In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with chef-turned-writer, editor, and recipe developer, Rachel Gurjar. The two discuss careers in the food and beverage industry, Gurjar’s experience growing up in Mumbai, and, of course, their favorite places to have a night out in New York City.
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Jake Cornell: Hi. How’s it going so far?
Rachel Gurjar: So good.
J: Good! I am so excited to talk to you, I feel like we have a lot of ground to cover. So, obviously the show is about going out, and I’ve seen a lot of what you cook and what you put out food-wise. But I’m curious, what does going out look like for you?
R: Well, I love a lot of street food and small-ish restaurants. So if I were to pick between a fancy place and some nook in Chinatown, I would probably pick the nook.
J: Yeah, I love that. Do you have some nooks off the top of your head that are like the ones you like to go to?
R: Well, in Flushing, let’s talk about Flushing.
R: I like going to Maxi’s Noodle. They do these like Hong Kong-style noodles in the soup. They also do them dry and they’re so delicious and light and comforting, especially in this weather. And then another place is called White Bear and they do like homestyle dumplings and they’re dumplings in chili oil. They’re so good.
J: This is really good for me because I’ve been planning, me and one of my best friends have been planning, a Flushing trip to do like a food tour and part of what has delayed me is the anxiety about like an entire neighborhood and feeling like, you know, my stomach only has so much capacity. So getting some greatest hits to know that those are two spots I can definitely know I’ll have checked off is really good for me.
R: Absolutely. You’re going to have such a great time. I mean, it can be overwhelming. But if you bookmark spots, I’ll usually like to just see them on my map and then create a little kind of tour situation and just hit that.
J: Oh, yeah. Wait. So I recently clocked my friend doing this, using the Google Maps Favorites folder. Is that what you do?
J: So I didn’t know. I missed this call that everyone’s doing this and I’m really frustrated by it because my friend is like, “Oh, let me just hit my start,” and now suddenly my Google Maps tells me all the places my friends have told me about to go. And I don’t understand how I got to 2022, and I’m just now finding out about it. I’m really irritated.
R: Well, now you have the knowledge, so.
J: So obviously, currently you work at Bon Appétit, but I’m curious, like your journey as someone who works in food, I would love to hear about how you got here. When did your journey with food start?
R: So I always loved food, I just didn’t know that I wanted it as a career. I like to think of myself as a late bloomer and a little bit of a career changer. I worked in PR first and absolutely hated it. I was like, “No, I cannot do this.” So much respect, but following up 10 times with people gives me anxiety to the max, so I was like I can’t do this.
J: I know I feel bad because I get PR emails and sometimes if I’m really busy, I will see them and be like, “I can’t respond to this right now.” And then in my mind, I’m kind of like, surely if I don’t respond to this they will just take that as a no. And then it’s like four follow-ups later and my favorite is when you get the PR email that is sort of like, “Can you please just say no so that I can stop following up?”
R: I know! God, I feel so bad, but truly it is such a hard job and I don’t think everyone’s cut out for it. Like, you need some real skills.
J: You know, I don’t think I could do it. And I truly thought when I saw that email, this was like maybe two weeks ago that I got the email, I was truly like, “Can you please just say no so I can stop emailing you?” I was like, OK, clearly this isn’t even your choice, this is just how this job must work. And now I feel bad that I was just like, “Oh, no, it’s fine. I won’t respond. I don’t want to do this thing.”
R: I love that they call you out on your sh*t.
J: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And just some of the things that you get sent for PR. I’m like, I’m just laughing at the fact that the person, there’s no way the person, the PR person believes that this is a normal thing to do. Like, I got invited to this — this has nothing to do with food, but I think it’s funny. I got invited to this event — and if this brand hears me, I’m sorry, I won’t name you — but the event basically worked; it was like they were launching a new line of eco-friendly, sustainable shoes or clothes or something. But they wanted people to come and bring in clothes that they didn’t want anymore and they would weigh them, and the weight of the clothes equated to a dollar amount that you could shop for in the store. And I was like, sorry, so just to be clear. You want me to bring my sh*t into a store and then you’re going to weigh it and then take it away. And then I can buy new sh*t with the fake money you’re going to give me from weighing my old sh*t. And they were like, yeah. And I was like, I’m not doing this.
R: I mean, this is also happening in New York where it’s like I can feel my eyelashes freezing off as soon as I step out of my building.
J: It was like the dead of winter and the event was in Soho. I was like, I’m not. I live in Brooklyn, what do you want me to be doing with this thing?
R: This is not happening. I mean, if they are paying for an Uber, maybe, sure. But otherwise, no one’s lugging their clothes on the subway.
J: OK. So you were in PR hell sending 200 follow-up emails?
