The entrepreneur talks animal organs, ramps and what it means to be a “woman chef”
For Chef Sangeeta “Sang” Lakhani, inspiration is everywhere. It's a recipe in a cookbook or a flavor in an exotic dish tasted abroad. “Or you see a beautiful painting and … that translates to, ‘Oh, those colors would be so pretty on a plate,'” she said.
A former painter and photographer, Lakhani left India at 16 years old — “You could be an artist, but that was something you did at home when you were a housewife,” she said — and moved to Dayton to live with her aunt. Lakhani went on to study commercial photography at CCAD before realizing her true art was cooking. She later attended the culinary school at Columbus State.
But it was Lakhani's impressive “real-world” experience that molded her into the accomplished entrepreneur she is today. During her more than 20 years in the industry, she helped expand Hounddog's Pizza, and open The Ravari Room (now closed) and Bodega, which she sold two years ago. She currently co-owns The Table, a farm-to-table restaurant in the Short North that uses ingredients from local farmers and butchers and promises to “fork responsibly,” according to its tagline.
“It means being sustainable, repurposing [and] recycling,” Lakhani said. That even includes the furniture, like the kitchen counter built with wood from a barn in Logan. “[It's] impossible to be no-waste and recycle 100 percent, but we're trying to … as thoroughly as we can.”
Between running The Table, preparing food for events like the Short North Gala, and participating in charity benefits like “Eat Up! Columbus,” which aids human-trafficking survivors, Lakhani stays extremely busy. So perhaps it's a good thing inspiration strikes in “fragmented pieces” at a variety of places, according to Lakhani. For example, a trip to the store informed the chef's appetizer for Turning Up the Heat — a dinner prepared by Columbus women chefs — which takes place on Sunday, April 9, at The Kitchen.
“I saw a bottle of plum vinegar and that snowballed into this idea,” said Lakhani, who will prepare an offal (or animal innards)-based dish. The honey- and five-spice glazed offal is stuffed in poori, an unleavened, deep-fried Indian bread. Rounding out the appetizer are cucumbers, microgreens, honey-glazed plums and the plum vinegar poured on top.
The pieces came together during a “delirious end-of-the-day” brainstorming session with Lakhani and her line cook, Carly Sifritt. “We kind of traveled the world in 30 seconds,” said Lakhani, who often draws on her heritage and other globally inspired flavors when creating.
The appetizer is part of Lakhani's push for customers to embrace animal organs; The Table has plans to offer a rotating offal dish on the menu.
Lakhani will also bring the “Early Spring Salad” to the Turning Up the Heat event. Lakhani, Sifritt and line cook and baker Allison Bradley were thinking of produce coming into season in early April, and decided to incorporate charred ramps, which are part of the wild onion family. The ladies formulated the dish via a group text as they were busy in separate places. (Lakhani was at a funeral.) Other ingredients include asparagus, amaranth (for color) and a dressing made from preserved meyer lemons, creme fraiche, honey and Dijon mustard.
“I try to always do a vegetarian dish,” Lakhani said. “There are … so many vegetarians and so many vegans and I feel like they don't usually have an option when they're out eating.”
Funds raised from Turning Up the Heat will support the development of a commercial training kitchen in the YWCA's space in the historic Griswold building. Although the event highlights “women chefs,” Lakhani is not a fan of the term.
“I don't want to be recognized as a woman before being a chef because that shouldn't have anything to do with this,” she said. “We never use the title with men. … It's funny because my parents' generation of the '70s fought so hard for feminism and women were trying to get out of the kitchen and assert themselves in other fields. And all we want is to go back in the kitchen and not to be recognized as women, just chefs.”
Still, Lakhani is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other women in the kitchen and beyond.
“I think it's our responsibility to help other women rise,” she said. “If all of us women that have succeeded helped out a few more, that's when feminism actually will make its mark.”
This article has been updated to clarify Lakhani did not help open Hounddog's Pizza.