Taste Bud Profile
Chef Maneet Chauhan grew up with a desire to try every new food she could find. Growing up in India, she fell in love with the diversity of the cuisines within her own country. This led to a passion to discover flavor and food from everywhere, and the realization that food was a way for her to show her love for the people around her. Read more to learn about how Chef Maneet is sharing her love of learning, human connection, and all things delicious with her own kids.
Maneet Chauhan: I grew up in this small town in India called Ranchi. My dad was an engineer, my mom was a school teacher who became a principal. The community where we grew up had a very diverse population from different parts of India, all of which have very distinct regional cuisine. My household was predominantly Punjabi, while my neighbors were from Southern India, Bengal, Kerala, etc. When I was really young, I can remember finishing my dinner at home, then going over to a neighbor’s house and pretending like I hadn’t eaten so they’d feed me too! I loved it. Whoever I visited would just go and get me food like there was nothing out of the ordinary about it—food and nourishment is such an Indian-aunty way of showing love. I would just make myself at home anywhere, and watch these aunties cook. I always had questions. ‘Why are you doing it this way? Why are you grinding these spices? We do it differently in my house!’ And so on. I would always find myself in someone’s kitchen trying to figure different things out.
We were also surrounded by people who loved food.
I remember a trip we took with close family friends, and there are photos from this trip of all of us having a lovely time at the beach—but the interesting part is that from the entire trip, the only thing I really remember without the aid of photographs is Veena aunty’s idli and chutney that we ate on the way there! We also used to travel by train to visit my parents’ families. The most fun part of the trip for me was getting to eat whatever my mom had packed for snacks, buying food from local vendors along the way, and also seeing what everyone else had brought along for their journeys. In Chennai we’d buy vadas and curd rice, wrapped in a banana leaf with a little bit of lime pickle. Everywhere it was something different. People would get on and off the train and open their boxes or tiffins and I would immediately go investigate what they had brought along. The cuisine of India is so diverse that from stop to stop, the foods would be so different from each other and I was so fascinated—and also I wanted to try everything! I’d always ask what they were eating, and probably because I was so young, they’d always share.
I loved eating, and I loved feeding people. It eventually became clear to me that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—something that I loved, and that people loved me for, too.
It might sound strange given how much I always knew I loved food, even as a child, but the actual realization as to why I’m so obsessed with food came fairly late. It was only 5 or 6 years ago, really. I went to Peru with my husband for work, but we decided to sneak a few days into the trip to see Machu Picchu. Who knows when that kind of opportunity comes up again? So we went to a small town called Urubamba, where the train starts its journey to Machu Picchu. We landed and had a few hours, so everyone we were with decided to take a nap. I was too excited, so I decided to walk to the market. A few hours later, Vivek found me making potato croquettes and selling them with an old lady in the market. I didn’t know any Spanish at all, she didn’t speak English—but that was a profound moment to me. It crystallized something I had always felt—that food is the greatest form of connection in this world. You don’t need a spoken language if you can connect over the language of food. That was very powerful.
I believe food is the ultimate medium to showcase the beauty and differences of people, while giving an opportunity to bond over it. The other day I told my daughter that dal chawal is my ultimate comfort food. She decided hers was Mac and cheese. I thought, ‘I just want to know what brings other people comfort, and I want to show it to her.’ So I put the question in my Instagram stories, and I got just hundreds of responses, all so different! And I showed her the responses, and we talked about how comfort is comfort, it is personal and it is tied to memories. We should all be able to respect each other’s memories. So I’m hoping that by showcasing a diversity of food I can get my children to respect others, and also celebrate their differences.