R: Oh my God, yes. And I was like, I need to reevaluate my life. I live in Mumbai. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest cities in the world, and I was like, I don’t want to do this, so what do I want to do? And straight up, I made a list of things I like and things I don’t like, and food just seemed like a recurring theme. I went with this proposal to my parents and was like, I want to travel and I want to do something in food. And my dad was like, both are very bad ideas because I worked in food, and you don’t make a lot of money. You’ve gotta give up your weekends. I will support the traveling part, but you know, the only way to travel for a lot of people is to get a student visa. My dad pretty much was like, this is a privilege. He was like, this is the last degree I’m paying for, so you better make something out of it.
R: And then I came to culinary school in New York and I worked all through college catering, you know, being a barista, being a hostess, being a cocktail waitress. I worked back of house as a prep cook, line cook, private chef in New York at a catering company, and then again, I realized that I cannot f*cking open a restaurant. I’m alone here, I don’t know anybody, and I don’t have investors. I also realized that it is a huge risk to open a restaurant with your own money. So there I was again with a notepad and marker writing the pros and cons, and I was like, OK, you still love food, what else can I do with it? And I realized that food media and just being creative with food you could do all these things. You could be a food photographer or you could be a stylist, you could be a recipe developer. Anytime I was not cocktail waitressing, I picked up a camera and learned how to photograph. I was taking free courses. I was learning how to build a website, you know, trying to build my social media and just kind of immerse myself into the food community, which is not easy to do, by the way.
J: No, it’s, I mean, I think it’s a notoriously hard world to get into a little bit.
J: So how long have you been in New York?
R: Seven and a half years.
J: Oh, wait, same. That’s like right around where I’m at. I moved here in June of 2014.
R: Nice. Where did you move from?
J: Vermont, where I grew up.
R: Oh, wow. I haven’t been. I’ve heard such great things.
J: Don’t go in the winter, but definitely check it out in the summer. Burlington in the summer is amazing for food. Especially for food. Like, really great.
R: Awesome. What is your favorite restaurant there?
J: Damn. Hen of the Wood is this restaurant that’s in the Hotel Vermont that is a really, really gorgeous room. The way they designed the room there is really beautiful because it’s really focused on the local Vermont ingredients. I love going there now because it’s the sort of thing that in college, I mean, it’s an expensive restaurant. But then you move, you live in New York, and then the expensive restaurant in any other town is moderately cheap, you know?
R: I can afford this!
J: Exactly. So Hen of the Wood, and then the restaurant that kind of really changed the Burlington food scene is this restaurant called Farmhouse that’s really special. I mean, it’s all about restaurants that are pulling from the local ingredients in Burlington, you know? These restaurants have access to incredible produce, incredible livestock, the meat and the dairy nearby is so great. So the places that are kind of sourcing ingredients really locally and then making really delicious food out of them. It’s kind of what you’re there for. And there’s local beer and local spirits, so it’s just a lot of Vermont stuff, which is amazing.
R: That’s amazing, I’d love to go.
J: So did you grow up in Mumbai and then New York was the next location?
J: I’m curious. I’ve never met someone who grew up in Mumbai or has even really spent much time in Mumbai, I think. So I’m curious, going out and the restaurant nightlife in Mumbai versus New York. Can you give me a comparison?
R: Yeah, absolutely. So Mumbai is very famous for, you know, it’s street food. So usually when we go out in Mumbai, I remember meeting up at someone’s house and pregaming. And you don’t eat before, you would either go out to a bar which kind of turns into a nightclub scene. You would probably head to three spots over the course of the night, so you start with a bar scene and then around 1 you would go to a club-club, which would keep going until 4, 5, sometimes 6 a.m.
R: And you had these stalls that do everything with eggs. So they would make scrambled eggs, like masala scrambled eggs. They would do over-easy eggs, they would do, you know, well-done eggs, they would do omelets, and you could get sandwiches made with the eggs and then they would serve it. My favorite dish was getting over-easy eggs with this spicy tomato onion mix thrown over it and then crisply fried in butter. They would serve it with Mumbai pao, which is a kind of bread. You can’t get that bread anywhere else except in Mumbai. It’s so good, the perfect food to eat when you’re drunk.
J: Oh my God. Wait. So you’re deliberately skipping dinner knowing like, we’re gonna party and then have a late dinner when we really need it.
J: And then another thing is Pav Bhaji stores. So Pav is the same bread that I was talking about, and Bhaji is kind of like a vegetarian chili mash, but so much better. Just spiced with so many wonderful things and lots of butter. Imagine dipping that pao in the Bhaji and eating. They give you kind of car service because it’s literally a stall on the street. So if you’re in a rickshaw, if you’re in an Uber, if you’re in a car, they’ll come take the orders. You’re sitting in your car and they’ll give you full-on, restaurant-style service in your car.
