In our interviews with chefs from Chopped, we’ve learned that they all have diverse paletes and inspiration. We caught up with Chef Palak Patel, a recent Chopped Champion, to learn more about her and her experience on the show.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
PP: Cooking for me started at a really early age watching my mom & aunts. I grew up living with my extended family in India. My parents and the kids shared a three-story home with my uncles, aunts and cousins. No matter the craziness in a house full of 15 people, food always brought everyone together. In the mornings, before my mother would start cooking, we would often go to down to the market together. I have the fondest memories of my mom and me spending endless hours strolling through the alleyways, lined with stalls of fresh fruits and succulent vegetables. I watched her transform the ingredients we picked out into some of my favorite meals. Eventually I became her little sous-chef, I helped her prep the veggies and stir the daals, and I was hooked!
FP: What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
PP: The absolute best part of being a chef is the ability to bring joy to family, friends and perfect strangers (who by the way become friends!) The smile when people eat your food is priceless.
FP: We love how food can bring joy to everyone!
Name some chefs that have inspired you.
PP: Early on my grandmother, I remember the meticulous way in which she sealed her samosas, pinch by pinch in perfect harmony, lining them up like little soldiers.
I moved to the US when I was 12 and my siblings and I would huddle in front of the TV, all-scrambling for the remote control – they wanted to watch Tom & Jerry! But I wanted to watch Julia Child and Jacque Pepin. Both explored the culinary traditions of France in each episode. French cuisine was a stark difference from the cuisine I grew up with, so I quickly became enamored with it. I would even pretend to have my own cooking show where I showed my siblings how to make coq au vin. Who would have predicted that my childhood reveries would actually lead to a career?
Recently I’ve been so impressed and inspired by watching chefs like Cesar Ramirez of Brooklyn Fare create magic in his kitchen. He never went to culinary school, but now runs a 3-star Michelle restaurant. Impressive!
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped.
PP: My Chopped experience can be summed up with one word: INTENSE!
Behind the scenes, I remember my hands shaking and heart beating so fast, blanking for a few seconds and being so nervous. It was comedic to watch myself running around looking for measuring cups, garlic etc. Hearing the judges’ commentary will be imprinted into my memory forever. Of course, being so thankful for the win.
FP: Which round was the most difficult? What was the hardest ingredient to work with?
PP: My worst round was dessert, because I was really thrown by sfogliatelle – it was dense, crumbly and didn’t taste that great. I had no clue what to do with it.
FP: We love your blog! What are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself and/or for guests?
Some of my favorite meals are comfort food. I love rummaging the fresh produce bins at the Union Square Farmer’s market to create dinner from those ingredients. When cooking for friends they always request Indian food, so I end up making everything from lentils, chicken curry or lamb kebabs. If I’m cooking for myself, tacos are always on the menu. I love tacos. I virtually make tacos out of anything I have in the fridge. They are the most versatile food!
FP: Can’t go wrong with Indian food or tacos in our opinion!
If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC or other cities you’ve visited.
I travel quite a bit, so anything that’s local to region is a must. Recently, I ate branzino that was grilled on a huge outdoor fireplace right by the water in Croatia. One of my best eating vacations was in Cartagena, Columbia; I think I had ceviche at every meal for a week. Also, I’m a sucker for street food no matter where I go.
I’ve been lucky to live in the two of the most food centered cities (NY & SF); so many of the favorite places to eat are there. Mavericks restaurant in San Francisco has the world’s best fried chicken hands down. In Atlanta, at Atkins Park restaurants where my best friend and I have only ordered nachos for the last 15 years – yes, they are that good. When people ask me my favorite Indian restaurant in NY, I have to say Tamarind, because the food is so consistent and the service is fantastic.
Restaurants that I dine at often are particularly special to me not only because of the food, but the laughs, memorable conversations and most of all I’ve been able to share with the people I love.
FP: What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
PP: My favorite guilty pleasure is fried chicken and a bucket of hot wings. Not together, but honestly can you go wrong with anything fried? Butter, warm baguette and sea salt, more butter than bread. Lastly, kumamoto oyster – I have no guilt about eating 30 oysters in one sitting
FP: Fried chicken, hot wings, oysters- you name it and we’ll eat it!
Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them.
My grandfather (dad’s side): I never met either one of my grandfathers, but my mom told me countless stories about how much her father-in-law liked to eat and how she loved cooking for him. I would love to sit down with him for a meal and talk about his memories of my father.
Oprah – life on the planet is not complete unless you have one interaction with Oprah (my opinion)
Sara Blakely – she is my idol for many reasons but I really respect how she is the youngest self-made billionaire who has pledged to give at least half of her wealth to charity. Inspiring beyond words.
For the group, I would prepare traditional and simple Indian food.
FP: In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?
PP: Determined; Feisty; Vibrant
FP: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing?
PP: Since I started out my career in the business world and became a chef midstream, I know I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do.
FP: Any non-cooking hobbies? We read that you’ve climbed Kilimanjaro and swam with stingrays.
PP: Traveling & Photography– logging about 40 countries and counting. I always have my camera no matter where I go.
Running – doing my first marathon in NYC in honor of my best friend who survived cancer
Shoes – self-explanatory
On the list: salsa dancing – starting salsa lessons soon
FP: That’s quite a list! Thank you, Chef Palak, for your time. It was great getting to know you!