A Conversation with Chef Priyanka Naik
If you're a lover of flavorful, plant-based cuisine, you've likely come across Chef Priyanka Naik's viral vegan recipes online. From her Giant Fusilli with Spinach Jalapeño Pesto to Seared Peach Pani Puri, no recipe is served without flavor and a little (or a lot of) spice. Priyanka is a self-taught vegan culinary expert with a strong focus on sustainable recipes that benefit both people and the planet. Her impressive accolades include being a Food Network champion, winner of Quibi's 'Dishmantled,' a TV Host, author of 'The Modern Tiffin,' columnist for 'Ecokitchen' at The Washington Post, a sought-after public speaker, and world traveler.
Needless to say–Chef Priyanka’s food is delicious, and her opinions hold weight in our world. That's why we were thrilled to discover that our very own plant-based honey has found a permanent spot in her kitchen.
We sat down with Priyanka this summer to hear more about her love for Mellody and her remarkable journey as a celebrated vegan chef and influencer. In this interview, Priyanka opened up to us about how her Indian heritage has deeply influenced her approach to cooking–one that’s flavor-forward and culturally rooted.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a celebrated vegan chef and influencer?
My journey is very a-typical. I did not go to culinary school. I am intentionally self-taught, and that is for a few reasons; I considered going to culinary school in high school, and I met with writers, and they all told me you’d have to butcher, cook, and eat meat.
I grew up vegetarian, because I am a first-generation Indian, and it was not part of our culture to eat meat; we made hundreds, if not thousands, of dishes that were solely plant-based.
I’ve also traveled a ton throughout my life, which has been very influential on my culinary expertise and my outlook on food, so when I graduated college is when I started my blog, chefpriyanka.com.
I started my blog, and it started picking up a lot of attention from different media outlets, and we started getting recognized more. I grew up watching food networks, and I really didn’t see anyone like me on there, nor did I see anyone really focusing on vegetarian or vegan cooking.
I got on a show called 'Cooks vs. Cons,' which is similar to 'Chopped,' and I won that show cooking purely vegetarian food, so I became a Food Network Champion, and that’s when my credibility in the industry really started taking off.
From there, I started getting a lot more recognition and several brand deals and being recognized more internationally. I've now written a book, I've got a column in the Washington Post, I’ve done TV commercials, and I've spoken on panels.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style is kind of a genre that I made up, which is an Indian twist on global dishes. At my core, I’m always gonna have some sort of Indian element in my dishes, whether it be an ingredient, a technique, or just the story related to the dish. But it’s influenced by global dishes because that is who I am, I don’t like sticking to just one country or one culture.
I’ve traveled to over 40 countries, and I’m very obsessed with trying to learn about other cultures and how to incorporate that into my food.
What inspired you to write your book, ‘The Modern Tiffin’?
In the same way, I never really saw anyone who looked like me on TV; I felt similarly from a book standpoint. I didn’t really see any books on the selves that had the voice I do or shared the cuisine that I do.
It’s called ‘The Modern Tiffin’ because it is the modern perspective and takes on a very traditional way to pack food in India, which is in a Tiffin, which is a steel-carrying container. I grew up with values behind the importance of good nutritious food, and that carried over into my adult life.
Every chapter of the book focuses on a different part of the world that I’ve been to, so you have an Italian chapter, an Australian chapter, and then again with a little Indian twist. I want to help change people’s perspectives on food as well as they’re speaking directly with me in an informal tone
Can you share with us a memorable success story or an accomplishment that you feel really proud of in this vegan culinary journey?
The coolest thing I’ve done that I’m proud of was being invited by the W Maldives last year to come and develop a vegan and sustainable menu. This is special for a few reasons.
One, I was the first vegan chef that they invited, which I thought was a huge milestone for them to cross because if you ever go to any of these islands, and especially the Maldives, a major part of the diet is seafood and most of these resorts have seafood on the menu and not too many plant-based or vegan items. I thought it was very progressive of them to invite me to come and develop this menu because it, again, helps to change the perspective of hospitality.
In the project, I actually went to the different island farms in the Maldives to explore what they’re growing locally.
What was your experience trying and cooking with our plant-based honey, Mellody?
When I first tried it, I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ the consistency is identical; I had not encountered a honey product that was really just the color, the consistency.
If you put honey side by side, real honey versus Mellody, you would not be able to tell the difference, and I have a huge sweet tooth. I need dessert after every meal, and honey is a big part of my life.
I love making dishes, especially sweet or savory dishes that have a balance of flavors like sweet and salty, and in the case of the dessert that I made for Mellody, it was a little more fragrant and decadent, and it was just really easy to cook with.
I try not to use up my stash every day, but also with my style of cooking, with Indian cooking, especially, you always have to have spicy, salty, sweet, and tangy in the dishes that you probably will not encounter a savory dish within all regional parts of any cooking that don’t have some sort of like a sugar element in it.
This sticky sweet and very garlicky Tofu is reminiscent of those comforting dishes you love but with all plant based ingredients including honey made without bees! Easy to make and perfect served over rice and fresh greens like bok choy or broccoli.
If you're a lover of flavorful, plant-based cuisine, you've likely come across Chef Priyanka Naik's viral vegan recipes online. From her Giant Fusilli with Spinach Jalapeño Pesto to Seared Peach Pani Puri...