J: I’ve never been sold on a night out more in my life, Rachel. Truly, I’m dying for this. This sounds incredible. Really savory, but rich and butter food that’s spicy and you’ve been drinking? Like, yeah.
R: And if you love non-vegetarian food, you have some restaurants that will function as restaurants in the day, but at night they’ll have a special counter which does kebabs, kati rolls, things like that. My favorite in Bandra from Moti Mahal is a late-night butter chicken roll with pickled onions and green chutney. Again, you are going to have to go.
J: Oh my God, this sounds so f*cking incredible. And what are you drinking on a night out in Mumbai, what’s the vibe there?
R: So, back in the day we would start with chilled beers. Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m sharing this. I would like to drink vodka and Red Bull.
J: I mean, can I be perfectly honest with you?
J: I’m in 2022 having a sort of personal vodka, Red Bull renaissance.
R: They’re good!
J: OK, I will say and I will die on this hill, I do think Red Bull tastes good, and I feel like people need to stop saying that it doesn’t. I like the taste of Red Bull and sometimes I want to stay out and I’m tired and you can’t order an Espresso Martini at a gay bar. So I’m getting a vodka Red Bull.
R: And then you get thrown out if you do.
J: So it’s like six deep at the bar and what? Am I going to be like, do you have espresso? I’ll do cold brew! No, you need to get a vodka f*cking Red Bull.
R: I will say, New York has spoiled me that way because I was really introduced to really delicious cocktails here. So now when I go back, and also the scene has changed back in Mumbai, you get amazing Indian-inspired cocktails and there’s so many awesome bars that will make yummy ones. Back in the day, you know, a cocktail was vodka Red Bull.
J: Yeah, mixed drinks. What does an Indian-inspired cocktail look like? What ingredients get incorporated or styles?
R: I would say, do you know what curry leaf is?
R: Yeah, it’s a fresh herb. So maybe a curry leaf-infused Gin and Tonic, or something with coconut milk and cinnamon. Or there’s this fruit called kokum which is really tart and tangy, so you can infuse and make a simple syrup. I’m actually going to make a cocktail with this at a pop-up next month.
J: Oh, fun. The last restaurant I worked at before I left was this place called Kindred that’s in the East Village. It’s on 6th Street right around the corner from that Indian market on 1st between 5th and 6th that’s like in a basement, and when we were designing new cocktails sometimes we would just go in there and look at all the different dried spices and herbs and leaves and stuff and just be like, what can you shake up? What can be made? And it was so fun because those markets are the best because it’s rows and rows of flavors and variations and teas. We did so much stuff with teas and stuff. Yeah.
R: Yeah, I lived on 6th Street, so this was meant to be.
J: Oh my God, no way.
R: Yeah, I lived on 6th between A and B and I worked at Mother of Pearl at one point.
J: I loved Mother of Pearl. Wait, Mother of Pearl was so iconic.
R: Yes. I’m kind of sad that it doesn’t exist anymore.
J: So are any of the other bars or restaurants in that group still around or is that hold gone?
R: Yeah, they are. I think they changed Cienfuegos to something else.
J: But that space is still them?
R: Yeah, and Death & Co still exists.
J: Oh, I forget that they’re Death & Co. OK, yeah. I loved Mother of Pearl and Cienfuegos so much. Those were such fun nights out.
R: Super fun. The cocktails were amazing as well.
J: Yeah, absolutely. So when you moved from Mumbai to New York, in terms of the restaurant scene and the going out and nightlife scene, I guess both, what were some of the differences? I guess I should ask, were there any differences that were kind of jarring or like, woah, this is surprising to me?
R: Let me think about that for a minute, I’m trying to think of the first time I went out. When I came here, I realized that I couldn’t afford anything. That’s a downer, but in my head I was converting everything from dollars to rupees, and it’s hard not to do that as an immigrant.
R: But I realized that people were way more relaxed in a sense. The pressure to dress up was not there, which was nice so that you could just walk into a bar. You’re not supposed to be in like heels and full-on club wear, so I kind of appreciated that. I also saw that a lot of single women were out, like me, you know.
J: Oh, yeah.
R: You wouldn’t feel weird if you were by yourself at a bar having a drink, whereas I would feel weird going out by myself in India like that.
J: Oh, that’s nice. I love that. I definitely experienced that. I lived in England for a year and for the first week I was like, oh, I’m really underdressed and that was as a guy. I was like, oh, the standard level of what is expected just to go to a bar after 8 p.m. is significantly higher.
