nourishment can bring joy to people and create happy memories. Since moving to Grimsby, this chef, published author, and business owner listed in the top 100 women in business 2021 (F:Entrepreneur) has enabled the people of our hometown to create their own food stories through homecooked feasts and authentic Indian cuisine experiences. As food is a basic human need, Ruchita believes in cookery knowledge for all, and this is why she is a proud honourary Grimbarian.

How did Grimsby become your home?

I was born in Pune, India and grew up there surrounded by a large extended family. I moved to Manchester in 2005 to pursue a Masters in Creative Writing, and fell in love with the UK. My hometown is a vibrant, multicultural city with a beautiful balance of the traditional and modern. I found Manchester quite similar, especially as both cities also have a lot of universities and students from all over the world.

I met my husband in Manchester, but around 2007, there weren’t many jobs. In hindsight, it was definitely a warning sign of the looming recession. Darren had a job here, in Grimsby, that he could apply for, so we moved to Cleethorpes. He had previously worked in the area, and had a house here, so it made practical sense.

To be completely honest, I experienced a bit of a cultural shock when we moved here. It felt like a complete contrast to the life I had become used to in Manchester. For what seemed like years, I did not see another Indian or non-white person. I loved being by the seaside, and personally have always preferred a quieter pace of life. In that respect, Grimsby and Cleethorpes were ideal. So, the first 2-3 years were bittersweet. I loved being here, but missed the multiculturalism.

Grimbarians exhibition, July to October 2019, Grimsby. Copyright Grimbarians 2019.
Grimbarians exhibition, July to October 2019, Grimsby - copyright Grimbarians 2019

Food seems like a big part of your family life, what is it about cookery that inspires you?

Everything about food and cooking inspires me! The fact that you can take different ingredients or objects and bring them together in one delicious pot that not only fills you, but creates all sorts of wonderful sensations is mind-blowing. All over the world, people have found ways to make some weird and wonderful ingredients taste and look fantastic. Food is one of the basic human needs, and to be able to give someone pleasure or satisfaction through it is the best feeling in the world.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved cooking. My grandmother and aunties used it as a great distraction technique when I was little. Give me a doughball and a rolling pin, and I was a happy child! I spent many hours in my grandmother’s kitchen, just enjoying the different smells and processes that come with Indian food. My mum is a really good cook too, so when I grew up, I wanted to cook like her. People were amazed at the flavours she created, and I wanted to be able to do that. As the eldest of three, I assisted with family meals from a young age, and really enjoyed it. By the time I was 15-16, my mum could tell me to have dinner ready for everyone if she was going to be out. I think it is a basic life skill that we should all have. It has helped me tremendously with my physical and mental health, but also economically. When money is tight, knowing how to create something from basic ingredients can make a huge difference.

Having grown up in a country where the disparity between the rich and poor is so glaringly obvious, food to me has always felt like something that could work at bridging the gap. Those of us who can, must work at providing this very basic human need in any way possible. Here in Grimsby, we have some fantastic organisations that do that every single day. I try and do my best to support them, because I genuinely believe no one should go to bed hungry. Food has the unique ability to soothe the body and the soul if it is cooked with love and compassion.

I have always encouraged my children to cook with me. More than creating great tasting food, I hope they will feel confident in a kitchen. To my mind, cooking is one of the easiest ways of showing love – not only are you offering food, but it says that you have also committed your time to nourish someone. 

Tell us a bit about your career and how you came to create Masala Masters. How does it feel to share your food memories and introduce family recipes with people in the area?

It feels as though I have taken the scenic route to finally settling on something I am truly passionate about and good at! I started as a journalist in India after completing a degree in English literature. I had dreams of becoming a famous novelist, and moved to the UK to do that. Writing has and always will be a part of me. I express myself better through writing, and so tried to work in areas where I could write. I volunteered with different organisations in Grimsby as a writer and public relations officer, worked as a freelance journalist for a few years which gave me some great opportunities to work all over the country, until eventually working with the local Estuary TV as a reporter and presenter.

It was after having my second child that I wanted to do something to fit around the family. Cooking for people has always been a passion, and I constantly missed food from home – not just Indian food, but proper home-cooked food in its abundance and variety. Having moved from Manchester – home of the curry mile – to Cleethorpes, I missed having access to specialist ingredients and some street food that was a lot more common in bigger cities. The only way to get it was to cook it myself. I have also always loved entertaining. My mother-in-law used to tease me and say, “stop making people feel so welcome, so that don’t always end up at yours.” I can’t help it, it’s in my blood! In a conversation with a dear friend, we visualised this amazing business that combined cooking and entertaining, where there was plenty of hearty home-cooked food for everyone to enjoy. That’s how Masala Masters was created. There are lots of fantastic Indian caterers and restaurants within reach. But, I wanted to bring the joy of Indian cooking to you and give you the confidence to create some sensational flavours in your own kitchen. I learned to cook by watching my mum, grandma, and aunties. In my opinion, it is the best way to learn. Masala is the term used for the component that gives flavour to food – be it ground spices, or a paste. Masala Masters is named as such because it aims to make you a master of masalas.

