Interview with Eitan Bernath: Food content creators around the world are cooking up a storm on social media platforms. From creating bizarre recipes of their own to trying traditional dishes from different cuisines, these creators have caught our attention for different reasons. Many will recognise Eitan Bernath as the young, lively American who enjoys making a variety of Indian dishes. Or you might remember him from the news last year, when a video of him making rotis with Bill Gates in Bihar went viral. The 21-year-old, who has already written a cookbook, is also a regular on The Drew Barrymore show. He has cooking segments with not only the host but also a number of international guests.
In recent years, Indian cuisine has captured the imagination of the masses online and we see many foreign creators try their hand at making and/or documenting it. But our approval (as Indians) is hard to win, as we take great pride in our food and culinary traditions. Nevertheless, Eitan has managed to win hearts across the Internet for his candid efforts and lively passion for desi khana. Wondering where this interest came from? Curious to know how he approaches food and cooking? Well, Eitan recently came to India for the second time and we got to meet him while he was in Mumbai. Here’s what we discovered:
Excerpts From NDTV Food’s Interview With Eitan Bernath:
1. While creating new recipes, do you test them on your friends and your family?
Everyone knows my apartment as the place where you come to eat. I live in Manhattan and many of my friends stay nearby. Sometimes they will text me, “Hi, I can’t hang out right now, but can I just come and grab some food?” And I agree. My parents live around 30 minutes away, and they also often come over. My roommate Noah tries everything. And as for the others, whoever is around gets to try the recipes.
2. How important is it to understand the cuisine to enjoy the food?
I think the context behind the cuisine really matters. That’s the thing I love about travelling and also coming to India: food can teach you so much about a people and a culture. I was just in Kochi, and I realised that the food there is very different as compared to say, the food I ate in Rajasthan. That’s what I find cool about food: to go beyond the taste and ask, “Why is this food item eaten?” and “What’s the history behind it?” For instance, I only just came to know that tomatoes were not always native to India and were introduced relatively recently. I believe context can give you a greater appreciation of what you’re eating. Recipes that have been passed down for generations are no longer just recipes – they become a piece of history and that knowledge is valuable. Thus, you can actually have a real learning experience through food.
3. Did you grow up in a foodie family?
Yes, definitely. Everyone in my family enjoys eating. I grew up in a Jewish home – and I find that there are many similarities between the way Jews love food and Indians love food. For us too, food is a central part of our religious rituals and worship. There are special meals prepared to mark the occasion of the Sabbath, for example. As a child, I also got a taste of cuisines from around the globe. Both my parents are teachers, and they used food as a means to teach my brother and me about the world. We wouldn’t just eat Jewish or American dishes. Every Sunday, we would go to a different restaurant: Indian, Mexican, Italian and so on.
4. Your favourite cuisine when you are dining and your favourite when you are cooking?
Both answers are Indian cuisine. A lot of people think I’m kidding, but it’s true. Back home, I usually eat Indian food around three times a week. Little India is a 10-minute walk away from my home in New York City. In this one avenue, you can find several Indian restaurants and Indian grocery stores. I visit those once a week. Other times, I make Indian food at home.
5. Which is your favourite Indian dish to cook? Is there any aspect of Indian cooking that you find difficult to recreate?
While cooking at home, I often opt for paneer dishes. Many times, I’ll just make some roti with saag paneer or paneer makhani. I tend to find those easier. I also love making chicken tikka. The one thing I’ve struggled with is making my own dosa batter. I tried it a few times and it didn’t work. I also attempted making jalebi once. It was good – but not as good as it should have been. So those are two things I’m still trying to get better at.
6. A lot of people have developed a penchant for food and novel food trends, with everyone talking about terms like seasonal and local produce. What excites you about food now, in 2023?
I think people’s openness to trying new things has grown a lot, especially due to social media. In the US, when people consumed food content earlier, it used to be on television, where everything would mostly be the same – American food, maybe some Italian food. But with social media, people are exposed to many different cuisines. That’s what I’m very excited about: that more people are also excited to try new foods. I also think that people care about the culture and the history behind those dishes a lot more now.
7. Your liveliness really stands out in your cooking videos. What advice would you give to beginners and make the entire process more enjoyable?
For a lot of people, cooking is a chore; it’s something they find annoying. But I think they should be saying that it’s fun. Cooking can be a great creative outlet. It can be quite relaxing too. If you’re just starting out, I would advise you to begin with foods you already know you like. Don’t opt for something you’ve never eaten before. Just start with what you already like, even if it’s something as simple as grilled cheese. When you cook, there are bound to be mistakes and problems. But if you’re making a dish you enjoy, there’s a chance you’ll still like some part of it even if it goes wrong. That’s how you can slowly build your confidence and become more comfortable about expanding further.
8. What has struck you the most about Mumbai and its food scene so far? Any one dish or drink that has been the highlight of your trip till now?
I think the great thing about Mumbai is that there is such a variety of food – everything from street food and fast food to casual and fine-dining restaurants. I think whatever type of food experience you want to have here, you can. Once you walk outside, I feel you cannot go a second without looking at food! I feel you almost don’t have to go looking for good food, it just finds you everywhere you go. One of my favourite dishes from Mumbai – and what I’m obsessed with right now – is Pav Bhaji. The street food here is probably the best part. And I have a very weak ‘Western’ stomach so I’ve got to be more careful.
9. Where did you taste Pav Bhaji for the first time?
I think I had it once in the US, but that didn’t leave much of an impression on me. The first time it stood out for me was when I tasted it at a food stall in North India last year. It was probably not the most traditional place to have pav bhaji. But I remember finding it just heavenly! And so buttery! I began taking morsels from other people’s plates as well. That was my favourite moment of discovery.
10. You recently spoke about your interest in regional Indian food. Is there any specific regional cuisine you have always wanted to explore?
During my first trip to India, I visited Rajasthan and had this huge Rajasthani thali. I think it was the furthest away from any Indian food I’ve had in the US. Over there, most Indian food is Punjabi, Maharashtrian or South Indian. The thali was so good! And I know very little about it. There was this soup-like dish that I believe had some broken papad in it – I’m not sure what it’s called. When I got home, I was determined to learn more about it and how to make it.
11. Apart from Indian food, which other cuisines do you enjoy experimenting with?
Apart from Indian dishes, I cook a lot of Italian food at home. I often make pasta – either in mushroom sauce or in a spicy tomato sauce. I also like cooking Mexican food – I feel like a quesadilla always works! Middle Eastern cuisine is another one I gravitate towards.
We also had a fun Rapid-Fire round with Eitan Bernath. Want to know what he would be if not a food content creator? What’s a cooking tip he swears by? To find out, watch the video in our header section.