R: Yes. Oh, and a couple of other things! So, dive bars don’t exist in Mumbai.
R: I don’t really think they do, yeah. It’s all nice bars.
J: Interesting, that’s so interesting to me. What do you think that is? I’m so curious what that would be.
R: I think drinking culture, among young people at least, is not as old compared to the U.S., you know?
J: So there literally hasn’t been time for the bars to dive.
J: That’s so interesting.
R: I think that’s it. I think it’s time.
R: It’s time and culture.
J: You kind of forget. I think it’s funny when you see a bar in New York that’s doing, let’s say Dive Bar Drag, where I know for a fact that this bar opened up in a brand new space six months ago and they’ve paid money to make it kind of look like sh*t because they wanted to be a dive bar.
R: You haven’t been here forever.
J: No. It needs to smell like old beer. If you really want to be a dive bar it needs to smell bad, unfortunately.
R: And the second thing I noticed was, of course, the cocktails.
J: What cocktails? What were your go-to cocktails when you were getting into cocktails?
R: I started with a Margarita.
J: Same, that was my first love.
R: You can never beat a good Margarita, but you know, drinks that use egg whites. I think it freaks people out, but I absolutely love them.
J: Same. I love a good Whiskey Sour, it’s so delish. So now that we’ve been in the game for awhile in New York, what does going out look like for you now if you’re going to have a night out?
R: Actually, yeah. I had a night out last Saturday, so I’ll just take you through that.
J: Oh, I love this. OK, yes.
R: So last Saturday. You know, as adults, I think you try to squeeze in whatever chores or work you have to do even on the weekend. I think that’s just the reality of life. So I met up with Eddie’s because we’re going to do a pop-up together at 4. Then I met my friend for early dinner and we went to this Szechuan restaurant in Brooklyn which was really delicious. I can’t remember the name. Do you want me to go over and remember the name so that people can know?
J: Why not? Yeah.
R: OK, I think it was Birds of a Feather. Yeah.
J: OK. I have to try it.
R: It was super delicious, had an early dinner there. Then I went to Please Don’t Tell, a.k.a. PDT, which is a speakeasy in the East Village.
R: Lucky, because my friend works there so we don’t have a three-hour wait. They just changed their cocktail menu so I had some cocktails there with a friend. Then I went to The Ready, it’s a rooftop bar again in the East Village, and I just kind of hung out there, had more drinks at this bar called Jackdaw. I didn’t back up at that point, I’m just going.
J: Oh, Jackdaw’s on, like, 13th and 3rd right?
J: I went there once, too.
R: Yeah, and that was the end of the night.
J: That sounds like a great night. It has a little bit of that Mumbai element of hopping. Maybe without the clubbing, unless the roof was going, but like the hop.
R: The roof can be clubby if you want it to be.
J: Yeah. I haven’t done a roof yet this year. It’s actually been a minute since I did a roof, yeah.
R: I mean, rooftop bars can be intense. Like The Standard is so long, like a club.
J: Yeah, too intense for me honestly.
R: And then they can be like The Ready. So it’s kind of chill if you want it to. There was a group of people dancing. You can fluctuate, which I love.
J: Yeah. I think there’s an anxiety with rooftops because you can’t window shop them. You have to get in the elevator and go up and then get off and be like, oh, OK, this is the vibe, and then you get back in the elevator. I think the claustrophobic in me is like, I’m trapped on this roof.
R: Yeah, yes. You’re either in or you’re out, there’s no in between.
J: Very much so. Have you ever gone to the bars or restaurants in K-Town where you have to take an elevator up to them and then you don’t know what the restaurant’s vibe is like until you get off the elevator? And then it’s sort of like, well, we’re in the restaurant now, so this is where we are.
R: I went to a fried chicken place, I can’t remember the name, but it was in K-Town and the vibe was exactly how you describe it. You just get shoved into the elevator and it opens and you’re like, oh, OK, I’m here.
J: And there’s also people in there that are going to their office. It’s really bizarre, but I love it.
R: I love it, I love K-Town so much.
J: I love K-Town and I’m trying to explore it more because it’s so fun and there’s so much to do there and it’s so small. Like, they’ve really condensed a lot in there.
R: OK, you have to go to this place called, hold on.
J: God, please.
R: Let me make sure that I’m pronouncing it right so that I don’t butcher the name. See, I forget names, it’s not good.
J: Well that’s because you are smart enough to save them in your Google Map and I’m the one that has to memorize.
R: Which is literally why I do it. It’s because I’m like, that place, that one place that I went to, you should go, too. And people are like, what place? And I’m like, OK, oh! Oh, there you go. Thank you, Google Maps. The place is called Cho Dang Gol.
