Top Chef Season Six Interview: Chef Preeti Mistry

The next season of Top Chef may just be a little greener when it premieres on August 19 as Chef Preeti Mistry brings a sustainable approach along with her knives

Chef Preeti Mistry runs Charlie’s Café at Google in her job as an Executive Chef for Bon Appétit Management Company. An average day on her job includes 2000 made-from-scratch, seasonal, farm-fresh meals. Both Google and Bon Appetit have made a strong commitment to local farm-sourced ingredients as well as sustainable practices in the kitchen. Will Chef Preeti be able to bring the green to Top Chef Season Six? We ask her in this Eat. Drink. Better. interview.

EDB: 1. As your bio on the Bon Apeiti site quotes you, “…  my commitment to how I source my ingredients and more importantly why has been reinforced in such a way that I don’t think I could cook any other way.” Were local sourcing and a sustainable approach available to you in the Top Chef competition, and if not, how did you adjust to the change and not being able to source ingredients?

Chef Preeti: Honestly, it was quite difficult because we are essentially given the ingredients we are given, and one does not have a choice if the ingredients are part of the challenge.  Furthermore, when allowed to purchase our own ingredients there was not an option of where to source them from.  I adjusted by focusing on what looked good and healthy. Not much grows in a dessert so at the end of the day you look at what products do not seem like they have traveled too far or been sitting around for too long.

Interview continues after the jump.

EDB: Did you take a “green” or “eat local” message with you to Top Chef along with your knives? What was your mission in the competition?

Chef Preeti: My mission going in was to cook simple delicious food and win!  I tried to factor in seasonality and at least stay as local as possible given the circumstances.  For me this meant using products from California, ironically they are some of the closest growing regions to Vegas.

EDB: You earned your Grande Diplome in both Cuisine and Patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu London, do you think this gives you an advantage over other chefs who may not have a background with dessert?

Chef Preeti: The professional training in pastry has always helped me out. I don’t really like to do desserts, but I can do them.  I went in with a good roster of desserts up my sleeve since that seemed to be an area on past seasons where chefs slipped up.

EDB: You’re familiar with the seasons, selection and sources of ingredients in California, what did you do to prepare for a shift in location? Were you able to apply local sourcing to your Top Chef experience?

Chef Preeti: I tried to research local farms.  As I mentioned above, being in the dessert did not really make for much of a shift since most of the produce in grocery stores comes from Califfornia.

EDB: What types of sustainable, low-carbon approaches were you able to leverage in the Top Chef Kitchen?

Chef Preeti: I can’t answer this question.. since I can not tell you anything we did on the show.

EDB: Imagine the competition has begun, and the ingredients presented to you include bluefin tuna. What would you do?

Chef Preeti: The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch advises to avoid bluefin tuna due to overfishing.  The population of the fish is declining much more rapidly than the fish can reproduce.  I would try to avoid using this in any aspect of my cooking.  That being said, Top Chef is a competition and if my choices were to use it or be disqualified from the show.  Unfortunately I would have to use it. I would however make a big deal out of it and make sure to discuss in my interviews and with the other chefs to bring the issue to light on the show.

EDB: What did you most look forward to in the competition? What did you least look forward to? How was the experience? I know you can’t give away the ending, but what can you give us for any hints or things to look forward to?

Chef Preeti: I was looking forward to meeting all of these other great chefs from around the country and competing with them.  My style is very simple and flavor focused so I was looking forward to seeing how my dishes would be received next to chefs whose style is much more about presentation.  I was not looking forward to the quickfires since my style is about patience and letting flavors develop slowly.  I really can’t tell you anything except, watch what happens!

EDB: You were raised in the US, attended Le Cordon Bleu in London with its classic French cuisine approach, and your family heritage is Indian. How have these different cultures influenced your cooking? How do they come together in your dishes?

Chef Preeti: All of these influences make up a little piece of my cooking.  I am drawn to all of these flavors and techniques, more of Indian flavors with European techniques… such as cooking a piece of fish with Indian spices, but instead of presenting it as a curry, I would sear the fish roast it and then sauce it in a more European presentation.  I also have been know to put more California/European ingredients into crispy Indian puris or samosas, like steak tartar or rosemary roasted chicken. Overall, I just don’t believe there are any rules on what you can and can not do.  I remember wanting to do a cilantro herb crust on lamb instead of the classic French parsley and my French instructor told me I could not I did not believe him and did it anyway… it was delicious.

EDB: We’re coming up on the late summer harvest months, what are you cooking right now?

Chef Preeti: Tomatoes are everywhere… the other day we made a Local San Marzano Tomato Gazpacho with TD Willey Cucumbers and Basil,  the popular PLT Sandwich with La Quercia Pancetta, Wild Arugula and Green Zebra Tomatoes, or our Slow Roasted Pork Loin with Terra Firma Heirloom Tomato Compote.  Figs are back, we generally use Capay or Knoll Farms for a fresh fig and Pinot Noir Sauce with Rosemary Roasted Lamb or a savory Bread Salad with Figs, Feta and Roasted Gypsy Peppers.

EDB: What are the biggest lessons you can share from cooking with a sustainable approach, things a home cook can apply to lower her or his carbon footprint?

Chef Preeti: We food people often become obsessed with find the “best” of any particular ingredient and many times the prevailing sentiment is that the “best” comes from Europe.  There are so many artisans in the US making incredible cured meats, cheeses, olive oils, wines, etc… I urge people to seek out these local artisans and discover what is in their own backyard.  It may not be the same cheese you had when you went to France, but who says it has to be?  Is it delicious, right?  Cooking with what is available around you is common sense.  The “best” tasting product is most likely the one that did not have to be shipped thousands of miles.

EDB: What’s next after Top Chef?

Chef Preeti: I started at Google right after returning from taping the show, so I have big job here and plan to stay for quite some time.  One thing I learned being away from my life for 5 weeks is how much I love it.  Bon Appetit is a great company and I love my job.  I love living in the Bay Area where we have one of the longest growing seasons of any part of the country and amazing local purveyors.

As for side projects… there may be a couple in the works, but nothing I can tell you about yet.

EDB: Thank you, Chef Preeti! We’ll look forward to watching you on Top Chef and learning what’s ahead for you.

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About the Author

Beth Bader is co-author of the book, The Cleaner Plate Club. She is a passionate "Local Food" advocate and an author for the Eat Local Challenge. She loves creating healthy, family-friendly, seasonal foods, family dinners, cooking for friends, and cooking with her child. You can her at The Expatriate's Kitchen.