We all know the joys of dining out, feasting on flavorful fare, consuming creative cuisine and devouring decadent desserts, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at the tantalizing tastes that whisk us from the doldrums of everyday life to some epicurean plane of existence.
But what if you could create those culinary masterpieces at home?
Thanks to Divya Gugnani, you can.
This Harvard educated Venture Capitalist-Turned-Chef is the prolific powerhouse behind Behind the Burner.com, a cooking wonderland dedicated to bringing savory secrets of fine food preparation from renowned restaurants around the world to your table, one gourmet recipe at a time.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Divya and learning more about the brains, the bites and the business. And she’s as talented in the board room as she is in the kitchen, with an infectious energy and passion that, like the food she and her chefs prepare, leave you yearning for more.
This will be the first in a series of posts featuring Behind the Burner chefs, organic cooking ideas and special offers for the Eat. Drink. Better. readers, so be sure to check back each week for the latest in edible enjoyment.
Favorite indulgent food: Chocolate chip cookies
Favorite healthy food: Boiled egg (good source of selenium, iodine, and vitamin B2, protein, molybdenum, vitamin B5, vitamin B12 and vitamin D — all in one bite!)
Favorite type of food: It’s a tie between Italian and Thai.
Favorite style of cooking: French techniques with ingredients from around the world
Guilty pleasure: Anything (and everything!) sweet.
1. What inspired you to launch Behind the Burner?
My passion for food and wine. Behind the Burner was one woman’s dream and it became a reality through the hard work and dedication of our team.
According to comScore, food sites attracted 45.6 million unique visitors in September 2008, up 10 percent from a year ago, more than double the rate of total Internet growth in the United States. The power of the Internet is that my mother can share her signature Dover sole recipe with the world. The downfall of the Internet is that everyone’s mother, father, brother and sister is sharing their recipes so we don’t know what to trust. We don’t know which recipe has the right measurements and which has the best flavor pairings.
My vision for Behind the Burner was to bring authority and expertise to the food media landscape. We give people exposure to the expertise of culinary luminaries. They are privy to the tips, tricks and techniques used by the authorities of the food and wine world. All of this is made easily available to them just by visiting Behind the Burner.
2. What inspires you most about food?
Creativity. I cook because it is a way for me to express my creativity. I don’t follow recipes; I often use one ingredient over another just because I have it at home. For me, cooking is an adventure and it is a unique experience each time. I rarely make the same dish twice. Each time, it has a different twist, flavor combination or featured ingredient. After a day’s work of sitting in an office coming home to cook is a welcome respite.
3. How do the chefs feel about sharing their trade secrets with the world?
It entirely depends on the chef; some are secretive and others want to share their knowledge with the world. The Behind the Burner experts are passionate about their culinary expertise and want to educate our audience. Learning has never tasted so good!
4. Can you share one of your most prized food tips with our readers?
Start with the highest quality, freshest ingredients. Let the beauty of the ingredients come through. Don’t fuss too much. It’s hard to mess up a dish with wonderful ingredients.
5. Are you seeing a greater trend toward people preparing meals at home vs. dining out?
Yes. According to a recent study by Booz & Company, 43% of respondents are eating out less, 39% are choosing less expensive restaurants, and 35% are packing their own lunch for work, compared to six months ago. Behind the Burner allows people to use the tips, tricks and techniques of culinary masters in their own home while purchasing the chosen ingredients and tools at below retail prices during our promotions.
6. Do you have any plans for an organic/green cooking series as part of the site?
People are embracing the use of organic ingredients at home and we certainly place value on going green. You will see select features related to going green in the upcoming months.
7. How would you advise users to cook healthy without sacrificing taste?
Use applesauce instead of butter when baking. Substitute milk instead of cream in recipes. Don’t omit fats entirely. Everyone needs to consume good fats — those found in olives, nuts, avocados, etc. Use whole grain carbs in your cooking instead of highly refined ones — wheat flour instead of white, brown rice instead of white. You will be amazed by the depth of flavor that whole grains offer compared to their flat, white counterparts. Lastly, avoid canned, processed and preserved vegetables. They are often high in sodium and don’t come close to fresh veggies in terms of taste.
8. Is going organic difficult for a top chef at a restaurant?
Not at all. It truly depends on the chef’s personal style. Going organic lends itself to a seasonal menu. There are chefs across the country, although mostly in California, that are embracing organic cuisine. Don’t be fooled by the blemished appearance and faded colors, organic produce tastes better than it’s beautiful-looking, genetically-engineered cousins.
9. Do you have any chefs who specialize in vegetarian or vegan dishes?
My sister is vegetarian and she loves Gavin Kaysen’s vegetarian selections at Café Boulud. He’s a young talented chef who knows how to pack in flavor and interest while satisfying vegetarians.
10. Where do you want to take your passion for food?
I want to share it with the world. Throughout my years of cooking and dining out, I became privy to so many tricks of the trade; hot tips from sizzling chefs, inside scoop from restauranteurs, and the next cocktail craze poured by mixologists. With Behind the Burner, I’ve reached out to those culinary visionaries to share their skills with the world.
11. What’s one kitchen item or ingredient you absolutely can’t live without?
Salt. It sounds silly but the number one mistake amateur cooks make is not to season their food properly. Good seasoning with a little salt and pepper can go a long way.
12. What’s your signature dish?
My lamb chops are usually a crowd pleaser. I start with quality Australian lamb and marinate the chops in a mix of olive and lemon oil, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, and a touch of my secret ingredient (garam masala). It adds a bit of heat and makes an ordinary dish extraordinary.
One of the other important elements of the site that Divya has worked hard to institute for the benefit of Behind the Burner members is the discount pricing on the master tools and ingredients that her featured chefs use. From a complementary wine to a silicone spatula, and everything in between, Behind the Burner will teach you to think, cook — and even shop — like a culinary expert!