Rachel Goenka studied English and journalism at the The Pennsylvania State University in the US. But it was after her stint in journalism and advertising that she discovered her passion for food. This led her on a flavor-filled journey, via The Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, where she trained under the celebrity chef Rachel Allen (remember her show Rachel Allen: Bake! which aired on TLC?). Back in Mumbai, the then budding food entrepreneur launched The Sassy Spoon, a Euro-Mediterranean restaurant that went on to win several awards, including Best Independent Restaurant – Critics Choice by Time Out and Top Voted European & Mediterranean restaurant by Zomato, two years in a row (2014-2016). Goenka's restaurant empire also includes the Sassy Teaspoon, House of Mandarin, Baraza Bars & Bites and Mandarin & Mircchi. We had a tete-a-tete with the restaurateur on her foodie journey. Below are edited excerpts:

What are your earliest memories of eating good food?

My grandmothers cooking! Especially around Christmas, Easter or any sort of feast.

What was it like training under Rachel Allen?

It was a lot of fun, more than anything. I think most people get carried away by the fact that she’s a celebrity chef and assume that it’s all glitz and glamour. I trained under not just Rachel, but her mother-in-law, Darina Allen, as well. In fact, Rachel trained under her too. The whole Allen family are very involved in teaching at Ballymaloe, so the experience was very personal. I lived on the Allen farm for three months, so after a while you just feel part of the community. From an education perspective, Rachel is unapologetically fun and she simplifies most processes so it’s not as hard as it seems.

How do you innovate in the kitchen?

I love playing around with flavour combinations. Some of my favourite ingredients to work with are vanilla, lavender, dark chocolate, salt and balsamic vinegar. Just recently, I made a fig and balsamic confiture (a fruit jam, or fruit stewed in a thick syrup) with vanilla and cinnamon. I think if I could bottle Christmas, it would taste like this!

What flavours or food trends are you most excited about in 2018?

The use of more regional spices, innovative ways to reduce wastage, and simplified desserts are three trends I’m looking forward to this year.

One dish that you haven’t cooked, that’s blown your mind?

It’s not just one dish, but my entire culinary experience in Melbourne, Australia. I did a tour of the restaurants belonging to the Masterchef Australia greats, and the food was just something else.

Where did the idea and name for The Sassy Spoon come from?

I wanted my brand to be a reflection of me. I wanted to put my personality on a plate, and someone suggested the word sassy and it just fit.

What’s the one thing you enjoy cooking?

I love making gluten-free brownies. The recipe is easy, indulgent, guilt-free and gone in seconds!

Tools of the trade every cook should have?

I think everyone should have stuff from KitchenAid and Robot Coupe, plus a global chef knife, a liquidizer.

Your advice to home bakers?

Keep trying out different recipes. Start with the basics and get that foundation right before challenging yourself with tougher recipes.

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