Enigmatic, charismatic and a powerhouse of talent, Rakhee Vaswani is a celebrity chef, culinary expert, food consultant, teacher, author, cook show host, entrepreneur and above all, a food lover at heart. Certified by Le Cordon Bleu at Gordon Ramsay's Tante Marie in London, Rakhee began her culinary journey at the tender age of 11, keenly observing her aunts cook delicious food that caught her fancy (and her heart). Touted to be the 'Desi Nigella' of India, Rakhee is a natural with flavors and textures, her biggest asset being her strong palate and a deep rooted passion for the culinary arts and the food industry. Her vision to make world cuisines easily available in our city led her to pioneer the birth of the first set of cooking studios in India with Palate Culinary Studio.
Chef Rakhee's first book launch as an author called 'Picky Eaters' which essentially teaches mothers how to make food fun, exciting and yummy for their kids and a lot more to that goes with it.
Her true celebrity sense became the face of a TV show called 'Rewind with Rakhee' on Living Foodz. 2016 saw her latest TV Show 'I Love Cooking' where she amazed the audience with her versatile baking techniques.
She believes in getting inspired to inspire further, learning, sharing her know-how,relishing and pampering palates forever.
In an interview with Better Kitchen she told her own story. Excerpt.
Tell us about your journey from a girl-next-door to a professional woman. What made you select this profession?
I started cooking at a very young age. From the beginning, I wanted to prepare food that was very professional. I was hell bent and willingly learned from my neighbors and aunts and picked up whatever I could. I always wanted formal training though. After running home cooking classes for a long time and shutting it all down to be a hands-on mother, one fine day after all my international travels and food journeys, my family encouraged me to restart my career and not give up on my passion. That was the day Palate Culinary Studio was born. I didn't just want to impart my cooking knowledge; I wanted to offer a balance. A balance that had the perfect blend of knowledge of ingredients, equipment, skill development and of course offer an opportunity to people who couldn't travel far to enhance their knowledge of international standards for culinary expertise. That was the turning point of my career and today my students have opened their own cafes, they are home bakers and a lot more successful stories have emerged from people who have learnt from me. It feels so good to be a giver.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word KITCHEN?
It calms me. It excites me. It lets my creativity flow and it sooths me. The kitchen is my space -my warm comfort zone. There's no other place I'd rather be in!
Recall the first time you made something alone in the kitchen and how your family reacted after having the dish.
The first time I made anything was for me and that's because I am a very picky eater. When I realized the food that I made was not as tasty as it should be, I went into the kitchen to improve my skills and this became a very regular scene in the house. My parents loved what I cooked from that day onwards and there was no turning back. I attended loads of cooking classes in that phase. They were all happy and used to look forward to me making my first ever Chinese meal, my first ever Biryani, slow cooked mutton etc.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
With fusion doing the rounds everywhere, it's really nice to fuse your Indian cuisine with a modern approach or take all your old Indian traditional Mithais ( sweets ) and give it a lovely modern twist by presenting it well. Those are definitely fun moments. Besides, I also love how we attempt to come up with new cooking/baking classes per month as per trends. My students are always motivating me to come up with new classes. There are so many times that they push me to launch new concepts because they have the urge to learn. As it is said, change is the only constant and this is what keeps me going and gives me the adrenaline rush I need to keep innovating!
How do you balance your professional and personal life?
I have an amazing family. They're very supportive. My husband is my rock (My rock of Gibraltar ) Although I'm a workaholic now, I did give up my career earlier to be a mom but since the kids have grown up, that's not the case anymore so it's easier now. There are so many times when I cannot attend a Parent-Teacher meeting, my husband covers for me. Being at the peak of my career, my personal and professional life is well balanced all thanks to my perfect family.
In a busy schedule how often do you cook for your family?
Almost every day! My studio kitchen has become my go-to kitchen. There is a fancy class of a different cuisine conducted daily at PCS out of which double portion is made and sent home sometimes. If not, I still cook other dishes at the studio and send it home for the family. My husband often refers to the kitchen as 'Ramgadh' where food is prepared by his Chef Rakhee Vaswani. He asks the cook 'Aaj Ramgadh se kya aaya hai' haha…
Do you get any help from your better half when you are in the kitchen?
