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  • Introduction

    In every culture, food means more than sustenance. The act of cooking serves as a form of expression for the senses—seducing the eye to a plate; provoking the tongue with texture; arousing the appetite with a sizzle; comforting the soul with reassuring aromas; and most importantly, stimulating the spirit with flavors. In every way, cooking tells a story; a taste or an aroma can trigger a memory or transport without travel. A simple dish can relate the cook’s life experience or might tell the tale of a region--whether it is arid, tropical, or mountainous. The method of food preparation can provide social and economic clues, from slow-cooking to salt-curing. Most engaging, however, is the way that food can offer a lesson in cultural history or a vicarious adventure.

    The four chefs in this edition share their cooking adventures and the places it has brought them, emotionally, creatively and professionally. It is the vehicle they have chosen to make connections with family, friends and patrons, as a comfort through life’s challenges and as a centerpiece for celebrations.

    The journey hasn’t always been easy for women in the culinary world. But now, thanks to the accomplishments of women like Maneet Chauhan, Alexandra Raij, Rita Sodi and Katy Sparks, the notion of the professional kitchen being a man’s world is a laughably tired one.

    In this book, we celebrate the growth of women in the culinary industry and the voyages they have taken literally, or figuratively, to get there. We asked these four chefs to share recipes that take the reader on a journey relating the experiences of their lives, in and out of the kitchen.

    Maneet Chauhan’s journey starts in India. From the time she was a child she was the go-to kid to help neighbors throwing dinner parties. In a society that prized having sons, she was one of two cherished daughters who were encouraged by her proud parents to excel in whatever profession she chose. Maneet went on to become the only woman in her class in India’s leading hospitality school before attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She developed the distinct Latin/Indian fusion cuisine of Vermillion in Chicago and New York, where she cooked for 8 years. In 2011, when she had her daughter, Maneet decided to take her career in a new direction. She became a regular judge on the popular Food Network show Chopped; completed a cookbook, The World on My Plate: A Culinary Tour Through 25 Countries, which highlights the global influence on her cuisine; and will open an Indian-influenced gastropub in Nashville, Tennessee by the end of 2013. Maneet’s recipes not only highlight the exotic flavors of her homeland, but encourage a mix-and-match versatility that allows creativity for the home chef.

    True to her multi-cultural upbringing, Alexandra Raij spent her entire life in search of exciting flavors. Her distinct love of ethnic cuisine and her unique family background—as the daughter of first-generation Argentinean Jews--made her stand out in her hometown of Minneapolis. She grew up on Latin, Italian, Jewish and Asian foods, and years later, her husband Eder Montero would cultivate a love of Basque cuisine, the food of his homeland. After meeting in a restaurant kitchen, the duo now runs some of New York’s most authentic Spanish restaurants: Chelsea’s El Pinto Quino and Txikito, and Brooklyn’s La Vara. Alexandra was named Eater.com’s 2012 “Chef of the Year” and La Vara, with its Moorish and Jewish influences, recently received a two-star rave from The New York Times. Through her recipes, Alexandra pays homage to the worldly influences on her cooking, a journey she also hopes to pass on to her two children.

    Rita Sodi found herself in a career she no longer cared for. She grew up in Mugello, Italy, on a farm outside of Florence where her family taught her to enjoy the bounty of her Tuscan surroundings—the olives, the salumi, the prized breeds of cattle. She went on to art school before embarking on a successful career in the clothing industry, and after nearly 30 years in the business, left her position as Chief Industrial Officer at Calvin Klein to set off on a new adventure: opening her own restaurant in New York City. It was risky, as Rita had never worked a day in a professional restaurant kitchen before, and the economic downturn of 2008 made it hard to open a new business. But with a fierce dedication, Rita forged ahead to open her authentic, acclaimed West Village restaurant, I Sodi, where she celebrates the cuisine of her Tuscan heritage.

    Katy Sparks broke the family tradition of academia. She grew up on a small farm in Cornwall, Vermont, where her father was a professor at prestigious Middlebury College. When her siblings shuttled off to Princeton, she half-heartedly enrolled at Middlebury. Unhappy with college life, Sparks left Middlebury to attend Johnson and Wales, where she showed how the “trade school” member of the family could excel by graduating summa cum laude. She launched her career at New York City’s four-star The Quilted Giraffe before Bobby Flay brought her on as his right-hand woman at Mesa Grill and Bolo. She then ventured out on her own as the lauded executive chef of Quilty’s in SoHo, earning a Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine and Rising Star Chef from Wine Spectator and Restaurant Hospitality. When Quilty’s closed in 2001, Sparks shifted her chef responsibilities in order to devote time to her son. She started consulting for big-brand businesses such as Balducci’s and Great Performances venue catering. Sparks recently returned to the front lines of the kitchen as the executive chef at New York City’s iconic Tavern on the Green, the first female chef to hold that position in the restaurant’s 75-year history. Through her recipes, Katy blends the incredible journey of her career and family background.

    For best results with these recipes, use only the freshest ingredients possible; taste your creations and adjust to your personal preferences; click the links, study the pictures and videos, but most importantly, have fun. Use this e-book not only as your passport to world cuisine, but as the vehicle to understanding the influences, and the worlds, of four incredible women, and chefs.

© 2016 Alta Editions, LLC