Get to Know Palak Patel June 10, 2016
Last week, we introduced you to our friend and talented guest, Chef Palak Patel. If you were adventurous enough to enjoy her recipe for South Indian Shrimp Curry, you will definitely agree that her meal was packed with passion, inspiration, and years of expert skill.
Tell us a bit more about your food philosophy
Food 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.
When I lived in San Francisco and cooked as a personal chef, I quickly embraced 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.
How and when did you decide to become a chef?
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. I started moonlighting as a personal chef in 2006 and later completed my initial training with the acclaimed Culinary Business Academy of the United States Personal Chef Institute in San Francisco. As a personal chef in San Francisco, I specialized in creating personalized, innovative menus and elegant, catered affairs for clients ranging from small dinner parties to Fortune 1000 events. In 2010, I moved to NYC and enrolled at the prestigious French Culinary Institute to become a formally trained chef.
What do you do in your spare time to gain inspiration for new recipes?
Travel, explore and eat with locals. Traveling has opened my eyes and taste buds to different cultures and experiences. I’m a big believer that your food is a reflection of who you are and the experiences you’ve had. To me, travel and food have a direct relationship. My adventures traveling around the world have taught me new techniques and flavors that you can perceive and taste in my cooking. Even more exciting is when I get to experience an ingredient or technique for the first time. I bring that inspiration back with me and it reinvigorates my cooking style.
What has been your most memorable meal?
On a recent trip to Oman, I learned how to prepare local specialties like Chicken Kabuli (chicken with rice) and Marak Samak, a coconut curry with Kingfish. I also prepared green beans in a tomato curry with traditional accompaniments of Raita (yogurt and cucumber salad) and Rokhal, a tasty flatbread. After a long day of cooking, I was able to feast on everything we had created together overlooking a fisherman village! As I savored each bite, I came to a new appreciation for the culinary traditions of this beautiful land and the proud women from the village that showed such dedication to authentic cooking.
I fell in love with the regions cuisine, which brought me back to the familiar flavors of my childhood in India and introduced new, exotic ingredients that I am excited to use in my own kitchen.
Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes from the kitchen?
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to apply for a highly coveted internship to work in the South of France. The internship required applicants to have the ability to speak kitchen French. Having attended the French Culinary Institute, I assumed my kitchen French was fairly sufficient to qualify. Was I wrong! Day one in the bustling kitchen and the chef asked for honey also known as miel. I frantically looked around as he repeatedly asked for the honey. Finally, he walked over grabbed honey jar above me. He quickly realized how my limited French was and started speaking to me in English.
What one piece of advice would you give to home-cooks?
Keep it simple, whether it is preparation or ingredients. If you keep it simple and buy ingredients that are in season or at farmers’ markets, the food can pretty much take care of itself. Focus on simple cooking techniques like roasting, braising, marinating or sautéing. I rely heavily on fresh herbs, nuts and mix of spices to add flavor, texture and taste.