Spice Up Your Culinary Journey with Chef Teena

Most of Chef Teena’s childhood was spent in the kitchen rather than at the playground. Watching the various dishes being cooked by her parents, and taking in the aromas, the creative aspect of culinary, and the spice profiles turned her on to the vast world of Indian cuisine. When she was 14, she was given a wonderful opportunity to work for a pizzeria & hoagies establishment. “My job was to make the pizza sauce. I knew then that cooking would be in my life’s journey in some capacity — one that I had yet to realize. Time would tell. And now, here I am today almost 3 decades later!”

Since then, Chef Teena has started her career as a Bay Area master chef teaching a variety of educational and belly-pleasing cooking classes (fromBasic Indian CookingIndian Street FoodNaan MakingVegan Cooking, toClassic Dessert). Her mission is to teach students dishes that they thought were beyond their scope and see how delighted they are with the fact that Indian cuisine does not have to be intimidating.

This week, we reached out to Chef Teena to know more about her stories, from her childhood to how she started her childhood dream as a chef, and how she decided to share her passion by teaching classes.

Hi Chef Teena, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I began to offer professional culinary instruction in my community during my undergraduate & graduate college years, and I continued pursuing my passion for the last decade teaching vegetarian & vegan (Indian-inspired) cuisine in the San Francisco Bay Area at Stanford University as a Chef Consultant,Whole Foods Market Salud Cooking & Lifestyles School in San Mateo as a Chef Instructor, and I have taught many private individuals. More recently, I partnered with Verlocal to offer culinary experiences. And in May of this year, I launched my passion project; a cooking school called Explore Culinary Arts in Redwood City, CA.

I am so happy to be able to share my knowledge and obsession of providing an awareness of plant-based foods and the medicinal benefits of Indian spices, holistic eating for mind and body, sustainability of wholesome foods, and giving your body the nourishment & essentials that it needs. Cooking is quite simple — use fresh & seasonal ingredients, add spice, and feel nourished. I can certainly help you with your curiosity of Indian cuisine and create the presence & appreciation of Indian food in your cooking repertoire for your loved ones. I keep things simple and create enthusiasm throughout the whole process. Indian food doesn’t have to be intimidating to cook. Bring it, I’ll teach you!

Where does your inspiration come from? What made you want to pursue your passion and become a host.

My family migrated from India in the 70s and my parents got involved in the food industry by circumstances. Their experience was from a multitude of cuisines from managing an interstate roadside establishment to a Steak House. Their culinary journey ended at our full-fledged Indian restaurant in the Midwest.

My inspiration stems from my parents. I was witness to their labor of love in the kitchen and the hues & scents of the food, created a passion within me and become a part of my being.

So for the past 20+ years, I have taught cooking as a hobby and have enjoyed every minute of it, especially experiencing the joys my students showed from learning about Indian cuisine. And, so partnering with Verlocal made perfect sense as it would be another platform in which I could continue to share & pursue my passion.

How would you describe the link between your classes and the community around you?

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area with diverse ethnic backgrounds, cuisines & interests in food, I believe that Indian cookery aligns well in this multi-cultural community.

How long have you been living in the Bay Area? What would you recommend to someone who just moved to the city?

I have lived in the Bay Area since 2002. I would highly recommend trying new things. Get to know your neighbors, the community, the various resources, history, arts/culture/music, the sciences, the natural beauty of the Bay Area, and of course, explore & experience the food scenes in different cultural pockets.

Tell us about your favorite moment / biggest achievement since you started teaching your classes.

My biggest achievement would be winning a national TV food competition for the Live Well Network’s Food Rush show Home Chef Showdown (summer grilling appetizer cook-off) in 2014, and starting up a cooking school in the mid-Peninsula (Redwood City) in partnership with Atherton Appliance & Kitchens this past May (2016).

I recently had a favorite moment teaching a family night class with parents & their two little children: a boy and a girl, ages eight and five.

The bonding between the parents and the siblings was heartfelt and I enjoyed the kids’ naïve nature toward cooking and their sense of pride with their accomplishments and efforts. It was a magical evening filled with learning, fun, and love.

What your goals for the future?

My long time dream is to author a cookbook and to have a plant-based cooking show on the Food Network (or some other food channel).

Any recommendations to someone who might want to start their own business?

Don’t be afraid to learn, to encounter challenges, to work hard, and to make mistakes along the way. Be patient, flexible, and consistent. Momentum is key and a positive attitude is critical. Hold onto your dream and push every day to make it a reality. Seek support from people you can trust and want to see you successful. Don’t give up!

What does Verlocal mean to you?

It’s an experience. The partnership allows me to expand & market my services to the local community. It’s an avenue to reach out to like-minded individuals that are interested in learning to cook. Spreading the word together is a win-win!

For many years, Chef Teena has fully dedicated herself to inspiring and teaching people, and sharing her obsession of Indian cuisine by providing numerous unforgettable culinary experiences to the community. Cooking has become as natural and as important as eating, sleeping, and breathing for her. For those of you who are reading, whether you’re a fan of Indian cuisine, vegan cuisine, or just cooking, it’ll be a delightful experience to learn and interact with Chef Teena. If you’re feeling hungry, then don’t forget to check out her classes this week!

What is your favorite Indian recipe/dish? Share this post & tell us below! (We will pick one lucky commenter next Wednesday to receive 1000 free points!)

Keep up with her latest mouthwatering classes and recipes by following her on Verlocal!

All photos from Teena Arora

Gabriel Herrera