Tell us something about yourself?
To start things off, I’m Aketoli Zhimomi, a 38-year-old chef and mother of one, residing in Dimapur, Nagaland. The first thing that got me cooking was helping out with peeling and cutting potatoes at home and making sticky rice cakes with my parents during holidays. And things have only grown from there to winning the first Naga Chef title. Currently I’m trying to get as much Naga food on the table at my restaurant; as well as trying to keep up with a boisterous 3-year-old daughter.
When did you start the Ethnic table?
Ethnic Table was started in 2014 after I won the first season of Naga Chef Contest.
What interest you to be a chef at first place?
As a child, I remember daily trips to the market with my late father, who did most of the cooking at home and passed on his knowledge to us. While cooking, he would tell us about the various combinations of flavors, the balance of seasonings and spend a great deal of time making us understand the importance of home cooked meals. So, cooking has always been an inherent part of my life. Right from the time I first learned to cook, the pleasure in seeing people enjoy something you’ve created from scratch- a simple daal- sabji meal or an elaborate Naga feast- has always fueled me to take my culinary dreams further.
What makes your ethnic table unique?
Ethnic Table was started with the objective to find ways to preserve our Naga cuisine and find innovative ways to use local produce. Here, we try to minimize the use of ingredients from outside. Whatever is on the plate is what is available in the local market.
How do you expand the tribal cuisines and recipes?
For most of the world, Naga cuisine has been mostly about axone, bastenga or anishi. But there are several other dishes and delicacies we eat that people are not even aware of. My aim is to bring lesser known or even forgotten recipes or ingredients to the forefront. I try to promote them by incorporating them in the restaurant menu or whenever I cater small parties, I make it a point to add a special extra dish, so people can have a taste of something different. Most times, people take notice of these unique dishes and there are instances where I have been asked to make more of them or even share recipes. I consider those instances as little bits of success in doing my bit to keep our traditional cuisine alive.
Have you done any food exhibitions and culinary?
I have given a crash course in cooking at Thulp! in Bangalore and occasionally take part in various food festivals and local fests.
There are youths who want to become a chef so what is your advice, do they need to undergo trainings in becoming a chef?
Although trainings do help in becoming a professional chef, unlike the dishes we make, there is no recipe to becoming a successful chef. As long as we have the passion to cook and put our hearts into it, the food will speak for itself and I think that is really the secret ingredient- to cook with love and passion.
Message to the youths of Northeast!
The world is only as big as you make it to be. Believe in your dreams and keep working to make them come true. Success doesn’t have a timeline, so be kind to yourselves and love what you do, whether it is cooking or any other profession that you choose to take up.