R: And it’s a Korean kind of homestyle restaurant, and the vibe is very much like, you go in and you’re told what you’re going to eat.
R: You’ve got to go. You’ve got to go. There’s no time.
J: I love this.
R: I loved the servers, they’re older Korean women. It’s very much mom vibes and makes you feel so cozy and comforting. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re eating and just give it to me all.
J: Yeah. I love that. I love a place that’s like, this is what we do, take it or leave it. I love that. I love having the choice taken from me, I don’t really want to choose.
R: That is exactly that.
J: Yeah, I had that experience at COTE, which I think is also Korean.
J: But there’s a steakhouse where it was like, this is what you’re eating. And I was like, fantastic, love it.
R: They have a great bar, too, COTE.
J: COTE. Are you talking about the bar in the restaurant or the speakeasy underneath?
J: They’re both really cool.
R: The vibes are immaculate.
J: Yeah, I describe COTE as a “Sex and the City” restaurant. It makes you feel like it because it’s so spectacular and beautiful and kind of dramatic.
J: Yeah, I went to COTE for a Diageo dinner with these people I used to work with and it was very fun, but there were these pairings with dinner and our table was running like three minutes behind. So at the bar they were like, oh, can we get you drinks while you’re waiting for your table? I mean, really? Sure. So we all ordered a round of Martinis and then immediately got sat. So we had full Martinis, and at first we didn’t realize that there were pairings with the dinner we were having, and the first course was oysters paired with a Vesper. So suddenly, we all have two Martinis in front of us and it was like, this is going to be bad.
R: I love that for you. Did you walk out of that restaurant or crawl?
J: I walked, but I watched one of my coworkers. I was like, you have to get in the car before I feel comfortable going home, like we need to make sure you get in the car. And she got in the car head first. Because, I don’t know if you heard what I said, but we had a full Martini, plus another Martini, and the pairing was one oyster, so we were f*cked.
R: That is the perfect base.
J: What was I just going to ask? Wait, so while we’re doing restaurant recommendations, where would you say are the places to get Indian or Mumbai adjacent food in New York?
J: Is Dhamaka the one in Essex market, the new one?
J: I’m dying to go there. Truly dying to go there.
R: Get the pomfret fry, which is a whole fried fish. It’s my favorite kind of fish.
J: OK, good. This is exciting to me. I’ve heard really good things about that restaurant.
R: Yes, amazing, amazing. Are you an adventurous eater?
J: Yeah. My only caveat is that I’m allergic to specifically shrimp and no other seafood. I love all seafood, I just can’t eat shrimp.
R: OK. Will you eat goat brain?
J: Um, sure.
R: Try it. It’s very creamy, it’s kind of like foie gras.
J: OK. Do they serve it at Dhamaka?
R: I think so, yes. I don’t know if they still have it on the menu, but they did.
J: OK, so I cut you off, but so that’s a good restaurant. What are the other spots?
R: Another small spot is called Spice Symphony and they do amazing Indian-Chinese food. Have you heard that?
J: No, no, no, no, no, no.
R: OK. So India has a great kind of history of Chinese food, which was Indianized by Chinese people who immigrated to India back in the day, and it is so delicious. It is one of my favorite foods on this planet. I am addicted to chili chicken. Order the chili chicken and the chicken lollipop if you go there. Chicken lollipops are basically the wing part of the chicken and they kind of push all the meat up and then they batter it in cornflour and a couple of spices and deep fry it. Then they’ll give you a Szechuan chutney, but they’re going to give you the white people chutney, kind of like a mayo sauce. So say I don’t want this, I want Szechuan sauce.
J: OK, this episode, I have never been more, wow. The way you describe food is painful to me. I’m so hungry for everything you’ve described. I need to go to all these restaurants and f*cking Mumbai, like now.
R: Come to Mumbai with me.
J: Yes, let’s go. Oh, that would be perfect. That sounds so good, and I think I’m confident I could handle the spice level. I think I could make it work.
R: Yeah, I think so. I have full faith in you.
J: I’m curious, is there any, if you were to be having an Indian dinner, is there a traditional thing to be drinking with that? Or is drinking, like you said, drinking culture fairly new to India? So it wouldn’t be traditional to be drinking liquor with it or a spirit or alcohol.
R: Drinking culture is fairly new to India as in, at least in my family, I think the first drink I had with my dad was just a few years ago.
J: Oh, OK.
R: You would drink with your friends when you went out, but drinking with your family is, I think, a very modern idea that a lot of people do. It’s very, very fun. I love drinking cocktails. I like drinking wine with Indian food, I like pairing lighter wines.
