When God was handing out brains, she got ‘em. When God was handing out, beauty, she got it. When God was handing out culinary talents, she got ‘em. It’d be so easy to be pea green envious of her, but when God was handing out kindness, character, passion and soul, she got ‘em, too! So, you just gotta know that she’s the kind of person you’d call your friend!
Sonali has competed in a grilling competition in 100 degree heat, filmed a TV commercial that aired on The Food Network, traveled the world, and saved a few lives in the Emergency Room along the way. How does one shift from scalpel to santuko knife…from gauze to parchment paper…from heart monitor to food weight scale? Well, if you’re a licensed physician and also a culinary school graduate, you’ve got skill and artistry in both arenas. The Foodie Physician goes from lab jacket to apron and does so seemingly effortlessly, but we all know that this stunningly beautiful woman sacrificed immensely, worked tirelessly, and took many risks to get where she is today! I have the distinct honor of talking to Dr, Sonali, The Foodie Physician, about her life, her cooking and how she landed where she is today–in the culinary world as a rising star!
I know your life’s been full…you’re young, a physician and now a culinary guru, so, please, Sonali, tell me what have you done in the past few years that has changed your life?
Going to culinary school! I didn’t fully realize my passion for cooking until a little later in life when I had already established a career as an ER doctor. After years of experimenting in the kitchen and learning from celebrity chefs on TV, I decided to take the next step and enroll in culinary school. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I learned so much in school and I use that knowledge every time I step into the kitchen. Fortunately I had an understanding boss who let me cut back my hours at the hospital so that I could attend classes at night.
OK, spill the beans, what’s a juicy tidbit about you as a person, you now, your past?
People might be surprised to hear that my first real entry into the culinary world was actually through cooking competitions. I used to watch a lot of cooking competitions on TV and I would say to myself, “I can do that!” So one day, on a whim, I entered a recipe into a contest sponsored by the Food Network and the next thing I knew, I was chosen as a finalist! My husband and I were flown out to LA where I competed in the Ultimate Recipe Showdown, which aired on the Food Network. It was a crazy experience cooking in a TV studio with all of the cameras and a live studio audience. I even got to meet Guy Fieri and Marc Summers (both super nice, by the way)! After that experience I got hooked on cooking competitions and did that for several years (I still enter a few here and there). I’ve won a bunch of great prizes along the way including vacations, private cooking lessons with professional chefs, tickets to the James Beard awards, and lots of cookware.
With all the foodie bloggers in cyberspace, Sonali, what sets you apart from others and how do you define your trademark culinary style?
I often wonder the same thing… there are so many talented foodie bloggers out there! I guess what makes me unique are my dual backgrounds in both the medical and culinary worlds. Using both, I like to create meals that are nutritious and full of flavor. I enjoy discussing the health benefits of foods and encourage people to know what they’re eating so that they can make smart food choices all day long. Having said that, I also enjoy the occasional splurge- after all I am a foodie and believe that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures!
When cooking for yourself, what sort of food would you typically prepare?
Pasta, eggs or my mom’s rice and kadhi. I’ve always loved a good bowl of pasta and I’ll usually end up cooking pasta if I’m alone. One of my favorite dishes to make is Spaghetti Carbonara with a poached egg on top. It’s easy to prepare and it’s so yummy, especially when you break into the soft egg yolk and it runs all over the pasta, coating the strands. One of the other dishes I often find myself making is a traditional Indian dish called rice and kadhi, which is rice served with a flavored yogurt sauce. It’s real homestyle cooking, not anything you would find in an Indian restaurant. Growing up, my mom would always make this dish for me and my sister when we had a special occasion or when we weren’t feeling well, so it’s like the ultimate comfort food for me.
What is the biggest myth about being a good home chef? I mean you do want to spend time with your hubby and have a life!
That you have to cook every day and make everything from scratch. There are days when I have a lot of free time and I’ll spend the whole day in the kitchen simmering sauces on the stove for hours, braising dishes in the oven or making homemade bread. But on busy weeknights, most of us don’t have the luxury of time. I often cook enough food for two meals and then I like to transform the leftovers into a completely different meal on another day. It’s a huge time-saver and it’s also a fun challenge. I also think it’s ok to take some help from the grocery store. You can do some wonderfully creative things with store-bought rotisserie chicken or puff pastry!
Which ingredients would one always find in your kitchen?
I keep oil in cruets or squeeze bottles next to the stove for easy access- both extra virgin olive oil and another neutral-flavored, high smoke point oil like grapeseed oil. I also always have my kosher salt in a salt bowl right next to the stove because that’s the main type of salt that I cook with. I keep a whole array of finishing salts in my spice drawer to season dishes just before serving. I always have eggs on hand in the fridge. If you have eggs, you can always make a great meal in a pinch. I keep a few types of dried pasta in my pantry because pasta is my go-to dish on busy weeknights. And of course, I always have Sriracha (aka rooster sauce) because it just makes everything taste better!
OK, Doc, how do folks find you in the social media!