When celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan learned that her traveling book tour would roll through a city undiscovered to her — Oklahoma City — her response was, “That’s so cool. I’m so excited.”
Chauhan is known for her fiery cooking and equally fiery personality on Food Network’s Chopped. Her upcoming book, Flavors of My World, will be an extension of that TV persona. Set for a May 1 release, it is co-authored by Doug Singer, Daily Food & Wine founder and Jetset Magazine travel editor.
“One of the dishes ... in the book, which is an inspiration from when I went to Singapore — I had the Singapore chili crab [there]. It blew my mind!” she said excitedly. “Because, you know, with me and growing up in India, I’m jaded. I’ve had all the spices. I know the flavor profiles.”
Chauhan’s clear draw to spicy cuisine inspired her book as well as her culinary career.
On Saturday, she will have the chance to collaborate with chef Henry Boudreaux of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
“The biggest thing to me, especially, is getting a little bit of awareness to Indian food,” she said. “Because a lot of people associate Indian food as, you know, the $8.99 all-you-can-eat buffets. I want people to think beyond that. Because I have grown up with Indian food, which is beautiful!” Chauhan’s connections to her roots go deeper than highlighting the intricacies in Indian cuisine.
“I mean, this entire concept of farm-to-table or farmers market — it’s the way we grew up [in India],” she said. “And now we’re just getting back to that.”
With a clear platform and some substantial clout from her acclaim as a Food Network chef, Chauhan’s greater purpose is clear.
“If we are doing something — if we are reaching out to so many people — why not encourage children and students to look into culinary as a viable career?” she said.
That mission prompted her and Singer to team up with ProStart, a nonprofit arm of the National Restaurant Association that seeks to educate high school students on culinary arts.
In Oklahoma City, she’ll make a stop at Francis Tuttle Technology Center and chop up some food with local chef Marc Dunham. The event will also feature a ProStart cooking competition, the winner of which will receive a set of new knives and earn contention for the national title and a chance to cook dinner with a member of The White House Chef Tour.
“I really want kids to know what it’s about. There are so many talented kids who, because of its lack of exposure, never get into this field,” Chauhan said.
“I’m just hoping they realize this is such a good and alternative career to look at. One of the basic reasons why I got into food, other than the love of eating, was the fact that food — good food — brings so much joy to people. If good food was served, all the war in the world would end. That, to me, is an idealistic approach in life, because that’s who I am.”
During the book tour, which will begin in New York and include 21 cities across the nation, Chauhan and her team will also facilitate restaurant events that include high-profile local chefs all over the country.
And throughout, she plans to raise awareness of ProStart and its mission.
“From a really young age, I always loved cooking,” said Chauhan. “And people would be so excited and so happy. Dining ... is such a time when family gets together — not only your immediate family, but your neighbors and friends. So I always thought this was such an interesting way to bring happiness and unity to peoples’ lives.”