J: I was going to say, I feel like there’s so much juicy, delicious red and maybe some rich white wines that would pair so beautifully with all of that, like those spices of richness.
R: Yes, yes, absolutely. I think a buttery Chardonnay would be great for appetizers because you know your taste buds are getting activated with all of the spices. So some things would dry and make the spices sting more and not in a good way, I think.
J: Yeah, you need something kind of fatty.
R: Yeah, and then for reds if, you know, with the deep curries, I think a Pinot Noir-style wine is just perfect for me. But again, you don’t have to be snobby about wines. I think it’s about what you like to drink and finding a way to pair it with whatever food you’re eating.
J: One hundred percent. Yeah, I think. God, that sounds so good, those wines.
R: OK, last restaurant that you have to go to, SEMMA. It’s by the same chefs at Dhamaka but Sanmua, is a South Indian-style restaurant.
J: OK, where in the city is that?
R: That’s in the West Village.
J: Oh, OK, great. I’m going to go.
R: The food there is amazing. Get the dosa. You said you’re allergic to shrimp, but there’s so many things there you’re going to like everything.
J: I love that. OK, so to bring it back to your cooking, I’m assuming growing up in Mumbai you were growing up cooking Indian food?
J: And then is that what you carried through when you started to cook professionally or were you kind of interested in trying different cuisines? What was that journey like for you?
R: Great question. So I came here to go to culinary school and in culinary school, the techniques and way of food is purely French.
R: You know, so it is a good way to understand the core concepts of cooking, but I realized that that’s not what I want to cook. I want to cook my food more, and I want to bring my perspective and my perspective as my culture.
R: And initially, I was trying to run away from it, but I realized that if I want to get to know myself better, if I want to connect with my ancestors, my food, my country, I need to go back to my roots. So I try to find ways to incorporate that through ingredients and techniques and stories in my recipes.
J: Yeah. I was thinking about that when you mentioned culinary school at the beginning of the interview because I was like, I don’t think people realize that. When you go to culinary school in America, it’s just by default that everyone’s learning a French base. Which is so interesting because I go to a French restaurant maybe twice a year, literally. If that. I guess the closest I would go is going to be an American bistro that is probably very highly French-influenced. But I just think it’s so interesting that American cooking culture is still like that, the culinary world is completely based as though the backbone of all cooking is French, and every other culture is spinned off that. Which is, I mean obviously, not true. That’s not how cooking is culture. That’s literally insane. But I just think it’s so interesting that that’s how the system is set up in not just America. I think it’s probably in European or Western culture in general, kind of focuses on French cuisine, and if you’re coming from a different background. It’s strange to me that that’s how it works here and so I was curious what that experience was like.
R: It was educational, absolutely, you know, it was a lot of things. It gave me a vocabulary to describe a lot of things that I didn’t know how to do before.
R: But I realized that I came from such a rich history that I was entrenched in that I also didn’t know much about. It made me realize, and it gave me the drive to educate myself and push myself to explore what I already come with that I didn’t even know I have.
J: Yeah, like, what do I know innately that I take for granted? That’s actually useful knowledge. That’s such an interesting process to go through, it was kind of like mining your own baseline.
R: Yes, which is why my trip this time in December was so eye-opening and it was so important.
J: And that was you going back to Mumbai?
R: Yes, I went back to Mumbai after three years. Not only Mumbai, I also got a chance to go back to Madhya Pradesh, which is a central part of India where all of my extended family lives and is from.
J: Cool, and how long were you there?
R: About a month.
J: Amazing. I’m so glad you got to do that. So were you actively researching food there or was it kind of just you being back in the culture and reconnecting? What was this process like for you?
R: It was both. I think it was just an experience that is research to me, and I made a conscious effort to document things not only because I wanted to share with people who support me and see my work, but also for me to look back. When you’re in the moment, you’ve been waiting to see your family, to eat your food, to be among your people, to just absorb everything. It’s hard because you’re documenting, you want to experience it, you want to be happy, you want to be present, it’s very difficult, even for me.
R: So it was nice to have that document and if I’m just sitting on my couch I can be like, OK, let me look. Let me look at what I did that day, and then I’ll catch things I was like, oh, I missed that, but it’s in the video, it’s in the photo.
J: That’s so special. It is always so stressful to find that balance of I don’t want to not document any of it. I always err on the other side because I like to stay present and not take any photos, and then I’m sad. But I think it’s hard because you have to find that balance if I want to experience this, but I also want to save it, and to be able to look back at these photos and remember it, so I’m glad you found that balance. I think that’s why you have to go for a long period of time, that’s why you need that to continue both.
R: You have to, and what I realized was you should just capture and not post immediately. You should just capture and be present and then you post at a different time or you, you know, share it at a different time so that you can do a little bit of both while you’re there.
