Meet Chetna, or as I like to call her, the Queen of Spice. She is the founder and business owner of Spice Culture.
If you know me, Indian food is my #1 favorite ethnic cuisine. I eat it once a week, at least. I was invited to an Indian group cooking class in August of 2018. How could I pass up this opportunity? I would finally learn all of the secrets that go into cooking my favorite dishes. I showed up on August 4th with my apron in tow. I was greeted by a warm smile, and a recipe packet, ready to dive in. I was so impressed by the experience. Chetna has shown me how easy it can be to cook Indian food, sans the intimidation.
See below for our Q&A session, scrolling photos, and information regarding her various offerings!
Q: What is your background? Do you have formal training?
A: I have been cooking most of my life alongside my mom. I have learned from her. She taught me different techniques to use for prepping Indian dishes. Which type of pots to use for a drier curry, vs. a saucy curry. Knife skills, etc. I went to the “Culinary Academy of Mom,” for over 20+ years.
Q: How did you come up with the name of your business? Does it have a special meaning to you? When did you start your business?
A: “Spice Culture” came about during my research into the different spices used in my own Indian cooking. I began to realize, how “spices” are found in every culture, type of food, in all corners of the world. For me to say “spices” are exclusive to one area, would be a disservice to every cuisine out there. The name was important to me to show how we are all part of one culture when it comes to food – every person cooking in their own style, own recipes, own traditions, etc. I wanted a name that encompasses all types and areas of food/cuisine. I started formally teaching cooking about 2 years ago in my local community, and have grown from there into larger venues, group/private events and classes.
Q: What, or who is the inspiration for your dishes? Do you cook like this for your family?
A: My inspiration is my mom. She passed away from breast cancer about 2 years ago. My mom was one of the most incredible people, because she had a full time job, took care of her family until the very end, and cooked the most amazing dishes at every meal. But what I really remember is that despite her hectic schedule, she always made time to cook for other people. As soon as someone said they liked a particular dish – she would find the time to make it and then give it to them. She always did that and I didn’t really think about her actions until I was an adult cooking in my own kitchen. I used to tell her to start a catering business because everyone she knew loved her cooking, but she used to joke around and say, “I took much of her time.” LOL!
When my mom got really sick towards the end, I had the opportunity to stay with her for a few weeks to take care of her, and cook for her. Everyday, I would ask her what she wanted to eat and I’d make sure to make it…Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Italian, etc. – you name it…I was literally in the kitchen from 9am-9pm making sure my mom got whatever she wanted to eat.
The last meal we had together was Veggie Samosas – she woke up early in the morning when everyone was asleep and sat in the kitchen by herself cutting all the veggies into perfect bite size pieces. Despite her shaky hands and wobbly legs – she made the samosa pastry dough all by herself. When I woke up and saw her, I ran over to take over the samosa cooking and she said “Chetna – I want to make samosas for you one last time so you will remember me.”
She inspires me to fight for what I want until the very end. When I cook now, I remember the importance of sharing my meals with other people, and wanting to make them happy. My mom was a go-getter, and after her passing, I have been determined to keep her recipes alive and share my love of cooking and Indian food with whomever is willing to listen and learn.
And yes – the dishes I make in our classes are the dishes I make at home for my own family.
Q: How far will you travel for a cooking class? How many people can you accommodate? Should the host have anything in particular for the event? What do you bring? How far in advance do you recommend booking?
A: I travel all over the Tri-State area. The class size is determined by the venue/event. I have done both private and group classes at people’s homes. I’ve also been invited as a “private chef” for dinner parties, where the host can invite any number of people. I will have a set menu that I cook solo in their kitchen and present to their guests. I usually bring everything (produce, spices, recipe booklets) to the hosts home and may just ask for extra chopping boards and spoons.
I do like to have all event/class details confirmed at least 1-2 weeks prior, to ensure all details of the menu are prepped. I determine the order in which to cook each dish in the allotted time-frame, and this allows me the time to have recipe booklets created for each guest as a take-home.
Q: What is the cost per person? How do you accept payment?
A: Cost will be $80-$100 per person, depending on the menu and type of event - as I do cooking classes, cooking demos, and private cheffing. Payment can be in the form of cash, check and CC via PayPal.
Q: What does a group cooking class entail for the guests?
A: I provide the recipes to keep in a packet. We cook together and eat together if time permits. Bring extra containers in the event of leftovers!
Q: Is your food from a specific region? If so what region? What are your go-to dishes?
A: I cook a mix of food from both the North and South regions. Being North Indian myself, I usually end up making a few more Northern dishes than Southern, just because these are the food items I grew up on. My go-to dishes are Hariyali (Roasted Indian Herb Chicken), Lamb Kheema (Spiced Ground Lamb with Peas), and Butter Chicken (Chicken Curry). All 3 are my family favorites and easy enough to tackle during the week. Add some naan or roti, and everyone in my family is covered with plenty of leftovers for the next day.
Q: Can you give us some examples of the fusion dishes you create?
A: I make Indian style pasta, Mexican, Tandoor Chicken Empanadas, Indo-Chinese, etc.
Q: Where can we find you online?
A: (See below for clickable links)!
Facebook: Spice Culture Cooking
I highly recommend hosting a cooking class. This is a unique opportunity. You will gain first hand experience and knowledge into the world of cooking with various spices, and creating traditional Indian favorites. Chetna will work with you to customize a menu that will suit you as well as your guests. Chetna’s skills are not limited to just Indian food. You can request fusion meals and get creative! Vegetarian, meat, biryani, the list goes on. Flavor will not be sacrificed, and you will be able to take home your recipe packet for future use. I thoroughly enjoyed the chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and rose ice cream. These recipes can be prepared within a reasonable amount of time, and they are sure to impress your guests. Classes are interactive, and delicious! Remember, don’t forget your apron!
If you have additional questions, please click here for more class information.