How award-winning cookbook author Mohana Gill found her voice

How award-winning cookbook author Mohana Gill found her voice

The local culinary whiz has authored 21 books to date for which she has received multiple prestigious awards and honours


An excerpt from Gill’s latest book, Leela, a memoir based on her mother’s life

AT 87, Mohana Gill remains as spirited as ever. Born and raised in Burma (now Myanmar) before the coup in 1962, she spent her early adult years teaching at University of Rangoon before taking a contract position at University of Malaya in 1966.

She would meet her husband, get married and start a family a year later. A studious person, she was raised by a single mother who emphasised the value of an education.

Gill holds a master’s degree from the University of Yangon (Rangoon), a postgraduate diploma from Manchester University and an MBA from the University of Toronto. Despite the promise of a bright career, there was nothing she wanted more than to be a mother and start a family.

“Looking back, those were the happiest years of my life,” she said during an interview with The Vibes (in conjunction with International Women’s Day yesterday).

“Being a full-time mother and being completely involved in my children’s life gave me the most satisfaction. To cook for them or play with them. It was a period of my life where I felt the most wanted and needed,” she added.

As the decades went by, and Gill’s three children would become adults of their own, she turned her attention to a new endeavour: becoming a writer.


Mohana Gill’s family, and pictures of her early life. – Pic courtesy of Mohana Gill

At this point, she had already turned 70, and her ambitions when shared were met with incredulity and scepticism. But she had the support of her husband, who encouraged her to follow her dreams.

“I had full support from my husband, and he was very encouraging. He was always reassuring throughout those early days of my writing process and would cheer me on.”

Despite the challenges she faced, Mohana persevered and continued to chase her dreams. She described how the entire process seemed monumental and completely foreign to her.

“I had to do a lot of research. I had no idea what publishing a book would entail. I did not even know what ‘fonts’ were! I had to learn what format would suit the book best.

“I thought in the beginning, that I was so smart, that I could just sit down and write a book just like that,” she said snappily.

She would get support from family and within the span of a year, would publish her first coffee table cookbook called ‘Fruitastic!’ published and distributed by MPH.


Gill’s first book ‘Fruitastic!’. – Mohanagill.com pic

The almost encyclopaedic volume covers culinary dishes made entirely using fruits as a main ingredient, their history and significance within the Southeast Asian region.

“For me, cooking is not only a hobby but a passion,” she explains. Gill turned decades of experience as a mother, cooking for her family and poured it into her cookbooks. ‘My mother’s jackfruit pickle’, an entry within the book reads.

Many of the recipes occupy special meaning to her since like family heirlooms, it was passed down to her by her own mother.

Her passion and curiosity for food started early when she would walk into a kitchen while it was being prepared and taste the final outcome. Many of the recipes listed were the results of experiments too.

“I think the most exciting thing about writing a cookbook is to present to the world a completely new cuisine, a new idea or mixing and matching of ingredients which anyone can look for and prepare as they wish.”

“You colour it the way you want to, mixing and matching colours and doing whatever you like. I look at a recipe that I think looks good and then I change it, add, or subtract some ingredients, and come up with something a little different,” she explained.

The book was well-received, winning multiple awards. Within a year later, she would publish a second book, this time dedicated to her son, Sanjeev, who adopted a vegetarian diet.

‘Vegemania!’ became a popular item on MPH’s catalogue the year it was published and recognised as the “Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World” by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.


Gill winning the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2014. – Mohanagill.com pic

Throughout her career as a culinary author, Gill would emphasise the importance of a healthy diet. Her cookbooks, 20 of them to date, centre on mostly plant-based recipes.

As she herself puts it, “My mission is to share information and knowledge while encouraging readers to eat healthily for wellness and longevity.”

Gill’s latest book, Leela, records the journey of love, faith, and perseverance of her mother, a young widow in pre-war Myanmar.

The book, published by Partridge, is a moving memoir and chronicles her roots. In the book’s epilogue, she writes, “Nothing rattled her, nothing could bring her spirits down, and nothing stood in her way when she set her mind to it.

“When I look back on my mother’s life, I marvel at how much she achieved through sheer hard work, faith, and perseverance… My mother demonstrated that money is not everything; people respect and admire you for what you do, not how much you have.”

source – The Vibes

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