With ADYA's second location preparing to launch at UCI's University Center, Chef Shachi Mehra takes time to chat with us about cheese, tapioca and the road that led her to being chef/owner of ADYA.
As both executive chef and owner, what did you learn through previous work experience that you applied (or avoided) when operating Adya?
I've learned how to run a business and be creative at the same time, which can be tricky. Over time, I've also learned how to fix many things— I'm very handy now. I find that I'm always multitasking and wearing many hats!
Where did you grow up, and where's home these days?
I'm a Jersey Girl! I grew up there, but home is now OC— Santa Ana, specifically.
Your best recent food find.
Macadamia nut honey and lilikoi jam—both from my recent visit to Hawaii. I have the macadamia nut honey daily— the texture is silky and it's delicious. The lilikoi jam is a perfect balance of tart and sweet. It's good for breakfast or dessert.
As a supporter of local farmers and sustainable practices, where do you source some of your ingredients from?
We get product from Babe Farms, Wong Farms, Scarborough Farms and Valdivia Farms, to name a few.
How did you select University Center for your second location?
I wanted to find a location that was close enough to the Packing House so that I could still be at both locations easily, but far enough away that it would have its own clientele. Irvine is a great central OC location, and the University Center sees a demographic that could really appreciate ADYA.
What is the concept and story behind ADYA?
Our logo is made up of several different symbols meant to encompass everything we stand for. The flame represents heat, the paisley symbolizes the totality of life encompassed in a teardrop, and the Sun embodies the third eye. Combine all three and you get the inspiration behind our signature brand. ADYA is more than just a name. It means "the first/the original" and is also the 'origin of the five senses', which is a notion that we strive to bring to our guests every day with our fresh Indian flavors.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
I always start by asking folks how adventurous they're feeling, and if they have any dietary restrictions. And then we go from there.
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
Your first two professional jobs in kitchens involved being garde manger. What does one do?
Garde Manger handles the cold starters, salads, making dressings and sauces. It's an entry level position in a fine dining kitchen.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Lately, I've been having bananas and berry smoothies with chia seeds and macadamia nut honey. If I were to cook a meal, I would probably make a traditional breakfast of eggs, toast and pancakes!
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
That chefs are hot-tempered and impatient in the kitchen. I don't think that's necessarily true anymore. In fact, I think chefs have to be extremely patient!
Your favorite childhood memory.
When we would go to India, all the kids would eat together and off of one giant plate. It is funny looking back on it now . . .with all of my cousins around this one plate!
What was the turning point when you decided to pursue a career in restaurants?
The first time I stepped foot in a restaurant kitchen was when I knew that this is what I was "supposed to do."
Tell us about your guilty pleasure food.
Cheese. Or chocolate. Or both. I'll take any type of cheese, and prefer dark chocolate. Now you know.
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You have a whole day to yourself; what would you do?
Wow— an entire day? I would go to the beach, swim, drink wine and eat some good food! I'm simple!
Last thing you looked up online:
I looked up how to say 'tapioca' in Spanish so I could explain boba to my staff, but the word is the same. Go figure.
What profession would you like to try if you weren't in this business?
I'm Indian, so I would be a doctor.
Hardest life lesson you've learned:
Accept the things you cannot change.