J: Yeah, I think just taking a bunch because it’s the taking of the photo is not what takes you out of it. It’s the editing and the captioning and the posting, that’s all so separate, but I think just snapping pics is like, you’re not, not present, I think.
R: Yes, I think that’s the key.
J: Yeah, I think that’s good advice. I think that’s very good advice that people share, you can take as many pics as you want but don’t post till later ’cause that’s what’s gonna take you out.
J: So, so true. Another thing I’m curious about. I’m kind of jumping all over the place, but there’s so many interesting things to talk about. So you said you worked in service when you got to New York?
J: Had you worked in service in Mumbai?
R: Again, the culture is so different there.
J: Right, so that’s kind of what I was curious about. As someone who’s worked in service in New York and then gone out a bunch in Mumbai, in terms of service styles and working, what are those differences?
R: I just respect people more in the service industry, not that I didn’t respect them before. I value and see the other side and that just makes me even more conscious about how I treat them. Again, the service style has changed, when like seven years ago, you did not see a lot of young people bartending or being servers, or even pursuing food the way people pursue it today. And it was really nice to see that in India, you know, young people who are passionate about cocktails, about spirits and liquor and food, just being so excited to make a dish or work in a restaurant and make a drink and present it to you.
R: Did that answer your question?
J: Kind of, yeah. I think that it does. I think I was also curious what this style of service looks like in Mumbai versus the style here? But also that was very fascinating what you just said.
R: OK. I think it depends on where you are. I think in smaller places, well, I think in New York it’s a bit more formal.
J: Yeah, totally.
R: And I think you kind of expect less of your service person in some way. I want to talk about something. So when you go to a restaurant in New York, you don’t expect to, well, if you went to a family-style restaurant in New York, the server would put down your food and walk away and you’re responsible for serving yourself, right?
R: In India, when you go to an Indian restaurant or any restaurant, the server will actually serve each person every dish on their plate.
J: Oh, no way.
R: And if the server doesn’t do that, it’s odd.
J: Yeah. I think that this is like, you start to clock these sort of really subtle differences when you work in service in New York because you’ll have these things, and I think it almost kind of ties back to what you were saying with things you don’t realize that you perceive as innate, that are just like actual cultural differences. Like you’ll have, especially when you’re serving international tourists in New York, you’ll have a table be like, wait, why the f*ck aren’t you serving our food? And to me, I’m like, why the f*ck would I serve your food that way? You know what I mean? It’s like you kind of have to, everyone has to remember to bring that kind of graciousness. We’re all really trained differently on what the baseline of normal is.
R: Yeah, and in India, it’s weird. Now I noticed in upscale restaurants they’ll ask you about allergies, but in small restaurants, no one asks you. It’s just like you’re eating.
J: Totally. You’re just eating it. Totally. Working in food media and doing everything you’re doing, what are you now really excited about? What is it, where are you kind of finding your passions leading you and what are you excited about in your work?
R: I’m excited about finding my voice. I think that just navigating this industry as a person of color, as a woman, as an immigrant, has been quite challenging, so I’m excited to find my voice and then kind of share that through my work, share things that I learn about my culture. I’m excited about learning new things about other people’s culture. There’s so many talented people here and I just want to absorb and then share what I have.
J: I think it’s so exciting and special and cool the way that you’re kind of framing it and experiencing it, which is like people are going to get to learn about what you have to share by being along with you for the ride as you figure that out for yourself. You know, it’s not this thing of like, here’s all this stuff I have and I’m presenting it and it’s like, you know what I mean? People can come along on the journey with you of figuring that out and learning that and discovering, and that is also probably infinite and endless because self-discovery always is. I think it’s really special that that’s what you have to offer, and that’s what’s growing right now for you.
R: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know I think I would be afraid to make mistakes before, but now I think my mindset is changing to, you know, I am probably going to make mistakes and I want to show you those mistakes because it’s fine and we can learn something new, and you can learn something new with me through my mistake.
J: Yeah, and that’s so true of culture and food, right? I mean because there’s so many parallels. It’s like in cooking mistakes are sometimes what we create. I mean, some of the most famous dishes in the world were created from a mistake, you know? And culture is grown and developed and shared through faux pas and through misunderstanding and then rectification and communication. So it’s kind of beautiful to see those overlapping in such a way.
J: Yeah. OK, now I just want to, like, hash out bars and restaurants. What are your favorite bar spots to go out in New York? What are your favorite places to eat? Just everything. I just want us to compare notes now.
R: Oh, OK. So have you been to Pouring Ribbons?
R: Yes, I love Pouring Ribbons. Like I said, I really like dive bars.
