You probably remember Aarti Sequeira from Seaon 6 of the Food Network's Next Food Network Star, where she won gold and got her own TV show. Now, the famed chef is starting a brand new program on the Cooking Channel, which airs each Friday at 9pm, called Taste in Translation. On her new show, Aarti explores the most popular dishes from around the world, as well as the history and culture behind them. From Thailand to the United States, Aarti gives viewers the chance to discover new flavors and recipes from coast to coast. We got to chat with Aarti all about her new show and some of her favorite dishes she got to try while filming.
How did Taste in Translation come about? Cooking Channel approached me with the concept, and I loved everything about it -- the aspect of bringing people together by exploring how different cultures around the world celebrate the same occasion through food. It's not only a way for food folks to learn about new dishes, but it's also a way to learn a little something about the culture that gave birth to those dishes. One dish that comes to mind is Chinese Long Life Noodles; these are presented to a father or a mother on their 60th birthday by their children. The long noodles symbolize a long, prosperous life. The older you are, the grander and more elaborate the celebration. What a different way to experience getting older! In Western culture, we dread getting older and sometimes even pretend that it isn't happening. In traditional Chinese culture, it's celebrated and lauded and esteemed. We could learn a thing or two from them, don't you think?!
How did you come up with the concept for the show - why did you want to focus on international cooking? I've bounced around a few different cultures in my life, and I feel richer for it. I am Indian by birth and blood, but Dubai is really my home. I attended a Brit-run school there, so my days were such an amalgam of global culture; I'd be woken up in the morning by the neighbourhood imam singing the Call to Prayer. Then I'd say my morning prayers (our family is from a Catholic part of India, which was colonised by the Portugese, hence my last name). Breakfast (usually Kellogg's Corn Flakes!) was accompanied by a strong cup of Indian tea, and the entertainment section of the newspaper (which covered all the latest TV and film news from the States)... followed by the bus ride to school, listening to all the music topping the British charts. And that's even before seeing my friends who hailed from as far as Slovenia and Madagascar! So you can say that I have a thing for international cooking, culture, music... the whole kit and kaboodle. We're all one big dysfunctional family at the end of the day, right?
Does your Indian background have a big influence on your cooking? Huge. I come from a food-obsessed family, whose vacations and weekends were planned around meals. My mum is a tremendous cook, whose shrimp biryani was near-legendary in Dubai. When I started to cook (which was a few years after graduating from college), I found that my Indian meals weren't turning out like hers. Since she was so far away and there weren't many good resources here as far as Indian cooking goes, I turned to books and shows about Western-style cooking. It wasn't long before I started throwing a pinch of coriander in here, a teaspoon of turmeric there... and that's how my cooking style was born!
What was your favorite dish you tried while filming? And dessert? That's a hard one! I think my favourite dish was the Swedish "Jansson's Frestelse" which means Jansson's Temptation. It's a traditional occupant of the Smorgasbord, and it's just the kind of thing I'd crave in a Nordic winter: a creamy potato gratin gently studded with pickled anchovies. Skoll!
Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding at Waterloo and City in Los Angeles. A cake made of dates, topped with ice cream? Hello?!!
What is something important you learned about cooking while filming and touring the world? That no matter what your culture, your beliefs, your background and story... breaking bread with someone is one of the most powerful barrier-breakers in the world.
What are your tips for those cooking at home? Cook with joy! When you're stressed, harried and miserable -- that's how your food will taste. If you're relaxed and enjoying the process, for some strange reason, that comes across in your food. Oh and just to keep it real? I make bad food ALL. THE. TIME. Every dish is not a home run. It takes a few flops before I settle on a winner! So don't beat up on yourself if you don't make a James Beard-worthy dinner every night. Flops are GREAT teachers!