I’ve been balancing corporate life and my passion for food for many years now. I’ve had many different jobs but always tried to stay involved with food in some way or the other on the side. I started cooking at a very young age and knew early on that I wanted to grow up and become a chef. I went to three years of culinary school, got a degree in Hotel Management, worked at a five star hotel and then a chain of holiday resorts in some of the most scenic locations in India. While I absolutely LOVED being in a kitchen, I had financial pressures and the hospitality line in India – back in 2005 – simply didn’t pay enough.
I came back to the city I grew up in, and started looking for something that would pay me a little more. That was the year, foreign investment started to pour into the country and a lot of massive corporations started to outsource their work to India. Completely out of the blue, a recruiter from Dell Computers got in touch about a job in telesales. I’d never sold anything in my life but found that it was soft skills that these companies were really after. Lucky for me, my mother is an English teacher and I know exactly how to dot my t’s and cross my i’s. I think. Anyway, I did well in the interviews and got offered almost twice what I was making as a chef.
I took the job and became a call centre agent selling computers over the phone to people in the UK. I HATED the job and missed my old life terribly, but three months later, I’d figured out how to make conversation around the randomest topics – tea, samosas, Enid Blyton, The Queen, elephants and much more – and managed to sell a few computers. I became pretty good at it, and even became the first sales rep to be inducted into Dell’s Club of Excellence. I missed cooking though, so started a little catering business on the side, selling party snacks and desserts.
After two years in the call centre, I found myself interviewing at a big colorful place called Google. I got a job as an Online Operations Coordinator and made my way into the digital space. Google taught me me a great deal about the internet, but also gave me room to stay involved with my passion. They took food super seriously, and I soon joined the Food Committee as a side project at work. Google was also the place where I got the name – Mad Onion Slicer and launched my food blog. The blog became pretty popular and I had a lot of fun with it.
After four amazing years at Google & YouTube, I wound up doing partnerships at Yahoo for a bit and eventually got into the startup game. I had the opportunity to be a part of the founding team at Groupon – a large e-commerce company that was expanding rapidly outside the US. My work at Groupon was incredibly exciting but running a startup is no joke, and I had zero time to cook, let alone write. I completely stopped writing and the blog fell off all the rankings and lists that it was on.
After 3 years at Groupon India, I moved to Singapore to lead Groupon’s affiliate business for the Asia Pacific region.When I made this move, I vowed to fix my work life balance and bring food back into my life. I restarted the blog and got on Instagram like the all the cool kids were doing. I started throwing BBQ parties on the weekend, inviting people to potlucks, taking food I’d cooked, to the office and using it to make new friends. About a year ago, I heard about Airbnb Experiences from a friend (Parin Mehta) who had come to one of my parties and felt that it would be an interesting thing to try.
I’d always enjoyed having friends over but decided to try my hand at hosting strangers for a change. I’d done the odd cooking lesson here and there, and fair bit of live cooking and Q&A on Instagram, but the Airbnb platform felt a lot more structured and a really good way to introduce more people to my food. I felt an instant connection with the kind of people Airbnb started sending me, and now host my experience every chance I get.
Why Mad Onion Slicer?
Back I was in cooking school, my college would send kids all over the country for competitions and aptitude tests, to help them gain additional certifications and prizes that would help with placement when it was time to get a job. Now there were a LOT of talented kids in my school who were way better than cooks than me. Instead of entering a cooking contest and washing out, I decided to enter a knife skills contest being organized at a country club in my city. I was a mediocre cook, but I did know how to handle a knife pretty well. I figured this was something I could win, so entered quietly, hoping to come back and surprise my college with a medal or something. On the day of the competition, I sharpened my knives and showed up at the club – ready to smash the competition and drink lots of Fanta out of the victory chalice.
The challenge was to peel and slice one kilo of onions in the least amount of time. I took my place beside two other guys and the judge blew the whistle. I peeled my first two onions incredibly fast and was just starting on the third one, when I glanced over and saw that both guys had finished slicing their entire lot of onions. The judge patiently waited for me to finish peeling my damn onion before calling it and awarding first and second place certificates to the other two guys. I received a handshake and a complimentary bottle of water. I repressed the memory and carefully filed it away beside the one of me calling my male History teacher Mummy, in the fifth grade.
Fast forward to my first week at Google – TGIF was a big deal at Google. Everyone stopped working at 4 pm. There were unlimited snacks and drinks at the cafeteria and everyone would generally cut loose and have some fun. There were work announcements too, and a regular feature was introducing new joinees to the whole office. Part of the introduction was to tell everyone a non-known fact about yourself. Bear in mind, this is India in 2006. Companies didn’t do this, and induction ceremonies like these were new to everyone. So anyway, I’m standing up there with the other newbs, in front of like 300 people and the others are all telling stories about how they’ve been bungee jumping, or they skipped school to go watch a movie, and things like that. My turn came, and I told the onion story. I was technically the city’s third fastest onion slicer in 2004, and that’s exactly what I told them.
The crowd went wild and the next thing you know I’m doing an onion slicing demo in the cafe. I then shot a YouTube video for kicks. Everyone thought it was super fun, and I made a LOT of friends. I used to write restaurant reviews for a small local magazine back then, and Google was generally making this big push to get people in India, writing online. A few months later, some folks in the office bought me a domain and set up a website for me as a birthday present. I tossed around a few names and settled on Mad Onion Slicer. My food blog came to life and here we are 12 odd years later, talking about it. 🙂