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Drishti Bodhraj Premprakashi

JWB Blogger

Junoon’s Head Chef Aarthi Tells JWB What’s Cooking For PM Modi

  • JWB Post
  •  August 15, 2016


She breaks the glass ceiling; I break glasses. She cooks escargot; I cook maggi. This is my version of Taylor Swift’s, ‘You Belong With Me’. ‘s talent is like a kick in my butt! I know you’re curious about who she is.

Well, Aarthi is the head chef at Vikas Khanna‘s Junoon in New York. WHAAAAT?! I mean, it is so inspiring to see how her skills took her to New York from IHM Jaipur! To add more to her list of accomplishments, Aarthi also won a US based cooking show called ‘Chopped’ recently.

Anyway, my curiosity for Aarthi pulled me to her. Not to New York, but Facebook. Sorry to disappoint you there, but I guarantee you that Aarthi won’t.

What was the first dish you’ve ever cooked in your life? How did people react to it?

I baked a chocolate cake. More than anyone, when I saw those simple ingredients of flour, sugar, butter, eggs transform into this magical fluffy sweet goodness, I was so ecstatic.

Niiice! Mine was toast.

One lesser known fact about Chef Vikas Khanna?

He loves iced caramel macchiato from Star Bucks. That will make him happy any time of the day.

*Sigh* I’d try it if only coffee didn’t give me anxiety.

He said that when judging a dish, he looked for taste, temperature and texture. What three things do you look for?

Wow! I look for the same. Like teacher like student!

From your cooking show, Chopped: One onion-like memory?

When I saw escargot, I was skeptical as I had never cooked those before. Escargots are snails; they taste like clams but milder.

Es-Car-Goh! Sorry, the accents are working up again. [tongue out emoji]

One honey-like memory?

The best memory was when I danced a Bharatnatyam step right at the end when they announced me as the winner.

Did you work on Vikas Khanna Team for Hosting State dinners for Barack Obama?

I hadn’t joined Junoon then.

One moment of passion boiling within you while on the cooking show?

In the entree round, I did the dish which was dedicated to my mother. I incorporated the way she fries fish, and I made bread upma.

Have you ever been chopped by comments from men?

My journey has been tough as it is for any woman in a male dominated industry. I have been condemned, talked down to, dismissed. It has only made me stronger.

What was the sourest comment you’ve received from men?

During my early years, a male chef told me that I was wasting my time in the kitchen because eventually, I would have to settle down, have babies !!

*Growls and stares at sexists*

Tell us some Behind The Stove Secrets of Mr. Narendra Modi’s dinner?

It was one of the most rigorous processes for the menu to get approved. The scrupulous process of creating every unique dish, a million trials and tests and rejections until we came up with the perfect menu. We worked 18 hours straight to prep for the grand night.

What is one upcoming culinary trend in your opinion?

The best trend is bringing regional cuisines to the forefront. Also, farm to table concepts where there is a direct connect with freshly grown produce that reaches the restaurants directly.

One lesson you think food schools should teach?

Culinary colleges should definitely emphasize the fact that it is a passion-driven industry, the hours are very long, and it takes years to reach success. It is definitely not an industry which has instant gratification.

What one dish perfectly describes the fusion between Indian and Western cultures?

The tikka masala obviously !!! Creamy tomato sauce with charcoal smoke flavored chicken thighs. The only dish that criss crosses all boundaries.

One Indian recipe that west should discover?

The west should explore Kashmiri cuisine more. The flavors are subtle, the ingredients used are beautiful which is very in sync with the west.

One spice every kitchen should have?

Turmeric: It is a healing spice, anti-cancerous and anti-inflammatory.

And, you can use it when you get married, lel.

Your career is in the making. What cooking process is it undergoing? Boiling, steaming or frying?

It is simmering, waiting to boil over !!!

One superfood you believe in?

Bananas !!! They are a complete meal.

If you could use only one vessel to cook all your food in, what would it be?

A heavy bottom stainless steel pot. Nothing scorches, it acts nonstick.

One food you never share?

A single origin bar of 70 percent dark Chocolate.

My trainer never lets me eat anything with less than 90 percent cocoa in it.

If you were stranded on an island with a lifetime supply of one food, what would it be?

Appams and ishtew. I can eat that all day, every day.

One advice for Indian households to evolve the Indian cuisine?

Do away with too many spices and focus on the quality of the ingredient. Do not over-cook vegetables!!

What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Rattlesnake. Yup, I ate rattlesnake. It actually tasted good, like boney chicken.

I do not know how to react to that. Aarthi just went full Bear Grylls.

As Chef Gusteau in Ratatouille said, ‘Anyone can cook.’ Do you believe in that?

I would rephrase that, “Anyone who has the passion for learning, has the will to learn from masters and practices the craft every day can cook.”

Your favorite food-based movie?

Julie and Julia: An inspiring movie for women who want to pursue culinary arts.

Have you encountered an angry food critic?

Not yet. Even if I do, I will invite them back and calm them down with a delicious dish.

What is next on your plate?

I am looking forward to cooking more innovative food and possibly challenge myself with another competition.

Can you share one mother’s recipe with Team JWB?

Amma’s infamous Pepper Goat Chops

5 pc. red onions sliced
1 pc. cinnamon
1 tbsp fennel powder
1 tbsp black pepper powder
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
1 tsp ginger chopped
1 tsp garlic chopped
2 pc. ripe tomatoes chopped
1-5 kg goat chops cleaned
10 pc curry leaves
3 tbsp oil

1. Heat oil, saute onions till golden, add the cinnamon. Add ginger, garlic, saute till golden and add the rest of the spices. Throw in tomatoes and the goat together. Season well.
2. Allow to cook on the lowest heat for 40 minutes to an hour.

Sluuuuuurrrrpp! Oh wait, I am a vegetarian. FML.

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