Stirring The Pot: A Female Perspective into the NYC Culinary Industry
There’s no question that New York City is a culinary capital, complete with an oasis of diverse cuisines, rare and innovative restaurants, and exotic gastronomic hybrids. Despite the popularity and buzz surrounding New York’s dining culture, there is still a lot of progress to be made within the culinary industry itself.
Liana Khatri, a Nepalese-Italian New Yorker, is currently a private chef that whips up creative dishes for executives at a real estate company. A graduate of Natural Gourmet Institute (“NGI”), Liana began finessing her culinary education through NGI’s whole-foods, sustainable, and nutrition-driven curriculum (which is now part of the Institute of Culinary Education). But, her path towards food was unconventional.
Growing up, Liana always wanted to be a chef, but attempted to pursue other career options based on family pressures. Her Nepali father, an immigrant to the States, worked in restaurants for most of his career (and still does). Liana recalls cooking together, learning unique recipes from her foodie father, and hopping on the train to indulge in spicy dim sum in Flushing, Queens, or classic Indian sweets from Jackson Heights.
After graduating from prestigious schools like the Bronx High School of Science and Hunter College, she decided to give the corporate world a chance, but did not feel the same inspiration as she did while she was cooking. Instead, she developed a taste for the fast-paced nature of the hospitality industry, encompassing a high-pressure work environment, long hours, and immediate feedback. After an internship at Cosme during culinary school, her hunger for food was further affirmed.
Liana’s story and subsequent experiences provide a tasteful insight into the direction in which the culinary industry is headed into. Through her travels, both domestically and internationally, she has witnessed how personalized food culture has become.
In Greece, for example, she witnessed how families would unearth fresh ingredients right out of their gardens or personally press olive oil from their olive trees to make quality dinners. The meals, although simple in preparation, are difficult to replicate elsewhere simply because the ingredients are locally sources and mostly seasonal. Additionally, NGI, was hyper-focused on creating meals specifically curated for clients with varying needs. Food is no longer only about sustenance and taste, but also requires nutritional functionality. For instance, a diabetic’s lunch will vary nutritionally from that of someone battling cancer.
The future of food, will align better with an individual’s strict diet and preferences, incorporation of functional elements, and availability of seasonal ingredients.
Although the holistic approach towards food is becoming mainstream, the way in which gender dynamics play out in the kitchen is still unsavory.
As a religious Food Network viewer, it is no secret that food media mainly features contestants with a similar background: tattooed, white males with a macho attitude. In practice too, many kitchens are full of men, with the misconception that a woman’s skill is limited to becoming a pastry chef or baker. However, despite the challenges and obstacles, women are setting a place at the table by asserting their confidence and stepping into the limelight of a traditionally male-dominated profession. Though the progression has been slow, it is not existent, as some of the best chefs in New York are women (i.e. Alex Guarnaschelli, Marie-Aude Rose, among many others).
As the demographic changes, the rules will shortly follow because women are taking control to correct and modify an archaic system that used to shut them out. Without a “human resources” department that sets the standards of work-place rules, it is up to those in the industry to establish safe and nurturing environments. Women are at the forefront of this change, by illustrating that they have the willpower to not only break in, but succeed, in a notoriously tough industry.