Mumbai to New York, Chef Aarthi Sampath making culinary waves one recipe at a time!

Chef Sampath is the first Indian woman to win one of the most famous American reality-based cooking television game show series, Food Network’s Chopped.

Chef Aarthi Sampath / Images - Supplied

An unparalleled love for food and a keen eye for details, whether a cooking technique or understanding a new culture, is how Aarthi Sampath became a chef, albeit not just any chef but the first Indian woman chef to win one of the most famous American reality-based cooking television game show series, Food Network’s Chopped. Her accomplishments are extensive and impressive beyond words.

But for starters – as a youngster, the thought of becoming a chef never occurred to Aarthi. In fact, back then, the Sampath household harbored dreams of seeing their children becoming a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer. Aarthi, who was born in Chennai and raised in Mumbai, says, “We had a traditional South Indian household. While modest and rooted in their values, my parents always prioritized our education. They had clear aspirations for me and my younger brother, leaning towards stable professions.”

However, attending cooking classes Aarthi’s grandmother enrolled her into piqued her interest. At 11, she baked her first chocolate cake and relished watching her entire family come together to taste it. The joy in that room won her heart and made her mind. 

In 2013, she moved to the States to explore the culinary scene and realized that immigrating to a new country brings its fair set of challenges, but witnessing her father embark on an entrepreneurial journey, navigating through challenges, and progressing taught her a great deal. “The first few years were really tough. I moved from hostel to hostel, trying to survive on very little. But what kept me going was understanding that this was temporary and would pass. I learned not to wiggle out of the situation and stay focused on my goal.” 

The New York City chef explains how, despite working with renowned establishments like the Taj hotels in India vis-à-vis, working in American restaurants was altogether a different ballgame. “I think an eye for detail differentiates a good chef from a very good one, and I realized this when I started working here.” She continues, “Right from improving your cooking techniques to reading about different cultures and how you treat and manage your team – all of this was considered extremely crucial.”

But the rising Indian American star chef faced her challenges with pride and efficiency. “I don’t think I ever messed up!” she laughs. Aarthi emphasizes that its essential to accept that people come from different cultures and speak different languages. Why apologize when one can carry oneself fiercely and authentically? For her, what’s important is to learn from mistakes but one must be proud of who they are. While some in the West may suggest conforming to their ways, Aarthi questions the need for anyone to feel pressured to fit a mold. 

Working in a kitchen is not an easy job. It ranks among the most challenging due to the extensive time commitment and strenuous physical work required. However, Aarthi admits that this difficulty is balanced by its equally rewarding nature. Her learnings on the job have been instrumental in helping her reach this far. Speaking of which, she notes, “One of the most important things I have learnt in my job is to leave one’s ego outside of the door. Irrespective of the level you are, you must learn to do everything and treat everyone equal irrespective of their level or paygrade or experience.” 

From being a former chef de cuisine at Vikas Khanna's Michelin-starred restaurant in New York, called Junoon to curating menu for the Billionaires Club Dinner hosted by Prime Minister Modi at the Waldorf Astoria, indeed, for Aarthi, the culinary journey has been a rewarding one. And why not, as a super chef – Aarthi prioritizes understanding each customer's unique preferences.

This customer-centric approach applies to all events, whether it's curating a menu for a wedding in Mexico or any other occasion. By engaging with clients directly, she delves into their favorite dishes and draw inspiration from their childhood memories and ensures that every dish is exemplary, with each element on the plate reflecting perfection, mood, love & nostalgia. 

In the culinary world, staying abreast of the latest trends and innovations and exploring new dishes and concepts takes precedence. This persistent desire to learn and innovate is essential to remain at the forefront of your field. No one understands this better than Aarthi, who leaves no stone unturned in bringing her best to the table.

However, she confesses that there are always timeless classics that maintain their appeal. For example, dishes with 'butter' in their name, like butter chicken, butter paneer, or brown butter chocolate chip cookies, have an enduring allure. Here, the key is to connect with what people love and feel excited about.

For someone who cooks for the world with so much zest, isn't it inevitable to wonder what her dietary mantra is? “Simple and mindful eating is my mantra,” notes Aarthi. “I try to refrain from eating calorie-rich foods, especially on weekdays, and focus on sourcing the finest ingredients for my home-cooked meals. Even something as basic as a boiled egg is chosen carefully, ensuring the best quality.”

Despite this simplicity, Aarthi dedicates good time to culinary experimentation. If time permits, she commits herself to cook something new once a week. This practice widens her understanding of various cuisines and allows her to indulge in creative exploration. Her journey in the culinary world is truly remarkable and exemplifies how a blend of simplicity, curiosity, and creativity can transform everyday cooking into an art form.