Urvashi Pitre is known as “The Butter Chicken Lady,” but it should really be “Dr. Butter Chicken Lady.”
The social media juggernaut, Instant Pot Indian food queen and cookbook author also holds a doctorate in experimental psychology and has run several businesses in marketing and statistical analytics, including Tasseologic, of which she is CEO.
Her cooking blog, “two sleevers.com,” is a hobby (for now), yet it receives a million visitors a month, and her Facebook group has about 24,000 very active and engaged users. Her butter chicken recipe for the Instant Pot went viral last year, earning her the “Butter Chicken Lady” moniker, and since then she’s been featured in The New Yorker.
“It’s been an interesting journey because I didn’t start to do it for this,” she says. “I was stressed about my real job and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just cook to relax.’ I can’t do anything calmly though, I’ve got to become really good at it.”
The self-proclaimed gadget geek applies her passion for science and businesslike efficiency to cooking. She doesn’t like long lists of ingredients, fussy cooking steps or messing up multiple pots, which is why she abandoned traditional Indian recipes and developed ones for quick- cooking, one-pot electric pressure cookers and air fryers.
Her fans religiously follow her Facebook Live PowerPoint presentations about lentils and “science-y videos” on how to not burn things.
“I love to teach,” Pitre says. “Look, I do statistics for a living. How many people understand the longitudinal time series model—nobody! So I have to explain that to my clients in a way that doesn’t make them feel stupid.”
But what makes Pitre so successful is not just her cooking knowledge, heavily tested recipes and get-it-done drive. It’s her very human and approachable style, her humor, her life struggles and her understanding of what people really need. And she offers so much more than butter chicken.
“At the end of the day, my job is to empower you to be able to cook, not to be dependent on my recipes,” she says. “That’s not a sustainable solution for anybody.”
Pitre runs her hobby-turned- empire from her home in Keller, Texas. She came to the United States 30 years ago from India with two suitcases, $20 and the promise of a scholarship to Texas Christian University.
She’s been a single, working mother who didn’t have time to cook and whose young son at the time yelled “PIZZA!” every time the doorbell rang.
She has rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it difficult to chop vegetables or open a jar of sauce.
And she’s struggled with her weight, which prompted her (and her husband) to get gastric sleeve surgery four years ago—hence, her blog’s name. They now eat mostly a low-carb, ketogenic diet, which means high fat, moderate protein and few calories, and together have lost about 175 pounds.
“My husband’s take is: ‘We can barely eat, so what difference does it make,’ but my thing is, ‘We can barely eat, so everything we eat has to be really, really good.”
Pitre was born to a military family in New Delhi. Her mother, a major in the army, insisted that her children learn to cook. “Her thing was, you don’t know what life is going to hand you, and you guys might not be able to afford what we do, times change, you have to be self-sufficient.”
Arthritis influences Pitre’s easy-as-possible cooking style, which has drawn others with conditions like fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. “With the butter chicken recipe, you don’t have to cut anything,” she says. “And if your hands are swollen or whatever, you can just throw things in.”
Pitre uses all fresh ingredients except for vegetables, which she buys frozen so that it’s more convenient and there’s no chopping required.
Pitre’s kitchen is a home cook’s dream, with racks of spices, multiple Instant Pots and air fryers. But her pantry staples are carefully edited down to seven whole spices and five or six lentils and grains. “If you buy those you can make all 55 things in the cookbook,” she says of her Indian Instant Pot Cookbook.
“I always have gochujang, Chinese black bean paste, soy sauce, cooking wine, all these things that are umami flavored and penetrate meat,” she says.
The key to her cooking is saving time.
“There are dishes in India that would take you hours to make,” she says. “I experimented and figured out that you can just dump it in the pressure cooker and walk away and come back 10 minutes later. Stuff like that, that turns me on.”