The most charismatic celebrity chef I’ve come across in recent memory is a woman named Mastanamma. She just recently turned 106. Mastanamma is based in a village called Gudivada in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where she's lived her whole life. For the past six months, she’s been the subject of quietly absorbing cooking videos broadcast on a YouTube channel called Country Foods.
The idea for this channel came from Mastanamma's great-grandson Laxman, a media professional based in Hyderabad, and his friend Srinath Reddy. When they began Country Foods eight months ago, the duo originally wanted to create a channel solely devoted to featuring bachelors cooking recipes from Andhra Pradesh. Audiences were mildly receptive to these videos, but the response was far from overwhelming.
Six months ago, though, Laxman was visiting his home village when his mother told him about a relative he hadn't seen in years, Mastanamma, and her love of cooking crab curries and quail eggs. Laxman and Reddy found her energy enchanting, so they began recording videos of her. The channel’s received wild success over the past six months, amassing 250,000 subscribers, and she's gained many devotees well outside India.
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In these videos, Mastanamma dispenses her culinary wisdom as others observe in awe. Flickers of her personal life, and the hardships she’s endured in the past century, occasionally make their way into her videos: She was married at 11, quickly became mother of five children (only one of whom survives today), and was widowed at age 22, never marrying again. Throughout this, she hasn't stopped cooking.
Below are a few videos from the channel—though, frankly, I'd give them all a watch. They're worth your time.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.