J: It sounds like you love a fancy cocktail bar or a real divey dive.
R: Like, just for a nightcap. You know, some days I want to go to a divey-dive bar and some days I want to go to a fancy cocktail place.
J: What are your dives? Let’s share, I love a dive.
R: One on 6th Street, the one right next to the McDonald’s on 6th Street.
J: International Bar? International Bar.
R: No, the one after International Bar, but it’s hidden next to a McDonald’s. Hold up.
J: That’s a place that the public can enter? I thought that was like a- no.
R: If you go in you will get yelled at while you’re ordering.
J: Wait, I truly did not know what that was.
R: You have to go.
J: OK, I have to go immediately.
R: Oh, my God. See, I don’t have it bookmarked because I’ve been there so often, I would just like to roll into that bar all the time. I’m looking it up for you, though, because you should go there.
J: If it’s next to International Bar I know exactly where it is. I love Johnny’s. Do you know Johnny’s on 12th and Greenwich? It just has a blue sign that says bar. You wouldn’t really know it’s called Johnny’s unless you looked at the chalkboard on the inside.
R: Oh, no.
J: And then McManus on 17th and wait, what is it? Oh, 19th and 7th?
R: Oh, fun.
J: Really good, those are my two big dives.
R: Oh, it’s called Coal Yard Bar.
J: Coal Yard Bar? Yeah, that’s a dive.
J: Yeah, Union Square. It’s funny that you say that because the Union Square and the area around it is actually a treasure trove of specifically dive bars because there are so many brutal restaurants to work in that area where people need to immediately drink after, because I also used to work in a Union Square adjacent restaurant, and our spot was Barfly, which is over on 3rd Ave.
R: Wait, I know Barfly.
J: We all know Barfly, it’s pretty brutal.
R: You’re right, you’re right.
J: I’ve had some nights in Barfly, but it’s so funny because I feel like every restaurant, ABC, Union Square Cafe, all of the restaurants in that area each have their own dive bar, and it’s like a sister. It’s so funny to me how that works in that area.
J: Yeah, but Barfly, I have some, oof. I can give myself a hangover just thinking about Barfly.
R: I love that.
J: Yeah. Any other restaurants that are top tier for you?
R: What have I been to recently? Oh, have you been to Ugly Baby?
J: I’ve never even heard of this.
R: Oh, my God, you have to go. You have to go to Ugly Baby.
J: Where? And what is it?
R: It’s in Brooklyn and they do northern Thai-style food. They have very spicy food.
J: OK, I’m down.
R: They warn you, they’re very good about that, which is great.
R: So definitely go there. And have you been to Mace? It’s in the East Village.
J: I’ve walked by it a million times and haven’t gone yet.
R: Yeah, and I think they have another branch in the West Village that they opened. Branch? Oh my God.
R: Yes, location, I’m not talking about banks. Yeah, so go to Ugly Baby and go to Mace.
J: OK, perfect. I think that you and I should have a night out, ’cause it sounds like we have very similar tastes.
R: Accepted. Proposal accepted.
J: Ugh, thank God. OK, cool, because I feel like every restaurant you’ve said I’ve been dying to try, and we have very similar tastes in the bars that we’ll go to after.
R: Yes. Oh, wait. Have you been to Apotheke?
J: Yes, wait, OK. One of my greatest nights out ever in my life in New York was centered around Apotheke.
R: Mine, too.
J: Wait, really? Wait, have I told this story on the pod before about the night at Apotheke with the concert that started late? I have told that story? It was just like I had this night where we ended up stuck there for hours because we thought a concert started at 7 and didn’t start till 11. So we had four hours to kill and we made best friends with the server and that bar is so special. When I feel the most legit it’s at a speakeasy because it’s hidden or whatever, but it doesn’t feel kitschy or fake, it’s like a legit spot.
R: Yes, yes, I 100 percent agree with that description, and another favorite is Mother’s Ruin.
J: Love Mother’s Ruin. The Dressed Up Tecates at Mother’s Ruin are one of my favorite summer drinks there is.
J: Wait, so lets do, can we do like Chinatown food and then Apotheke and Mother’s Ruin?
R: Done. Done.
J: Oh, OK, perfect. Rachel, this was like, one of my favorite episodes. This was so, so fun.
R: I’m so happy to hear that, thank you.
J: Truly. Thank you so much. This was really, really a special episode. I really appreciate it. I’m so excited to try all these restaurants and to hangout.
R: This was wonderful. It was great talking to you, and thank you for having me.
J: Of course. I think that’s it. Well, I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and I’ll DM you, we’ll get dinner.
R: Yes, absolutely, I would love to.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.