Chef Rosh is an executive & private chef, as well as tv personality: you might remember her as she was a contestant at Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay and also won the “Chopped Champion” award on the hit Food Network show Chopped in 2013.
How are things going with you lately and what are your projects for 2020?
For the past three months, I’ve been cooking and delivering meals to frontline workers (which is also what I’m doing this afternoon!). I’m doing this because I realized that when we talked about “cooking for frontline workers“, people would often think “medical” right away and we all somehow forgot about people working in supermarkets or stores, for example. They were actually hit very hard during the lockdown. And if you think about it, they were not always treated very well. They’ve been hearing us complaining about shelves being empty, they’ve been feeling our frustration. So I decided to support them as well while cooking for the police station and fire station as well. Overall, I’d say I have been preparing and delivering fifteen meals per day for four or five days a week. I’m a one-person-show and I wasn’t able to work with my team. But I think my work is still making a difference. I realized this when I went to the supermarket and the lady at the cash desk told me she was gonna share the meal at home with her daughter. This is our only meal for the day, she said.
Could you tell us a bit more about your recipes, your flavors…?
My recipes celebrate Sindhi cuisine while bringing a modern touch to it. In the past 4 years, I’ve worked closely with the James Beard Foundation to bring out the flavors of this cuisine– which originated in Persia and then made its way to Pakistan and India. It’s totally different from those Indian dishes to which people are used to (when people think of Indian food, all they think of is curry or chicken tikka masala…that’s very American, I would say). Instead, Sindhi food is floral, aromatic, earthy, mild. It’s not spicy, it’s not full of heat. It uses ingredients like mutton, goat, a lot of saffron, dry fruits, cardamom, cinnamon, lavender. And it presents a totally different spice profile compared to Northern or Southern Indian cuisine– even though these two cuisines are more prominent around the world.
Are there any ingredients you have a hard time finding when it comes to making Sindhi cuisine with local products?
The hardest things to find in North America are goat and mutton, in the sense of finding the farmers, pre-ordering, planning ahead: that’s the hard part. For the spices, to be honest, I stock up when I go to India. I always bring back a suitcase full of spices and usually make my own blends. There are Indian local spices companies I’ve paired with (local as North American), but when I have to cook at a wedding for five hundred people, for example, it’s not so easy to order big amounts of spices.
"Food is a journey, not a destination"
What are the main challenges of bringing Sindhi cuisine to restaurants?
When I cook Sindhi food, I always think: how do I make this food beautiful and plate it individually? That’s what I meant by “bringing the modern touch”. This is challenging because Sindhi preparations are family-style. They are made to share and eat together. Sometimes, when I work with my sous-chefs, it takes us a few hours before we figure out what kind of plate we want and how to style the food.
A little bit about your journey before Hell’s Kitchen: when did you decide to become a chef?
It was back home when I was very young. I remember waking up during a Friday or Saturday morning very early…the smell of spices from the kitchen woke me up. I went there, still in my pajama, and saw my mom, her sisters, and my grandmother making lunch. At first, I was annoyed, I was like “what is that smell that woke me up?”. I sat there and I watched them for two hours while they were putting together a meal for a family of nineteen people. That meal had everything, from veggies to lentils, goat, chicken. The next week I told my mom I wanted to start doing that with them. More than being inspired by the great food, I was impressed by these women putting all their efforts into making lunch for people. That’s what Indian cuisine is all about. Even when I think about chai, I think of myself as a teenager opening up to my dad over a cup of tea. And you know, it takes from twenty to forty minutes to make chai from scratch…it means giving your time, your effort, your dedication. These were the true wow-factors that brought me to do what I do today.
Is there anything you wished you stopped seeing in the restaurant world?
Disrupting traditions, in the sense of disrupting the technique to create a new dish. In my opinion (and it’s, really, just my opinion) traditions are put into context for a reason and we don’t need to change them. Or at least, there is a place and a time to do that. First comes learning, respecting…it’s not an easy process. That’s why I always say: food is a journey, not a destination.