Jessica Randhawa: “Don’t be afraid to invest in contractors with specialized skill sets”

…In my experience, more often than not, the key to creating a recipe that my customers love is keeping it simple, healthy, allowing the flavors of the various ingredients to be able to stand out. As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jessica Randhawa. Jessica […]

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…In my experience, more often than not, the key to creating a recipe that my customers love is keeping it simple, healthy, allowing the flavors of the various ingredients to be able to stand out.

As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jessica Randhawa. Jessica Randhawa is the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon. She creates delicious family-friendly recipes that anyone can make, and her website has over one million users per month.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

I first started food blogging back in 2011. A recent graduate from the University of California Santa Cruz with a Bachelors of Science in Molecular, Celluar, Developmental Biology, I was working at Stanford University School of Medicine when my boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to pack our things into boxes, say goodbye to our jobs and backpack through Nepal and South East Asia for six months. It was throughout that journey that I fell in love with the blogging community, traveling, and cooking (plus eating) new foods and flavors.

While traveling through Asia and expanding my taste pallet, I learned some of my favorite recipes by taking professional culinary classes at various cooking schools with some fantastic chefs along the way (my favorite was in Krabi Thailand).

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I try to focus on the types of recipes that I enjoy, which tend to be lightened up or healthier versions of more popular international recipes such as my Acai Bowl Recipe and my Greek Chicken Marinade. My first encounter with the infamous Acai Bowl was nearly fifteen years ago as a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Facebook was still just for students, Instagram wasn’t invented, and flip phones were all the rage. Despite a lack of social media coverage, however, acai bowls (and burritos) reigned king in my not-so-sleepy college town. Trying all sorts of new foods at the local restaurants in Santa Cruz exposed me to Greek, Brazilian, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many more. Traveling to many of those countries later on in life and taking cooking classes along the way helped motivate me to dive into the industry.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

One of my first cooking experiences overseas was in a cooking class in the Thamel area of Kathmandu, Nepal. The class was done in the kitchen of a local restaurant. One of the dishes my class was cooking on the first day was a Himalayan Momo dish. Halfway through making the momo, the instructor announced that she had to use the bathroom and would be right back. She proceeded to go into a plywood box that was about 4ft by 4ft in size, in the middle of the kitchen, which was about 10 feet away from where we were cooking. It turned out that the plywood box was the squat toilet. After she finished her business, she came out and continued to make help make the momo dumplings by hand — there was no running water or soap in that kitchen. She didn’t wash her hands. I learned that day that not everyone practices good hygiene, but that I would always practice the best hygienic practices moving forward.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

Having a stroke at 28-years old with no known cause or diagnosis changed me. I learned quickly that the future is not guaranteed, time is fleeting, and family is everything. My plan to have more children became complicated, risky, and, quite frankly, less important. My outlook shifted to having fewer things but owning more experiences. My husband showed me the real value of travel way back in 2008, and now it’s our turn to show our son. Although I may not give my child a sibling because of the stroke, I will teach him to love, respect, and protect this beautiful place we call home.

And so, The Forked Spoon was born.

In many ways, the name is symbolic. However, taken literally or symbolically, it’s the perfect name for this space where I continue to share my family-friendly recipes, real-life stories (no fake stuff here), and travel adventures.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

In my experience, more often than not, the key to creating a recipe that my customers love is keeping it simple, healthy, allowing the flavors of the various ingredients to be able to stand out.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

Personally, the perfect meal for me is one that is enjoyed with friends and/or family, regardless of what is being served.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

I tend to get my inspiration from my cravings. I exercise a lot, partially so I can enjoy all the recipes I cook, and partly so I can have personal time to clear my head. I find that this regular exercise time that I schedule helps focus my creativity when I can get back to my office or kitchen.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

My latest exciting project also happens to be a huge one — what are the Different Types of Rice? This project includes how to cook those different varieties, such as how to cook basmati rice, how to cook jasmine rice, what is wild rice (hint — it is not rice), how to cook wild rice, and the list goes on and on! This project also incorporates various recipes for each rice type, as Biryani for Basmati rice. With over 40,000 varieties of rice, this is quite a large project.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

The best advice I can give other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout is to make sure to schedule personal time into your busy days. For me, that means I schedule exercise time like running, swimming, or group fitness classes. This personal time allows me to reflect, analyze, and recharge for when I jump back into it the grind afterward or the next day.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Have a strong proven digital strategy. Given the state of the world with this pandemic and the economy, having a robust digital strategy is more critical than ever. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to digital strategy — save the inventing for the kitchen!
  2. Don’t be afraid to invest in contractors with specialized skill sets. This goes for any part of the business that you don’t have the expertise, is project-based, or that you don’t want to hire full-time staff. Hiring the right people for the right job is essential for growth. Just make sure that you do your due diligence with verified referrals or reviews of the services offered.
  3. The most cost-efficient isn’t always the best. When spending that hard-earned money, analyze the total return on investment over the possible lifespan of any expense.
  4. Go all in. While the overall process should be viewed as a marathon in the greater scheme of things, fully committing to the entrepreneurial drive is essential to build the momentum.
  5. Its a marathon, not a sprint. As with most things in life, it takes time to get the energy going at a comfortable pace. While there certainly are times were full-on sprinting is necessary, you should always keep the long game in mind.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

Bok Choy is my specialty! The Forked Spoon is renowned on the internet for my Bok Choy Soup.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Seafood sustainability is near and dear to my heart. As both a certified scuba diver and a chef, I firmly believe that sustainably caught seafood needs to become a priority for humanity’s nearly 8 billion and growing population so that future generations can also enjoy both the oceans and seafood.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

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