Cooking is oxygen for her

Cooking is oxygen for her

Aanal Kotak is a true blue Gujarati, whose story began in Ahmedabad. Born in a business family and being the only daughter, she had lived a very sheltered life and was expected to conform to the wishes of her conservative family. But love for food and countless hours spent in the kitchen fired the imagination of this girl who is today a well-known celebrity chef in Gujarat. 

Chatting up Kotak, we find out more about her passion and how she pursued it. 

How it all began
Kotak says that her cooking journey started very early — when she was just 12 — at a family gathering when the caterer didn’t turn up. “At that age, I took up a challenge to cook food for 50 people and did it with flying colours,” she recalls. 

It was when she was 19 that she went for a cooking competition hosted by a TV channel. But she was rejected and instead offered to host the show as people from the channel felt that she was too young to become a cooking expert on a show. “But that incident didn’t stop me, rather it gave me an opportunity to look at cooking with passion. A few years later, with my husband’s support, I launched Gujarat’s first ever fine dining restaurant — The Secret Kitchen. The idea was to bring Gujarati fine-dining to the world of hauté-cuisine,” she says.  

Love for Food 
If she has to describe her love for cooking, she says it is oxygen. “I can’t think of living without it because since I was a child, cooking is the only thing that has kept me sane and level-headed,” Kotak says. It has always been a stress buster and mood enhancer for her and the kitchen is her temple, she adds. 

When asked to name her favourite food trend, she says that reviving old cooking methods and ancient recipes is something she totally loves. “I feel the era of vegetarian food is coming back which I think is one of the best trends in this industry,” Kotak says. However as the cuisine is evolving with innovations and twists, one bizarre combination that she has heard of is chocolate and eggplant dessert. “I cannot even imagine this, let alone try to cook it,” she says. 

Women and the kitchen 
In Indian households, women end up spending a lot of time in the kitchen, whipping up dishes that their family members will like. Kotak says that while following a mundane routine, the only thing that actually makes a dish stand out is the love that women cook the food with. “I understand that every woman makes food for the family with a lot of love, but it is imperative to keep this attribute a constant while cooking,” she adds. 

But she believes that women should also focus on the presentation of their dishes as it can make even a regular dish stand out and enjoyable for all, big and small. 

Believe in yourself 
We are all aware that when it comes to achieving a dream or a goal, the first step is to believe in yourself. “I think once you have decided to follow a certain path in life, it is very important to ensure that you believe in it and yourself because though everyone has a different advice to offer, the journey is yours to undertake,” Kotak points out. It is very important to keep the passion alive and work towards that one goal you want to achieve constantly, she advises. 

As a woman who is running a successful business in the food industry now, Kotak says that if there is one thing that she has learnt in the course of time, it is that if one is passionate about food and cooking, if one can handle criticism even after giving one’s best, if one can handle the heat... only then should one think about entering the industry. “Don’t enter this world because it looks like a glamorous profession or if there is a fascination with the industry. It’s very different and way more difficult than you may think. However, it is not impossible with patience, dedication and perseverance,” she observes. 

Journey forward
Kotak says that opening a restaurant is not the end for her, in fact, she has a very long road ahead and wants to chase more goals in the near future. “Opening 50 outlets of ‘The Secret Kitchen’ globally, creating more than a couple of new brands, revolutionising the regional cuisine market in India and promoting vegetarianism and working towards making more people adopt it, are a few of the things I plan on doing,” Kotak concludes. 

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