Aarti Sequeira: What we do in the kitchen is important to God. Jesus says that He’s preparing a table for us in heaven, and I just think about what that feast will look like. I think God wants to communicate to us that as vital as food and drink feels to us, He’s even more vital to us.
Discovering God’s Unique Recipe For Our Lives: Chefs Aarti Sequeira & Darnell Ferguson – Episode #377
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. In a big world, we might feel a little lost in the mix, like there’s nothing really special about us. But much like a chef skillfully combines ingredients to create the perfect recipe, God uses challenges, experiences, and talents to give us all a one-of-a-kind design.
This week, Food Network personality and author Aarti Sequeira shares how cooking as a hobby turned into a sacred place for her, and how the conversations she would have with God in the kitchen led to a deep and meaningful relationship with Him, and with others who came to dine at her table. Chef Darnell Ferguson came from a place in the inner city where he couldn’t find much to believe in—much less himself. It took a special teacher to see the spark of talent he had, and though he would continue to struggle with feeling forgotten and alone, an encounter with God at church turned his world around.
Here’s Aarti Seuqeira.
Aarti: My name is Aarti Sequeira. I am a cooking show host, a cookbook author, a news and documentary producer. I have lived a lot of lives thus far.
So I was born in India in what’s called Mumbai today, but will always be Bombay to me. I was born in India, I grew up in Dubai in the Middle East, and I went to an English school there, which is why I still have a little bit of an accent.
And so that means that I have always felt like I was on the outside looking in, because India is a country that is primarily Hindu and Muslim. And the Christians and the Catholics—although they have a very long history there—they’re very small, and so our community is tight. We have our own customs, we have our own food traditions, we have our own marriage traditions.
I’m not quite sure where I fit in. Growing up in Dubai, I was like, Well, I’m not Arab, I’m not English, I’ve always felt like I don’t quite fit in here. But the beautiful thing about that is that I think it put in me this heart of wanting to connect with people, finding something in common with them so that we could feel connected.
“Growing up in Dubai, I was like, Well, I’m not Arab, I’m not English, I’ve always felt like I don’t quite fit in here. But the beautiful thing about that is that I think it put in me this heart of wanting to connect with people, finding something in common with them so that we could feel connected.” – Aarti Sequeira
There were two little pretend games that I played when I was very little. One of them was a cooking show host and the other was a news presenter, journalist. And in a weird way, that sort of set the course for my life in that I didn’t know what would happen.
A Heart for Journalism
I grew up during the first Gulf War, and that was the first time that I saw real, true journalism on display. And so that lit me on fire. I think the thing that captivated me about journalism is that it was so honorable to me. It was giving a voice to the voiceless. It was shining a light in the darkness. I believed in God, but it wasn’t a personal relationship at that point, and so these honorable ideals that to me are so Jesus-like when I look at them now, I think that’s whatever remnant of God that He leaves in each of us when He creates us. That’s what was resonating to me when I saw journalists in action, especially during the war, when they were literally putting their lives on the line just so the truth could be heard. And so that just captured me as an eleven-year-old eating breakfast in the morning, watching Larry King Live, you know? And so I knew that I wanted to do that.
I went to journalism school, and I got the incredible opportunity to work at CNN straight out of school. I was so happy being a journalist. It was such a huge part of my identity. I mean, I would have said, “Hey, I’m Aarti Sequeira, I’m a journalist, I’m Indian.” That’s the order I would have gone in.
I had fallen in love with a gent named Brendan when we were still at university together. He’s an actor, so he had moved to L.A. and I’d gone on to New York and I was working and being really successful. And then when we got married, I thought, I’ll move to L.A. because news is everywhere and he can go off to his dream and I can go off to mine. God had other ideas.
Finding the Point to Our Lives
Fast forward a few months and I still hadn’t been able to find work and I was kind of starting to question whether I even wanted to be a journalist anymore. I started to feel really worthless because my identity was so wrapped up in achieving professionally and being a journalist. And so now once that was taken away from me, who even was I anymore? I felt like a failure. I would sometimes wake up in the morning and go, “I don’t even know the point of my life.”
