Palak knows how to cut to the chase when it comes to good food. Photo credit: Adam Milliron

Behind the Plate: 18 Questions for Chef Palak Patel

Don’t mess with this culinary powerhouse! Chef Palak Patel @palaknyc may be relatively new on the scene, but she’s already one heck of a lady boss — she took down Bobby Flay on the Food Network, and battled it to the top on Chopped! How? Big heart and good intentions, a lot of talent, and a world of inspiration. Now she’s the one to inspire us, and we can’t wait to see what she’s up to next!

Q: How do you define good food?
A: Good food is simple, but packed with flavor. To me good food also creates connections, and it’s how I show love. I grew up in a large Indian family where daily meals were the center of our day. Having grown up with Indian spices and bold ingredients, I enjoy incorporating these ideas into everyday cooking to create delectable, healthy dishes that deliver big flavors.

Q: Food issues have not quite made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
A: Addressing the increasing role that corporations have on our food system. We must understand where our food comes from. Right now, we’re headed toward a future where decisions about our food are decided in closed boardrooms by executives putting profits before people.

Q: Tell us about something you’re working on right now.
A: I’ve partnered with a large meal kit company to create my take on healthy Indian-inspired recipes. I’ll also get an opportunity to create some fun videos in the process.

Q: Are you making a food resolution this year? If so, what is it?
A: My food resolution this year is to learn more about the connection between food and healing. The inherent connection between the food we eat and how it determines our health and general well-being.

Q: If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
A: Reduce their meat consumption! Even if it means replacing a single meat meal with a vegetarian option. That’s a start.

Q: Who inspired you to become a chef?
A: My mom! Born and raised in India, my culinary adventures started as a young girl where I played the sous-chef to my mother as she prepared the family’s daily meals.

Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being in the food business?
A: Helping others by making and sharing my food. Also just being surrounded by passionately talented people. The ability to transform my passion into a business is extremely gratifying.

Q: What do you find the hardest about being in the food business?
A: The policies that govern our food system vs. the rest of the world. It feels daunting at times to tackle so many issues.

Q: March was just National Nutrition Month. What’s one good-food aspect of your diet that packs some nutritious punch?
A: I cook with seasonal produce because it inevitably has an impact on taste. To me, this is key to more nutritious and flavorful meals. Whether you eat it raw, cooked, pickled or steamed, the taste of something in season is undisputed.

Q: What’s your favorite meal-on-the-go: what do you make?
A: Grain bowls. Easy to prep, easy to make, and even easier to consume on the go.

Q: What was your biggest #foodfail?
A: Generally baking. But my biggest fool fail happened in Paris while I was attempting to make meringues for a French-Indian pop-up dinner. Meringues have a reputation for being easy to make, but that night things got surprisingly complicated for a dish containing just two ingredients! I calculated the conversions incorrectly, plus using a French oven made my meringues lifeless and flat. Needless to say, I proceeded to crumble them and presented the dessert as “deconstructed”.

Q: Top three herbs, in order of importance?
A: Cilantro, thyme, mint

Q: What’s always in your fridge?
A: Tahini, capers, Sichuan pepper oil and Champagne.

Q: Most underrated spice?
A: Cardamom

Q: Are there any personal beliefs that you have on the overall food system that make their way into your everyday business (e.g., curbing food waste, sustainable sourcing, local sourcing)? Do tell.
A: When I lived in San Francisco and cooked as a personal chef, I became enamored with the Community Supported Agriculture movement. I began to incorporate freshly picked and locally grown organic produce into my menus, which brought about a palatable change in my cuisine.

Q: What’s your favorite indulgent treat?
A: Warm bread pudding.

Q: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
A: Cooking is my second career, so I’m doing exactly what I want!

Q: Your good food wish?
A: My good food wish is to educate everyone about the importance of cooking/eating produce that’s in season and, when possible, sourced from sustainable farms and ranches in the area. Produce, grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy products — good clean food has changed me.

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