Yes, the only the help I get from him is the criticism and the marks without which I can't survive! If I experiment with a new menu, a new class or create a fusion that I'm not too confident about, he is my honest critic and I know my scope for improvement thereon. So without this, I'd be nowhere.
How do you prove your culinary skills while hosting guests at very short notice? Any secret ingredients do you use?
I cook from my heart. I feel that anything made at a short notice is always better. In a kabab class, I always tell my students that there is no before and after done. Everything is done right in front of them ,especially marination, and grilled/ baked to serve there and then. When you cook with love and passion and it will be tasty anyway. You need to enjoy what you're doing and your ingredients have to be fresh which is very important. My secret ingredient is LOVE!
Do you prepare your own ingredients or do you go for the ready to use ones?
I make my own ingredients always from scratch. That's why my students really come to me. How to treat your ingredients and use them in your recipes is important and I swear by that.
If and when you cook do you experiment or do you cook traditionally following your mother's recipes?
I do both. I am traditional in my love for Sindhi kadi, Saibhaji-pulao, Sail bread but I don't make it exactly the way my mom does. Like I said, a lot of experiences have come with the way I've picked up from every aunt and household's cooking pattern. Everyone's style of cooking has influenced me in their own way. For example in Italy, every household has a different recipe for Tiramisu. Likewise, every Sindhi household also has a different touch to their traditional recipes which I've had the good fortune of learning. So I love going traditional on my recipes but I also love giving them the modern approach by twisting the recipe and learning something new every day. It excites me!
What's your role in planning & designing of your Kitchen?
I've had a major role to play in this. I wanted my studio to be a warm kitchen and I did it. I get a lot of compliments for the studio's appearance but the one I've got was from a director who said 'I feel like your studio is giving me a hug!' Clearly, my interior designer has done a fabulous job for making it the way I wanted it to be. I never wanted it to be like a commercial class room. More so, with my training in Tante Marie (London) we were put in a different kitchen almost every week and that's why I have 3 workstations which is a result of my training there.
Does it matter to have a modern well equipped kitchen or simply convenient kitchen? How does it make a difference?
The kitchen doesn't necessarily have to be modern but I do believe in a well equipped kitchen! Well-equipped doesn't have to be expensive, it depends on your budget. I like my oven and microwave to be separate devices. I love my fancy kitchen gadgets because they genuinely make my life easier. For example, if you're a baker you need a planetary mixer for sure. The role of your convection oven is extremely crucial in your kitchen because for your roasts, bakes, grills you need to understand the behavior and importance of a professional oven which comes in all ranges. So, I love to play around with all of these. I'm a big collector and this is well portrayed in my kitchen. You'll find a slow cooker to a Teppanyaki to a Raclette grill to an ice-cream maker to a planetary mixer to a 6th sense technology microwave convection oven to a Kitchen-Aid cordless hand blender, I have it all in my kitchen.
Where do you go when you feel like eating out?
My top favorites are Yauatcha for their crispy fried prawn Chung Fung and Saffron for the Biryani, Besides, I love going to all new restaurants, food bars, street food areas, etc. and experimenting all kinds of cuisines all over the world. It gives me ideas and teaches me a lot about enhancing the different flavors from different cultures on my palate.
Do you snack while at work… if so what do you prefer?
I try to keep my daily diet really healthy during the day since I go out a lot at night or over the weekends and eat out due to social gatherings, professional events and family outings. I munch on roasted and flavored Makhaana (Sunflower seeds) or diet bhel or veg sandwich in the evening to kill the hunger pangs.
How do you maintain your health through diet? Are you conscious about calories while eating?
Yes I'm very conscious about my diet in the day. As I said earlier, due to my social or professional commitments during nights or weekends I unfortunately have a Yo-Yo diet since I'm a foodie and I get awfully tempted if you keep rice preparation in front of me. It could drown all my efforts easily.
Who are your role models ?
Nigella Lawson, Donna Hay, Gordon Ramsay, Marco White to name a few.
I'm currently 4 food shows and one cook-book down! My most proud moment was recently when the Confederation of Tourism and Hospitality (CTH) made Palate Culinary Studio (PCS) the first CTH center in the whole of India to provide a UK-certified Diploma Culinary course. So, a culinary college is in the pipeline for sure. Palate Culinary Studio has tied up with Thadomal Sahani Center for Management (TSCFM) for the same. Lot's in store for chefs and foodies!