Female Chef Series

Tattoos, family and being a chef with Aarti Sangahvi

That sound! The inexplicable sound of tattoo machines revving to life. Typically when I hear this I am excited because I am about to get some ink. But this isn't why I’m excited. I am at this shop to meet up with a close friend and an all around badass. Chef Aarti Sanghavi is set to get some work done and I am here to chat with her about being one of the rising stars in the San Diego culinary scene. We sat down prior to her ink sesh and talked shop.

Tell me about your upbringing

“I was brought up in a traditional East Indian family. Both my parents were born and raised in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. I am a first generation here in the US. My brother and I were born in Chicago and grew up in Rancho Cucamonga. Growing up I always watched my mom cook and she made everything from scratch. She took a lot of pride in cooking for her family. My parents wanted me to focus on school but all I wanted to do was cook. I was fortunate to grow up around a diverse background of cultures in my neighborhood, I would watch my friends moms cook, but Mexican cuisine is what made me fall in love with food. 

When did you decide to become a chef?

“It resulted because cooking is the one thing that made me truly happy. Seeing peoples reactions and creating memories is what I strive for at my restaurant. We are trying to cook food that people’s souls will respond to”.

You have a great mentor in Brian Malarkey, howinstrumental was he in your career as a young chef?

“Working for chef Brian was great. But really it was Shane McIntyre that took me under his wing and mentored me. To this day he is one of my best friends. His influence is still with me today. Keeping things simple, keeping things honest and being true to myself as a chef. And one of the biggest lessons he taught me is that to be successful as a chef you treat your kitchen as a family and a team. It’s about the we, the us and ours and never about the me, mine and I. I think too many chefs forget about that”.

What inspires you?

(she laughs) “Alot of things. I think the seasonality of food definitely inspires me. Traveling, reading a lot, seeing what other chefs are doing. Going out to eat myself and really coming back into the kitchen trying to create my own thing of what I tasted, what smelled and what I’ve seen”.

Talk to me about the experience of opening a “new” restaurant from the ground up?

Essentially after the remodel it was like building a new restaurant. There was nothing really set in place. I mean in just the two and a half years prior to the remodel they went through four executive chefs. There were no recipes, no set menu and when we sat down to look at all of this we realized they lost who they initially were. So it started with the menu writing. It was my first time writing the menu from really nothing. Everything had to be cohesive and make sense. It was super stressful but at the same time very very rewarding. Going into the kitchen and testing, tasting, tweaking and then other people are tasting. The responses you are getting, that’s the most rewarding part”.

What are your thoughts on being labeled a female chef?

“I hate the term. You don’t call a male chef a male chef. So why does a female chef have to be categorized? I think being respected is all about who you are as a person. If you can walk into a kitchen with that aura about you, people aren’t going to look at you as a female chef. I think that a lot of these younger girls coming out have to understand that yea sometimes you are going to work a lot harder than the guys but once you earn those peoples respect it’s never going to be taken away. They’re going to look at you and say yea she’s a badass cook, she’s a chef!”

What kind of advice would you give to the new chefs coming into our field?

“Keep your head down, mouth shut and stay focused”

If you weren’t a chef what would you be doing?

“I would be a make up artist. As funny as it is since I hate the whole female chef thing. What a lot of people don’t know about me as that out of the kitchen I’m very much a girly girl. I fell in love with the 1940’ 50’ pin up look, so I’m very vintage with my style. And I love making people feel good and make up does that for me and for a lot of people as well”.

So since we are at your tattoo artist today, tell me about your ink.

“I am in the works for two full sleeves. What I am getting done today is adding more on my culinary inspired tattoo, fruits and vegetables. Which is a big thing for me since I grew up as a vegetarian family. So this is like a foundation of who I am. So we are doing some color on the morel mushroom, kohlrabi, the ramps and adding a fennel bulb and lychee. The other tattoos I have is a portrait of my mom. My mom is my rock. On my right arm is the four elements of hip hop. Hip hop is the love of my life (other than cooking).

If you could have anything, what would be your last dish?

“Definitely going to be something with bone marrow. So I would be happy as a clam with a bone in rib eye, some bone marrow, oysters and creamed spinach”.

There is something definitely multi layered w chef Aarti. She is like a fine demi. Deep, rich and complex.  And after sitting with her I get a sense of bigger things to come with her. San Diego is yet to have a Michelin star restaurant and perhaps she is the one to do it. Who knows but I intend to watch her rise to the top!