At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
Hetal (@milkandcardamom) is a talented baker and recipe consultant, who starred on Season 6 of MasterChef. She also recently released her debut cookbook, 'Milk & Cardamom', which features innovative treats inspired by her Indian-American upbringing. When she's not busy cooking, Hetal loves to travel and spend time with her husband and young daughter. Read on to learn about Hetal's culinary upbringing, her inspiration for her debut cookbook, and what she loves about South Asian fashion.
On Her South Asian Heritage:
What's your background?
I am Indian-American, specifically Gujarati!
Growing up in a South Asian household that was constantly cooking has clearly influenced your recipes and culinary style. Looking back, what do you cherish most about this experience? Were there aspects of your upbringing/heritage you struggled with?
Growing up in a South Asian household, food was always the center point of each day. Dinner time was a time where the entire family got together and sat down together. My best memories are helping my mom prep dinner and learning with her from when I was little, to all the way into my teen years. Like many kids, I did struggle at times with having Indian food every single day because I was exposed to foods from all over the world (through friends, tv, etc.). Some nights I wanted anything but Indian food - but overall, I'm so grateful for the many lessons and cherished memories I have cooking growing up.
Your book, "Milk & Cardamom", features truly unique and inventive desserts inspired by your South Asian heritage. How did you strike a balance between paying homage to traditional Indian desserts and ingredients, while also expressing your own personality and culinary taste?
My main goal was to create recipes that may look different from the traditional Indian desserts, but still give you all the best aspects of the specific mithai (dessert). For example, my gulab jamun cake looks nothing like gulab jamun, but it has that syrup-soaked, dense, cakey texture that we're all familiar with. Creating recipes with this main goal helped me easily balance my Indian and American heritage. Although I will say there are some recipes where I HAD to keep the traditional recipes, like seero, churma ki ladoo, and besan ki burfi!
What are the biggest lessons you learned from your experience on MasterChef that you still apply today?
I need to be more confident in my food and myself. I'm constantly reminding myself that my work and recipes are worth something to them and not to undervalue myself or my work. A lot of that plays into confidence and believing that your voice and point-of-view matters.
Leaving a stable career in healthcare without a clear next step must have been scary and difficult. How did you arrive to that decision, and what advice do you have for women who are not content with their current careers?
Honestly, it's all thanks to my husband. He pushed me and lectured me HUNDREDS of times to leave healthcare since I was so unhappy. He even forced me to try out for MasterChef and continues to push me to make my business successful and sustainable.
What do you love most about South Asian fashion?
I love all the prints and colors! I am a print fanatic and LOVE dressing up in fun patterns and prints. My mom was a seamstress so she would sew almost all my clothes for me. I'll never forget how obsessed I was with this beautiful yellow and black dhoti suit she made for me when I was a kid. It was comfy, bright and most of all, I felt beautiful in it.
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?
My most favorite piece in my closet right now is this jumpsuit for Anitas Dongre that my husband got me when he was on a work trip to India. It is made with the most beautiful fabric, and it just drapes so perfectly on my body.
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
Jaljeera or Masala Limeade - I love spicy, tart drinks!
What are you currently watching?
'RuPaul's Drag Race'. I am a huge fan of this show and the drag queens. They are so confident and loud, I love it!
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
'Bad Blood'. As a previous chemist, this book blew my mind with all the craziness that surrounded Theranos.
Morning person or night owl?
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?
Reading before bed. My husband hates it, but I gotta read before I sleep... it's just something I can't not do!