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The chef in you

Chef Akshata Karkaria talks about her passion and how cooking reflects one’s personality

For all those who find Nankhatai unexciting, chef Akshata Karkaria busts a few myths. “It is a comfort food. One can go out and buy exotic and fancy cookies but Nankhatai feels like home.

I still remember how my grandmother used to store Nankhatais in a thin green steel box,” she smiles as she prepares for a session to teach a group of women the art of making Nankhatai . “No one’s making them any more at home,” rues the bakery and R&D chef of SodaBottleOpenerWala as she looks around.

Her foray into Parsi cuisine was unintentional. “We grew up with 10 Parsi families and would often ask them to prepare Parsi dishes for us. An old lady would get upset when we always asked for Dhansak (“It is not made at auspicious occasions”) she recalls with a laugh and adds, “We (her Parsi husband) have been friends for years before getting married.”

She reminisces her initial years as a Parsi bahu . “The Dhansak prepared in my house was different from the Dhansak made at my mother-in-law’s house. Although the ingredients and recipe are the same, the dish can taste different when made by two people. I collected different recipes and tried all kinds of permutations.”

Cooking has been a passion with Akshata and she completed her grand diplome from Le Cordon Bleu. She got her training in Indigo and worked in the kitchen. “I started right at the bottom of the kitchen and experienced work in every department. I literally prepared 60 chicken dishes a day!” she points out.

Initially, she was the only woman in the kitchen. “I worked with different kinds of men. Some were especially nice and some shunned me. I was a non-controversial and chilled out person without ego hassles and would not mind if someone else took credit. My easy-going attitude helped in my career,” she recalls.

In her 15-year-old career, Akshata took a break of eight years when she had her two sons. “I wanted to be part of my sons’ early years and get back to work only when my sons went for full time school,” she shares. As a stay-at-home mom, Akshata spent more time in the kitchen. “My sons love food and it is a testing period when preparing dishes for them; it’s tougher than a job,” she laughs.

She believes food is an art and it depends on each one’s personality. “I have watched my mum cook and have taken to cooking. But we are poles apart. My mother likes to be precise and sticks to the recipe. I like to experiment and create something different,” she states.

With an ever smiling face, petite Akshata looks more like a diner than chef. She laughs. “I have two boys who make me run, play football and cricket.”

Although the ingredients and recipe is the same, the dish can taste different when made by two people.

Published on The Hindu

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