In an ego-driven industry dominated by men, Monica Bhambhani can match forks and knives with any of them. As the Director of Competition and Events for The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation (an organization led by renowned chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Jerome Bocuse,) Monica is in charge of all the training and managing of Team USA. This involves working closely with our nation's top chefs as they prepare to compete in the international Bocuse d'Or competition held every two years in Lyon, France. Twenty-four teams from around the world compete for the prestigious title and the work never ends. It's cut-throat work and Monica is absolutely fearless --- whether that means dueling with the world's top chefs or being brave enough to change careers to follow her dreams.
We recently caught up with Monica for a cup of coffee...
What sparked your passion for food? How did you end up at Bocuse d'Or USA?
I've always had a passion for all things culinary. After working for a number of years in magazine publishing and the film world, I decided to enroll in the Masters in Nutrition program at NYU. Halfway through the program, I switched gears. I decided that I didn't want to go the nutrition route, but rather work in the culinary world. Having paid my dues working for a number of chefs in the industry, I then ended up at Gourmet Magazine as the Special Events Manager...and the rest is history.
What do you cook at home?
I don't often cook at home, but when I do, I tend to experiment and I love making my mom's delicious Indian recipes like Biryani, aloo gobi, chicken kebabs, and lemon pickle. They don't really taste exactly like my mom's dishes but I'm getting there. Mastering a dish, like life itself, is always a work in progress.
What is your favorite virtue?
Honesty and kindness
What are your favorite qualities in a man?
There is nothing sexier than a man who is humble, strong and silent. Someone who is reserved at first, but opens up as he gets to know you. Naturally, a wicked sense of humor is always a turn-on.
What are your favorite qualities in a woman?
Humility and modesty. I love women who are quietly confident, warm and passionate. I also greatly admire women who are able to balance their careers and family - something I strive to achieve one day.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I am completely at peace being on a sandy white beach, with crystal blue waters, a good book in one hand and a glass of rosé wine in the other.
What is your greatest fear?
I'm terrified of setting unachievable goals for myself. I am at my most productive when I'm able to cross things off my list. Not being able to accomplish what I set out to do terrifies me. My fear is what drives me.
Which living person do you most admire?
My mom - I don't know anyone else with as much emotional and physical strength at the age of 71. Although we bicker often, she is my best friend and confidant. She is wise, intelligent, funny, warm and loving.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Eating out at fine dining restaurants.
What is your greatest regret?
I choose not to think of regrets as regrets, but rather as experiences from which to learn. Like others, I've had quite a few of those in my life but my truly greatest regret is wishing I had more time with my father before he passed away 9 years ago.
What natural talent do you wish you had?
I wish I were able to sing. Do NOT take me to karaoke bars!
What's the favorite gift you've ever received?
I had been saving up money for my first Prada handbag as a 36th birthday present for myself. One day, an ex-boyfriend and I went window shopping and I found the one I wanted. For some reason, I couldn't pull the trigger that day. When I went back two days later, much to my great disappointment, the bag had already been sold. I figured it just wasn't meant to be.
Four months later, on my actual birthday, I came home from work and my doorman handed me a G-Star Raw Bag. I thought my boyfriend had gotten me a pair of jeans but inside was the Prada bag that I had wanted. It' turns out he had gone back to the store the next day, purchased it, and then kept it tucked under his desk until my birthday. The sentiment and thoughtfulness made the bag that much more special to me.
What piece of art would you buy if you had absolutely no budget?
Alberto Giacometti's "Walking Man"
What is your favorite motto or quote?
"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present." Lao Tzu. I may not always believe this, but I try to practice it.
What charity is closest to your heart?
The Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of curable blindness in India.
What's your favorite way to wear cashmere?
I love feeling cashmere on my skin - the lightness of it is so soft to the touch. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually quite lovely to wear in warmer weather as well and I love to wear it during those cool summer nights. I also love the look of a cashmere sweater with a pair of casual, weathered jeans. The elegance mixed with casual is a definite "me" look.