Oakland based Top Chef alum Preeti Mistry has gathered influences from their time living in England, in Ohio, from their father’s time living in Uganda, and of course from the Bay Area. They also have extremely strong ties to their family’s Gujurati traditions and memories. As an openly queer, non-binary chef, Preeti is a powerful voice for change in our industry. Kalamata's Kitchen is honored to donate to the Trans Justice Funding Project in Preeti's name.
“I went to India with my mom when I was four years old. It was the first time my Mom had been back since getting married and moving to London, so I know it was a big deal for her. She took me to the Mumbai city beach, which is not a beach that people hang out at during the day—but at night, it comes alive. They have all of these fun-fair things, people flying kites in the sunset, and so much street food—pav bhaji, pani puri, gola—it just seems like an endless variety of all the deep fried snacky salty and sweet stuff everyone craves. It’s like the hotdogs and funnel cakes of India. That fried smell (which you can smell long before you get to the actual beach), the theatrics of everything being made in front of me, all of it is so vivid in my mind.
I was always enamored with “outside food.”
"If I saw it, I wanted to try it. I was obsessed with trying things—street foods, different restaurants, whatever. We didn’t have a lot of money though, so this wasn’t always the easiest desire for my parents to indulge, but that need to “try” never left me.
Food is a really big deal in the Mistry family.
"We didn’t take normal vacations like sightseeing or beach weeks like other families did. We just visited our family that lived in other places. The line was always “What’s today’s plan?” Which wasn’t a hiking itinerary or any other activity—it directly translates to “What are we eating today?” And seriously—everything we did happened around meal prep and meals themselves. I have so many great cooks in my family. One of my aunts is the best at sweets. One handles all of the meat and fish. Her food is super spicy because she lived in Zambia for a time—we have so many different influences in my family. People were teased or praised about their food constantly—it was just our dynamic.
Being teased and being obsessed with what we were going to eat was very foundational for me.
"Being queer, being non-binary, there have been times that were hard with my family. But when I go home and it’s a big Mistry family gathering—I’ve got no problems. They don’t care about anything other than what we’re going to eat and how we’re going to tease each other about it. In a way, it helped me re-build relationships as an adult with my aunts and uncles even though we were estranged for awhile.
Food has so much power to bring people together.
"The best gift you can give someone is cooking and feeding them. It’s a very pure expression of care. It breaks down barriers between people. The act of doing something for someone else, like sharing cookies that you made, or taking someone leftovers when they are having a hard time, or making dinner for people to share some part of your culture or history—these are the ways we learn about each other, and grow together.