Jars of Kusmi tea. Half-full bottles of Hypnotiq. A pipe that serves as a makeshift closet. Books with titles like “Farm Food” and “New American Table” perch atop shelves that appear ready to topple under the weight. Framed covers of the Wall Street Journal and promotional pictures sit atop a file cabinet, waiting to be hung. No, this is not the well-stocked kitchen of a Michelin-star rated restauranteur — rather, it’s the office (and bedroom, living room, and dining room) of Divya Gugnani, author of Sexy Women Eat: Secrets to Eating What You Want and Still Looking Fabulous and CEO of Behind the Burner.
CEO and acclaimed author aren’t the only two things on Gugnani’s resume. In addition, she was also an employee of Goldman Sachs, voted a 2010 Game Changer by The New York Enterprise Report, and received an award as one of the Top 50 Outstanding Asian Americans in business. She’s also on the Board of Directors for New York Entrepreneur Week — and she’s not even 35! With an MBA from Harvard and a degree from the French Culinary Institute, Gugnani has a portfolio to make any Wall Street-er jealous. However, she did find her one true calling, and it wasn’t cash-flow analysis or checks and balances — rather, it was her love for food.
“I reached this point when I couldn’t stop thinking about food,” says Gugnani, “I knew I wanted to start a business where I could share my best tips, tricks and recipes for food, wine, mixology and nutrition, and put them in bite-size videos, blogs, articles, recipes…and then, I just started doing it.”
Gugnani didn’t leave her full-time job just yet, however. Rather, while working at FirstMark Capital, she began to compose recipes and blog posts and putting them up on Behind the Burner, along with interviews with world-renowned chefs and behind-the-scenes looks of some of Manhattan’s most famous restaurants. Eventually, NBC got a whiff of Gugnani’s culinary website, and reached out to her to film a segment — and, as Gugnani proudly puts it, BTB “has been running ever since.”
It didn’t end there. In 2008, Gugnani was approached by Harper Collins, and initially, she pitched an idea for a book about her favorite recipes and tips and tricks for the kitchen. However, her editor had better plans, and instead, suggested that she write a book about her life.
“I said ‘this is crazy, I don’t want to write a book about myself!’” Gugnani exclaims with a laugh, “and then she said to try out a few sample chapters, and I just sat down at home at night and I wrote a couple chapters and my editor liked them and I sat down on my parents’ kitchen table — which was the perfect place for inspiration because snacks were nearby — and then I just wrote it, wrote it in two and a half weeks.”
The inspiration from her parent’s kitchen table was always a place dear to her heart. As a child, Gugnani fondly remembers coming from a “food-loving family” and having a grandmother that cooked day and night and two fully-stocked refrigerators that would sometimes get so filled up that the leftover food would have to be stored in the trunk of the car.
“We’d wake up in the morning and at breakfast, we’d talk about lunch; at lunch we’d talk about dinner, and at night we’d marinate our minds and get up the next morning and start the process all over again.”
With a childhood that embraced a love for all things delicious, and a future that only gleams brighter, what are some tips that Gugnani can offer on living a healthy and fabulous lifestyle?
“It’s important to have a positive relationship with food, and if you have a craving and you just really want it — it’s okay to have it!”