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Chef Niyati Rao: The Architect Of Yummy Experiences Growing up Rao "thought that 'food is magic', and if that magic resides anywhere one must learn to wield it, and I wanted to be a part of this Chain of happiness."

By Kavya Pillai

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Chef Niyati Rao

Not long ago, Anton Ego, a fictional character from the beloved film Ratatouille said, " In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for the famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, that only now do I truly understand what it means. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." Such is true for our genius chef Niyati Rao, who herself references the film when she told us, " I do stand by the saying in the movie, "anyone can cook" but I would like to add a line to that: great chefs have to be built by cuts and bruises and a lot of learning and unconditional love towards cooking. If you come home after your fourteen-hour shift and you still cook for yourself and you are still happy and excited to do that, that's unconditional love for food."

Talking about her journey she said, "I'm an alumni of Dadar Catering College which is now called the Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IHM Mumbai). It was always my aim to get into this college where I learned the foundation of my skills. Later, I was absorbed from the campus by the Taj Group of hotels, and I was a culinary management trainee at the mother property itself where I had the fortune of working at the prestigious Zodiac Grill and Wasabi by Morimoto." Rao believes these were the places that strengthened her skill set and pushed her to pursue research and development in the culinary field. This also introduced her to the world of fine dining where she learned the importance of techniques being completely in sync with the focus on great quality produce. "Then I worked my way up at A Reverie in Goa which allowed me to explore local markets which I had never done before as the owners were very keen on the chefs getting a very real experience and they wanted chefs to work hard on all stages as that would make them a complete chef," she added.

The turning point of her career was when she secured an opportunity in Copenhagen in the world's number 1 restaurant, Noma. "This opened my eyes to the in-depth thought process of the most brilliant chefs of the world and the respect they had for the motherland and its ingredients and the research that they would put behind it made the world appreciate them so much more and for me something clicked and I just wanted to come back and start discovering my beloved motherland. And that's how my journey with Ekaa (her restaurant in the heart of Mumbai, India) began," she said.

As for where this love for cooking came from, Rao shared, "Usually people take children to the park, not to say I didn't do parks, but my parents took me to other places as well, like the chicken or mutton store, or the fish market, where I would learn different life skills as well like bargaining and understanding produce that I can never forget, and it makes me so happy even today during our annual crab feast, as it's my duty to get a bucket full of crabs and process them, and its with the entire family, thus making it a soulful experience." Growing up Rao "thought that 'food is magic', and if that magic resides anywhere one must learn to wield it, and I wanted to be a part of this Chain of happiness."

When it comes to the chef's favourite meal she said, "It is a dish my mother makes, called Rasgoli chi ampti, which is a prawn curry with hot steaming rice, on the side some bombil fry and some sol kadi. The other meal which is my favourite is Undhiyu and Dahi Wada my nani makes. nobody makes it like her, I mean it," she concluded.

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