Originally from the city of Mumbai, Mehak Rawal is an enthusiastic culinary arts student studying at a Swiss School in Dubai. “The two driving forces in my life that help me to achieve my goals are passion and hard work. My way of being motivated is to set a determined attitude which will help me garner an exceptional culinary experience”, says Mehak.
How did you get interested in cooking, and when did you decide to start cooking?
For me, crafting food is an art and a sense of meditation to the soul. My love for cooking was born while watching my mother cook some aromatic Indian dishes at home. I would sit on the kitchen counter as she cooked and just watch her create magic ! Moreover, my father was no less of a chef. Every weekend, he would cook a meal for us but my favourites were his roast chicken and egg biryani ! But, to think about it, I never thought of myself as a chef. In 2018, after graduating high school, I went to Canada to pursue psychology as my major. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed, that I decided to return back home and spend time with my loved ones. I spent a lot of time watching my favourite and most inspiring show, Masterchef Australia and reading several recipe books which I believe sparked my love for creating food once again and since then, there is no looking back !
Where do you get your recipe ideas from?
The culinary world is abundant with inspirations and Masters of the art of food. I have several idols in the industry, but some of my favourites are Chef Dominique Crenn, Chef Heston Blumenthal and Chef Nigella Lawson. Their recipes and dishes are inspired by telling a story from the heart and I believe, that when I create and present a dish, my goal is to have a dialogue with my diner. I want them to experience and respect the ingredients, and savour a journey that they will remember for a lifetime.
How do you keep yourselves updated about the latest cooking trends?
The culinary art world is dynamic, and keeping up with it is as compulsive as watching the American reality show, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’. But to be honest, I believe I have a great mentor at my current culinary school, who teaches and demonstrates to his students the new and exciting ways of not just preparing food but also plating! I also keep up with the new trends by studying several recipe books by chefs and attending short courses that help refine my skills further. For example, I have done several short courses such as a three-tier wedding cake class, macaroons as well as a course on not just tempering chocolate, but making some gorgeous pralines and truffles.
What is your advice for aspiring young chefs?
Being an aspiring chef herself with a love for food, my advice to all the budding chefs out there is to follow your dream. When I was a little girl, my father would tell me a story of an ant and a hill. He’d say, “Mehak you are like a little ant who’s climbing the mountain of her dreams. You will fall and slip away a couple of times, but don’t give up because one day you will reach the peak and be proud of the journey you have walked through”. Life is hard and there will always be setbacks but push through. I believe we are fortunate enough to live and achieve the dream of food, and if you truly want to make people happy, cook a dish with all your heart and love for those you love.
Who’s your favourite chef and your favourite restaurant to go out for a meal?
Every chef has a different style of cooking that is inspired by a story that is dear to them. Out of all the chefs out there, I believe my favourite is French Chef Dominique Crenn. The wonders this chef has done with food motivates me to the core. When she serves food in her restaurants, she wants to have a dialogue with her diners. She wants to take them on a journey of food that will always be remembered by the diners and will want them to come back to experience it over and over again.
Personally, my favourite restaurant to go out for a meal is an Indian restaurant in the city of Mumbai named, ‘Mirchi and Mime’. I really adore the modern Indian dishes they serve there, but more than that what brings me back to the restaurant each time is the concept behind it. As you walk through the restaurant and settle down, you will see that every Front of the House staff communicates with the guests in sign language as each one of them are not able to speak or hear. Yet, their service is absolutely impeccable! It’s beautiful to see how inclusive the hospitality industry is getting and respecting individuals as they are.
What’s your favourite comfort food?
Since I was little, I have always had a sweet tooth. I have grown up eating my paternal grandmother’s Indian desserts but my favourite is her, suji ka halwa (a dessert made out of fine semolina and cooked in fragrant sugar syrup with ghee). To date, every time I have this dessert, it brings me back to my roots and the memories of the home where I watched her prepare it for special Hindu festivals.
Have you created a recipe which will strengthen the immune system for children? If yes please share a recipe with us.
I believe that the food we consume needs to be ‘saatvik’ or nutritious and clean for the body. When I was running my own food catering business from home, I had a menu full of healthy diets that were beneficial for both children as well as adults. One of my best-selling ones was the energy bites that were made out of ingredients such as oats, almonds, walnuts, coconut, dates, and honey that were packed full of nutrients and at the same time were delicious. We made them in different flavours such as cocoa orange, coconut and rose as well as blueberry muffins!
Which is your favourite ingredient?
Out of a spectrum full of ingredients, I believe my favourite ingredient to work with is flour. Flour is the hero of my story because it helps me make some great creations of breads such as baguettes, buns, focaccias, brioches and even cakes and pastries such as choux, eclairs as well puff pastry! If I had to go for a culinary war, my weapon and shield would be my dearest flour!
What would you say is the key/winning feature of your cuisine?
It’s really hard to pinpoint a particular feature of baking and pastry since it’s diverse and has a lot to them. But if I could pick a favourite thing to make at any point of the day or night, it would surely be the boulangerie or bread section.
What do you love most about being a chef? future plans?
What I love most about being a chef is that it helps me live my world full of fantasies! When I am cooking, I think of myself to be like a magician in one of those Disney movies I watched as growing up. It helps me engage in a world full of creativity and more than anything, helps me feel like the calmest person alive on our planet. In the future, I hope to work under some of the greatest chefs, learn and garner skills from them and eventually, open my own restaurant that not only serves some of the greatest dishes but makes the diner’s heart smile!
According to you, what are the most important skills required to become a good chef?
Chef Andreas Kurfüst, President of the HTMi Culinary Association once told me the definition of being a chef. He says, to be a chef one should think like a scientist, move like a dancer, control like an accountant, cook like a grand-ma, plate-like an artist and with all this combined, turn food into happiness! And since then, this has been the motto of my chef life.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The best piece of life advice I have ever received is from my father. Since I was a little girl, I feel that I am obligated to make others happy around me and sometimes, even at the cost of my happiness and well-being. He tried to explain this idea of self-appreciation to me in a number of ways but one day he told me, “If you want to make everyone happy, start selling ice-creams”. Out of all his Encyclopedia of advice, this one stayed not only because it refers to food, but because it makes absolute sense. You can’t make everyone happy and look for a sense of validation from others for every step you take for yourself. It’s time you start living on your terms and conditions and follow your own rules because the rules and expectations set by others for you are actually meant to be broken.
How has your college helped you hone your personality in order to become a successful hotelier/chef in the future?
It’s a definite yes. For me, I have always been more exposed to the bakery and pastry section of the kitchen, but after coming to the current institute, I have been able to learn more and garner skills in the hot kitchen as well! Moreover, after the six months of training, I will also be going for a six months internship in the actual industry which will help me to gain further exposure and get closer to my dream of becoming one of the best chefs of the world who creates her food with not only the freshest of the ingredients but also sheer love and passion!
Mehak’s recipe for blueberry muffins:
- 1 cup rolled oats
- ¼ cup flax seeds
- ½ cup mixed nuts, crushed and blended into a nut butter/ paste
- 1/3 cup honey/ date syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup fruit juice sweetened berries
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Add the rolled oats, ground flax, nut butter, sweetener of choice, vanilla, berries, lime zest and cinnamon to a mixing bowl
- Stir to combine thoroughly
- Use a cookie scoop or weigh them as needed, and shape them into round balls
- Place in a tray and cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour before consuming
- Yields- Approx. 36 bites
- Shelf life- 1 month in the refrigerator