Palak Patel on How Food is Love and Leadership Is Opportunity
WIE SUITE WOMEN
October 27, 2023
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Palak Patel is a classically trained chef, Atlanta restaurant owner, and two time food network champion winner of Food Network’s famed shows Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay.

I’m the oldest daughter to immigrant parents and spent the first twelve years of my life in India. My parents, particularly, the women in my family instilled in me the love for food and family at an early age.

As I’ve gotten further in my journey, I’ve relied on a few practices that allow me to stay grounded and enhance my level of focus. Embracing an honest level of self-awareness has allowed me to understand my WHY more clearly, identify areas for growth, and redefine my path to my success. This self-awareness in my decision-making has been my compass, guiding me to make choices aligned with my values and aspirations.

My entire life feels like a collection of beautiful experiences fueled by food: the delight of the first bite of a mango, the excitement of picking fruit from a tree, the soothing sound of dal simmering on the stove, the surprise and delight of discovering a new flavor, and the triumph of learning a new cooking technique. My relationship with food is a gift that has helped me form a deep connection to myself and others, one that continuously nurtures.

What was your inspiration for this book?

The title of this book says it all: Food Is Love

Have you ever experienced tears of joy after eating something? Or received a kiss from a chocolate dessert that left you breathless? Have you ever bitten into something so decadent it caused an explosion in your mouth? Or tasted something so familiar that it brought you right back to childhood? I have, and these are my most cherished food memories, colored with a rainbow of emotions.

My entire life feels like a collection of beautiful experiences fueled by food: the delight of the first bite of a mango, the excitement of picking fruit from a tree, the soothing sound of dal simmering on the stove, the surprise and delight of discovering a new flavor, and the triumph of learning a new cooking technique. My relationship with food is a gift that has helped me form a deep connection to myself and others, one that continuously nurtures. The recipes in this cookbook are inspired by my memories, a symphony of emotions, and stories that I’ve acquired throughout my life.

Food taught me a new way to communicate. Food and cooking are how I express myself; that is why I am a chef—to express my love for my culture, family, and friends. You could say food is my love language. There’s a saying in our culture that food made by loving hands and infused with love just tastes better. I pour so much of myself and so much love into my cooking - it’s part of my relationship to food and myself: a harmonious dance of emotions. I choose what I’m making based on the emotion it evokes in me.

Can you share your favorite recipe?

One of my favorite recipes is my mom’s kitchari (Indian rice and lentil porridge) recipe that’s in my cookbook. Kitchari is considered one of the most nutritionally balance and good for you dishes. This traditional Ayurvedic dish, typically made with rice, lentils, spices, and fat provides a well-rounded mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and essential nutrients. 
I think my mom’s kitchari is the most comforting food. It’s also regarded as a the most popular cleansing and nourishing meal in Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old science of living believed to support the digestive system and balance the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha). 

The comfort and warmth of Kitchari can have a soothing effect, both physically and mentally.

Popular culture makes a professional kitchen look like a hard place to be a woman. What have you learned that’s enabled you to scale the ranks?

Professional kitchens are a hard place irrespective of gender. The demands on your time and energy are very real. The kitchen is intense, a high-pressure environment that does deter some women due to prioritizing family life. I burnt-out after two years of trying to do it all by running operations at my restaurant 7 days a week. I learned the toughest lesson of my life and that’s to delegate and hire support. Those early months and year left me depleted. Just because you can do it all, doesn’t mean you should! Learning how to build from my mistakes is the greatest gift. While it’s a tough way to go about it, I wouldn’t change it. I wish I had more attempts at connecting with female role models and mentors in the culinary world. There’s still limited visibility for women in the field as a whole. While strides are being been made to challenge these norms, addressing systemic barriers, promoting inclusivity, and highlighting the immense pool of diverse talented women in the culinary world. The industry as a whole is still fostering to strive for a more equitable representation in professional kitchens.

What’s one thing you can’t live without?

I can’t live without chilies (fresh, dried, frozen, pickled, submerged in oil, salted or powered). The spiciness wakes me up and I really enjoy the hits endorphins, while savoring my meal. If taste isn’t enough, I’ll happily rattle off the health benefits, vitamins, antioxidants, and capsaicin, known to boosting metabolism. 

Who is a woman you admire? 

My mom! Hands down the number one woman in my life. She’s been a constant source of inspiration for me and has been the greatest influence behind who the woman I am today. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my mom, her unwavering support and guidance have been my anchor throughout my entire life. 

I’m an advocate for a plant-based or plant-forward lifestyle. Even within that context, food personalization is very present because ultimately one has to find a way of eating that works with their life. I don’t call it a trend, maybe a way of being. It’s important as we are shifting our way of eating perhaps for health, environmental or sustainability that we find a way to eat that caters to individuals' unique tastes, preferences and fits seamlessly within ones value system.

What’s one trend you see coming that you’re excited about? 

Personalization. This isn’t anything new phenomenon in beauty or fashion, but I think it’s now more prominent in food. In a world increasingly focused on customization, the concept of tailoring food experiences has gained momentum. From personalized meal plans based on nutritional requirements to on-demand customization of ingredients in restaurants, the food industry is embracing technology and data analytics to deliver more individualized culinary experiences. This isn’t a trend to me but a wholistic way of addressing a health-conscious movement and also celebrates the diversity, allowing consumers to curate their dining experiences in a way that resonates with their distinct culinary identity. As technology advances, food personalization is poised to become a transformative force, reshaping how we approach and enjoy our meals. 

I’m an advocate for a plant-based or plant-forward lifestyle. Even within that context, food personalization is very present because ultimately one has to find a way of eating that works with their life. I don’t call it a trend, maybe a way of being. It’s important as we are shifting our way of eating perhaps for health, environmental or sustainability that we find a way to eat that caters to individuals' unique tastes, preferences and fits seamlessly within ones value system.

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