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Cookbook and Movie Icon Madhur Jaffrey Craves Pasta But Eats Tuna Salad on Set

The famous chef and actor is still getting a hang of the LA dining scene

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Original photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Over the last five decades, Madhur Jaffrey has bounced between the world’s of acting and cooking, starring in dozens of acclaimed films and culinary shows, while also publishing some of the cookbook canon’s most essential guides to Indian cuisine. This year, she embarked on a new adventure: joining the cast of NBC’s Amy Poehler-produced sitcom I Feel Bad. Jaffrey plays Maya, the quick-witted, often outspoken mother of protagonist Emet. Madhur tends to get the best jokes on the show, and she lands every one of those punchlines with aplomb.

As a culinary icon who’s now entering a new chapter of her storied career, Jaffrey seemed like the perfect fit for The Famous Original Eater Questionnaire. During a set break between shooting scenes for new episodes of I Feel Bad, Jaffrey kindly answered a few of our questions about eating, drinking, and the food memories that will stay with her forever.

Welcome to the Famous Original Eater Questionnaire. What’s the last thing that you ate? Madhur Jaffrey: The last thing I ate was offered to me on the set here, and it was a tuna salad sandwich. It was actually quite good. Not the kind I’d make, but it was still very good.

What was the last thing you drank?
Coffee. Good coffee.

Do you have any dining plans for when you’re in the acting mode? Is there anything you try to eat?
I tend to cook for myself, and I will cook simple things. Maybe some grilled fish and some simply-cooked vegetables or a potato or something like that. It will be a full meal — I like to eat a proper dinner. But it might be very simple. It might not be Indian, but it could be. At least once a week, I will make something that’s Indian that will last me a few days.

What do you want to eat right this second?
I want to eat what I shouldn’t eat, like a tall bowl of very nice pasta of some kind.

Do you have a favorite place in Los Angeles to get something like that?
No, I don’t know Los Angeles. I don’t know where to eat. I feel like Los Angeles is made up of all kinds of chain stores, so I have no idea where to go here. I mean, I’ve looked up people’s lists of best restaurants, and some are okay, but I feel like New York has very, very good restaurants.

What is your favorite strange food combination?
I don’t know what you call “strange.”

Perhaps something you’d make for yourself, but you’d never serve to someone else.
Well there’s this Indian combination of things which I love, which is familiar to me, which I had at home as a kid, and that’s rice and dal, and then I make a beet with just a few spices and just a little tomato with a sauce. So I combine that sauce with the dal and I put it on my rice, and I like this combination of the two things together — the beet sauce.

That sounds very good.
It is excellent. Spicy and tomatoey, but a thin sauce.

Do you have a desert island recipe? Something you would cook for the rest of your life?
It might be one of Julia Child’s recipes. It would be a French or Italian recipe, or an Indian one. But the other thing I could do any day is have sushi. I don’t tend to make it at home, but I do often get, like, poke or something — Hawaiian-style. That, over rice, I love.

Your resume has so many different movies. But what does it feel like to be on a sitcom in 2018?
I love comedy. But if somebody said “Do Macbeth,” I’d love to do tragedy. It doesn’t really matter, if it’s good quality. And this show is wonderful. Our show I Feel Bad is just wonderfully written. It’s hilarious, very funny. So I’m enjoying doing the comedy.

If you could bring any now-closed restaurant back to life, which one would it be?
Oh gosh. I was thinking of this and I can’t remember the name. It was a restaurant in New York, where Babbo is today, and it was owned by Leon Lianides [ed note: Coach House]. I would love to get that back. They had the best crab cakes in the world.

What’s your favorite drink?
Whiskey. A Scottish whisky of some kind.

What’s your “Proust’s madeleine,” the food or drink that instantly brings back memories for you?
Basmati rice and a good dal is my madeline.