What you see on screen is pretty much what you get when you meet Aarti Sequeira in person. She is animated, loquacious, very easy-going and, at times, can be self-deprecating in a delightful manner.
She was recently in SA to promote the third season of Aarti Party on Food Network. I managed to steal her away for a little tête-à-tête. Also, I was curious as to what prompted the former producer at CNN to make such a radical career change.
“Yeah, it was life-changing. First of all, it was over a long interim – about four to five years. I was doing well working at CNN in New York. I moved there from Chicago. I was like, this is great. This is the place to be. Then I married my college sweetheart (Brendan McNamara). He is an actor and was living in Los Angeles. I was desperate to be in the same town as him, so I moved. The job market was really contracting and I found it hard to find work.”
While pondering her choices, Sequeira whiled away her time cooking.
“I couldn’t drive my husband’s car – he drove a manual. I wasn’t working. And I didn’t want to watch soap operas. I knew that the moment I did, my life would be over. So I started cooking. I always had the knack and interest for it and I loved watching cooking shows. Doing it daily got me really passionate about it.”
And when her husband gave her a gift certificate to a pricey cooking course, it kind of got the ball rolling.
“I would have never enrolled myself. But it cost a ton of money, so I needed to go. And I loved it. I loved learning about why meat turns the colour it does, how to braise, make a soup or this and that sauce. That’s when I thought: ‘Wow, this is amazing… you can get paid to do this,’” she laughs.
She worked briefly at a restaurant, but quickly realised that wasn’t the route she wanted to take either. So she started blogging.
“I was super lost,” she admits. “It was a deeply spiritual time, but also awesome. I was making up recipes and putting it up on the blog. Then someone suggested I do a cooking show. My husband and I developed Aarti Paarti on YouTube – it is still up there. It was a cooking variety show and it was super awesome. I used to send it to everyone. And I was very professional about it: we had season 1, 2 and 3, and I would only do 10 episodes a season.”
This venture led to someone encouraging her to try out for Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star competition. Although hesitant at first, she was finally persuaded to give it a go by her husband.
“I watched people who have tons more experience and training than I do and they were falling flat on their faces in front of America. I wasn’t keen on going through that. But my husband told me I had nothing to lose… so I should just try,” she shares.
With there not being many Indian cooks getting an international platform, the pressure was on Sequeira to step up to the plate if she wanted to make a go of her own TV show.
“For the first season, I went with 24 recipes I had – thank goodness for the blog. My biggest concern was to take Indian food and take the intimidation out of making it. It was a mission I was totally on board with. I wanted people to know that while the food might feel foreign, it was accessible,” she recalls.
Famed for her Bombay Sloppy Joes dish, Sequeira says she is inspired by different things.
“Now with molecular gastronomy, it is a whole new world. Everyone is improvising. Where you see something, you try to put your stamp on it – it is challenging but I love it. Cooking isn’t about reinventing the wheel. It is about trying different things and giving it your own spin.” And it is this very practical approach to cooking that has seen Sequeira bowl viewers over. Talk about finding a recipe for success – good on her!
• Season 3 of Aarti Party airs on Food Network (DStv Channel 185) from April.