Ranked among the world’s top 32 chefs, entrepreneur, philanthropist and television personality, Aarthi Sampath’s culinary journey ‘started a million summers ago’ when she discovered her mother’s cookbooks and then looked at it for the first time cake that rises in the oven, and was eventually enrolled in a cooking class by her grandmother. Over the years, the chef not only cooked a sumptuous dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Billionaire’s Club Dinner” at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, launched her food truck – Kukree – in New York, and judged and participated in reality TV shows about cooking.
The future-restorer is currently writing a cookbook and dreams of opening a Restaurant in New York and Mumbai “honouring his heritage and showcasing his love for Asian-influenced cuisines”. In an exclusive email interaction with indianexpress.com, chef Aarthi talks about the many hats she wears, her experiences over the years, the appeal of Indian cuisine, cooking with leftovers, and the tips and tricks she swears by. Continue reading.
You’re a chef, restaurant consultant, food truck expert, and TV personality — which role do you enjoy most?
If I absolutely had to choose one, it would be be a cook. I love being able to be creative, mentor young talent, and create an experience for those who enjoy my food.
Tell us about your culinary journey; how and when did it start, and how has it evolved over the years?
It all really started a million summers ago when my grandmother sent me to get a cooking lessons and I fell in love and was so intrigued by the process. I started my career at Taj Hotels and those were my formative years, I had so much to learn, and then I came to America with those experiences and complemented them with my learning in school and beyond.
You often experiment with Indian flavors and techniques in your cooking. Would you agree that Indian cuisine has undergone a massive metamorphosis – if so, how?
I feel like we’re going back to how our ancestors ate! By using older grains, curing our ailments through Ayurvedic foodenjoying a good sadhya on a banana leaf. Of course, there’s also that Indian makeover, where chefs from around the world are incorporating Western techniques and using desi flavors to enhance an experience. Both are great.
You’ve competed against top chefs in Food Network’s “Chefs Tournament, Season 3.” What was your strategy/with what forces did you play?
On game shows, it’s important to be yourself and bring your personality and cooking style to stay confident. I definitely pointed out South Indian cuisine. Imagine I made “Thayir Saadam” with beets, which is yoghurt rice, and chef Eric Ripert, who was one of the judges, said it was genius.
In recent years, due to the pandemic, many people have opted for healthy eating and plant-based meats. What has been your cooking experience with the same?
In fact, I recently checked for a herbal restaurant called Bombay Sandwich Co. In New York, I love it. I grew up eating mostly plant-based, so that gets to me. That’s what most Indians grew up with, isn’t it?
The use of leftovers to concoct new dishes has also become a pandemic phenomenon. Have you experimented with leftovers to create magic? A recipe you would like to share?
Last night I cooked whole wheat Pasta and I threw it in a Chickpea and the rajma curry which I had made two nights ago. Finished with a touch of parmesan and coriander and it was fantastic!
Some tips and tricks that you swear by in your kitchen.
Using lime at the end to finish a dish let people guess what magic ingredient you added. Being organized is the biggest tip for a quick meal – have anything easily accessible/labeled and “not expired” to help you with a quick meal.
Do you think Indian cuisine has found its place on the world food map?
Absolutely! Indian cuisine has its time in America! Chefs are really honing their roots / the whole ‘Americanizing’ your food doesn’t happen anymore. In addition, the awareness of eating therapeutic foods for you is catching up rigorously. It was always the most popular cuisine in London.
The most versatile Indian condiment, in your opinion — and why?
I throw garlic chutney on anything. When I sauté any vegetable, I can add some as a seasoning. It works great as a seasoning for all meat curries – gives it great depth of flavor. Also of course love it in Vadapao.
You were a judge on a cooking reality TV show. How do you think these shows help home chefs establish their careers? How can such a platform be used to its maximum capacity?
These shows are life changing. In real life, where are you pushed to think outside the box, use Ingredients you’ve never used before and create amazing dishes! Nowhere! In reality TV shows, it’s obvious. Plus, once the home cook returns home, they often make drastic career choices by diving deep into the world of food, which definitely boosts that confidence.
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