We started in 2014, gradually building social media by sharing lesser known recipes and easy techniques. The business eventually took off in late 2016, and we haven’t looked back since. It has been such a joy and privilege to be welcomed into people’s homes for their celebrations. I take it as a real honour to be part of intimate groups of friends and family, making their evenings a little bit special by sharing my food and stories with them. I feel lucky that the business has been welcomed with so much warmth and love, and become a truly Grimsby business.    

 

What has been your favourite career moments so far?

Am I being really difficult by saying that every private evening is a highlight? I absolutely love cooking with people. To watch them taste something they may not have before, and know that it has come from my heritage and family is a feeling that will never get old.

Having said that, there have been some totally “wow” moments, like getting our first physical space at The E-factor Enterprise Village; or cooking for James Martin’s crew when he was showing at Grimsby Auditorium; and then the completely incredible opportunity to cook for Bastille at the end of 2019. In 2018, Masala Masters was named as one of the 100 top small businesses by Small Business Saturday which celebrates small businesses from across the country. In January 2021, I was named among 100 female entrepreneurs from across the UK in their #iAlso100 campaign. It highlights women in business who also have many other roles to play in life and the community. I have had some great opportunities to work with local businesses and charities, each of them promoting the community spirit in this town. I feel incredibly honoured to be able to contribute.

One of my personal achievements that still feels surreal is writing my first cookbook. Writing and cooking – two of my most precious passions – have come together in a rather emotional package. Love, Comfort, Passion, Craving has been brewing in my mind for nearly 4 years, but it felt like the right time to finish it, specially as everyone seems to have started looking at home cooking in a new light since the pandemic. The book has some very personal recipes which are attached to equally special memories of growing up in India, and I hope it makes people think of their own food stories. We all have them. 

After taking a rather long break through maternity and the pandemic, we had a fantastic weekend back – representing Grimsby at Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival in July. It was a high energy weekend conducting cooking workshops with over 300 people and spreading the love of homecooked Indian food. I’d say that was the most recent highlight, and I’m sure it isn’t going to be the last.

If you could give advice to anyone who wants to develop their cooking skills, what would you tell them?

Make mistakes, experiment, cook with your hands – really feel the ingredients. Connection with food makes such a difference to our mental well-being. I truly believe that. It can be cathartic and fulfilling, so don’t be afraid of it. Start small, and go at your own pace. Cook what you love and it will make you love what you cook. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m not allowed to cook frozen pizza in our house because I always burn it. ALWAYS.

 

Does Grimsby play a part in your recipes at all?

Full disclosure – I had never tasted fish before moving to Cleethorpes. My first experience of fish and chips on the seaside made me fall in love with it. Grimsby and the availability of fresh fish from the docks has helped me push my boundaries with food. A whole new world seemed to open up. Not just the fishmongers, but the people of Grimsby themselves know a lot more about seafood than I do, and so it has been great to incorporate that into my cooking. Haddock is now part of our menu, in a variety of dishes. Having access to sea food has encouraged me to experiment with recipes which will highlight the fish. Last year, we cooked alongside Patrick Salmon of Alfred Enderby to adapt what is traditionally a creamy, vegetarian curry into the most delectable smoked haddock and pea curry.

Freeman Street Market also plays a significant part in the Masala Masters story. It was in March 2018 that I started doing weekly cooking demonstrations on the market, buying fresh ingredients from the stalls and cooking up tasters for anyone who wanted to stop by. Soon, people got used to seeing me there and came along on a Friday lunchtime to see what I was up to. As more and more food vendors have joined the market since, it is now a real destination for local independent food businesses, alongside the produce stalls that have been there for decades. As a collective, a group of us started the Great Grimsby Food Fight in 2019, with Freeman Street Market being the centre of it for the first few months. Hopefully, we can take it to other venues once the world settles into a more open routine.

Grimbarians exhibition, July to October 2019, Grimsby. Copyright Grimbarians 2019.

“The first few years were tough, there is no denying that. I had started to question the move from Manchester because there were fewer opportunities for work and socialisation. However, I have grown to love the area. The people are warm and welcoming (once they get to know you!), the business community is supportive, the villages are stunning, and I feel we can give our children a great quality of life here. Over the years, I have had more and more chances to work with different community groups raising awareness about important issues, supporting charities that work for local people, and adding to the cultural quotient of the town. It is what helps me feel part of a society that I was once a stranger to, and has made Grimsby my home. It is a great place to live and work in, if you’re willing to work with it.”