Food Network host Aarti Sequeira uses the word “blessed” often. It comes up when she describes a career change that found her winning “Food Network Star” in 2010, and again when she talks about the prosperity enjoyed by many people in her adopted homeland of the United States.
“Here in the States we see people who are struggling, but you don’t see it to the level that you see in places like India. The thing that I realized when I came here is that this country is so blessed,” says Sequeira, 36. The chef is best known for her Indian-inspired cuisine on the Food Network’s “Aarti Party,” and for judging “Chopped” segments and “Guy’s Grocery Games.” She is also the author of “Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen With an Indian Soul.”
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Q. You started a career in journalism at CNN. Was it always your plan to switch to food television?
A. No, not at all. My game plan was to be Christiane Amanpour 2.0, an international reporter who went to all the places where things were happening. But looking back on that, I’m not sure that those are necessarily my strengths. My strengths are definitely in the kitchen, making people feel warmly invited to my table and punching some light into the darkness in this way. I was talking to my friend and said, “Remember when you were a kid and you got your cooking set out and narrated what you were making to the imaginary camera?” She just looked at me and was like, “No, honey. Not every kid does that.”
Q. So you hosted your own YouTube cooking shows and shortly after won “Food Network Star.”
A. It was really quick and I wasn’t into it, frankly. I have that old-school start from the bottom and work your way up mentality. I thought it was too soon to try out for “Food Network Star.” People were like “Give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?” I was like, the worst would be if they say yes and I humiliate myself in front of millions of people. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I’m sure I made a fool of myself, but it didn’t matter because I won.
Q. How did you begin working with Oxfam?
A. I grew up in Dubai and so Oxfam was as familiar to me [in the news] as the Red Cross is to people in the States. I love the fact that Oxfam goes to all these rural communities that are hit by hunger, poverty, and injustice and uses the very earth that they’re standing on to pull them out of the struggles they’re in. Teaching them how to farm more effectively. Turning that it into a business that is not only supporting their families, but other people in the communities too.
Q. Have you seen that in person?
A. I met a Nigerian lady name Susan Goodwin when we spoke together at Google. Oxfam went to her village and helped her buy a small piece of land and then taught her how to grow vegetables off that. She took her earnings and she bought a little bit more land, and then a little more. Then she was able to buy a couple pieces of machinery and was able to start employing other women in her village. I remember her talking and the way her chest puffed up with pride, the look on her face. It was so clear to me that what Oxfam was doing was so much more than just putting food in her belly.
Q. Explain how the Hunger Banquet works?
A. You walk in and you have no idea what kind of meal you’re going to have. You draw a ticket at random and that ticket will tell you whether you have a high, middle, or low income level. It’s based on the statistics of people in poverty right now. That ticket decides what kind of meal you get. I love that for just one night you’re walking in someone else’s shoes. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours, it will stay in your heart hopefully for the rest of your life and will inform your decisions from what you cook every week to what you do with your money.
Q. You recommend Meatless Monday as one of those choices.
A. Not only are Meatless Mondays good for your system because it gives your body a break from meat for one day, it’s also really good for the environment and the food system. It takes so much ding-dang water to produce meat. If a family made one meal a week with lentils instead of beef, a family of four could save the equivalent of 17 bathtubs full of water.
Aarti Sequeira will host Oxfam America’s Hunger Banquet on
March 7 at 5 p.m. at the RadcliffeInstitute’s Knafel Center, 18 Mason St., Cambridge. Admission is free butadvanced registration throughEventbrite is required. For moreinformation call 800-776-9326.
Interview was edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at [email protected]