Anyone that knows me knows that food is a big part of my life. My colleagues at work have witnessed me trying to explain what I made the night before for dinner through my leftovers. I’m pretty picky about making sure that snacks are always available at work, at both of our facilities, and I always end up being that person at the conference that researches the best food in town and drags whoever will follow in search of the best dumplings (I remember Oceans Seattle ’19 and Din Tai Fung).
As a CEO, I have the privilege of eating out fairly regularly on the company dime. Early in my career, I’d get excited to be invited to dine with clients at fancy restaurants that I normally couldn’t afford. As I grew in my role, my opinions of fancy restaurants began to change. Life on the road is gruelling enough, and ending your day with a 3hr meal full of formality quickly began to lose its shine. For me, good food is always better than fancy food, and perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I learned to crave the unique cuisine of the mini food truck, transformed from shipping containers, more than any sit-down restaurant (Memories of Copenhagen or Shoreditch, London).
But beyond cafes & bistros, my relationship with food always felt the strongest when I was in the kitchen myself. In university, I could frequently be found cooking dinners for 15+ people. My tiny apartment would be crammed with starving students sitting on the floor with their paper plates, consuming whatever concoction I had dreamed up that week. I’ve always enjoyed feeding people, a trait I’m sure I learned from my parents. When the business was very young, I remember many meals where my parents brought home colleagues, partners, and even clients to come and dine in our family home. If our guests were open to Indian food – my mom would cook, otherwise, my Dad would experiment with western cuisine. Thirty years later, when I show up at my parent’s house for meals, it’s the same routine! Hosting meals for lots of people, cooking myself, and experimenting in the kitchen is certainly something I was nurtured with from a very young age. The opportunities I was afforded through my travel to taste food worldwide broadened my palette – and as a result, I’ve constantly been challenging myself to extend my culinary skills and working on mastering different cuisines.
However, I do believe there is a correlation between cooking and being a CEO. I know a few other leaders of various kinds of businesses, and aside from our collective ADD, we do have the over-achiever gene in common. I can confidently say that this characteristic has led me straight into the kitchen. Being a woman, I was never expected to cook – I did it because I truly loved (and still do) being in the kitchen. There’s something about constructing a meal from beginning to end that is cathartic, and it’s just another form of stress relief.
For the last decade, much of my cooking challenge is often rooted in getting my young children to eat what I eat and try new foods that might seem strange to them. It’s an uphill battle – but I love food enough to work at it, and I don’t have the patience to cook multiple meals for the three of us. This has backfired once or twice, I will admit though. As they join me on my world travels, their tastes are evolving far faster than mine ever did. My youngest (Nora) now has a discerning enough palette to know if the BBQ sauce I’ve used to make ribs is homemade or store-bought. Their evolving taste buds have also gotten expensive! After spending some time in Nova Scotia with me last summer, they’ve learned how great raw oysters and lobster rolls were, which isn’t easy on the wallet!
And so this brings me back full circle to the sharing of the joy cooking brings me. Whether with fellow students in my younger years or colleagues and family today, the sharing of new food experiences makes me happy. Food, travel, family, and my career are all deeply intertwined for me and what truly makes me the @ceowhocooks.
– Niru Somayajula, President & CEO of Sensor Technology Ltd