“I started to feel really worthless because my identity was so wrapped up in achieving professionally and being a journalist. And so now once that was taken away from me, who even was I anymore? I felt like a failure.” – Aarti Sequeira
We started going to church where the pastor was talking about God in a way I had never considered before, as a being that was all-powerful and all-knowing, but also all-loving and the epitome of kindness and who was so in love with me that He wanted to know me and wanted me to know Him and wanted me to know my identity first and foremost as His daughter. And that was a huge thing for me.
Turning Mundane into Holy
I’d always loved food and I’d always loved watching cooking shows and reading recipes and baking. Trying to connect my Boston/Irish/German husband and the food that he was into with the food of L.A., which is its own melting pot, with the things that I had grown up with and feeling really muddled about my own identity in that moment, and so I just started cooking.
But for me, the thing that really changed the game was starting to pray before I cooked. And it usually started with a prayer like, “Oh, God, please make this good.” But then it became, “God, I’m walking in here with a burden,” “God, I’m walking in here discouraged, I’m walking in here hopeless, and I just need you to meet me in this place.” And it just took the mundane drudgery of that moment, that thing that we do every day, and turned it into something sacred and it turned that sticky kitchen floor into holy ground. And I felt like God would teach me and meet me in the slicing of the vegetables, the sizzling of the garlic and those things. He would just remind me, “I am Creator and you are made in my image, and so when you are cooking, this is you acting out of me.”
“I felt like God would teach me and meet me in the slicing of the vegetables, the sizzling of the garlic and those things. He would just remind me, ‘I am Creator and you are made in my image, and so when you are cooking, this is you acting out of me.’” – Aarti Sequeira
How you approach the kitchen is kind of how you can approach the rest of your life. If you can take something that feels as mundane as cooking every evening and find the sacred tucked into that, then you’re going to find it when you do the laundry, when you’re driving to work, when you’re dealing with a difficult situation, when you’re dealing with a difficult person, because that’s really what our life is all about. When I cooked, the kitchen became this place of real sanctuary for me, a place where the chaos of my life could turn into order, where I could take a mess of ingredients and turn them into something beautiful, nourishing, helpful, purposeful. It really sort of took me over.
“When I cooked, the kitchen became this place of real sanctuary for me, a place where the chaos of my life could turn into order, where I could take a mess of ingredients and turn them into something beautiful, nourishing, helpful, purposeful. It really sort of took me over.” – Aarti Sequeira
Aarti Finds Her Flavor
I interned—we call it staging—at a really great restaurant in L.A. under an incredible female chef named Suzanne Goen. I was taking the spices I had grown up with and trying to figure out a way to put them into green beans and lasagna and pasta sauce and things like that. So it was a little bit of home, something familiar, and I think that’s kind of how my particular way of cooking came around.
And we started shooting this YouTube cooking show, it was a cooking variety show called Aarti Paarti, and my husband directed it and shot it. And I hosted it, obviously, and taught myself how to edit. And in doing that, people said, “Oh, you should try out for the show on Food Network called Food Network Star, because if you win, you get your own cooking show.” And I kicked and screamed and said, “No, there’s absolutely no way I’ll be humiliated on national television.” But God had other ideas. For some reason, the Lord saw it fit to see me all the way to the finale and give me the win, and that was the beginning of this brand new career.
Connecting with People Over the Table
Connecting with people through food, especially at a time when the schism is getting bigger and bigger and the divisions are nastier and more deeply cut, the one thing we can all agree on is Are you hungry? Would you like some food? Can I make you something? You know, even if it’s a bowl of granola, it doesn’t have to be something super fancy.
And I want people to recognize that when they are in any way impressed by anything I’m saying or doing or cooking or creating, it’s not me. If you knew who I really was, who I was before the Lord took me, I was unremarkable.
“I want people to recognize that when they are in any way impressed by anything I’m saying or doing or cooking or creating, it’s not me. If you knew who I was before the Lord took me, I was unremarkable.” – Aarti Sequeira
One of my favorite dishes to make people is French onion soup. For so long I felt like an onion, like a very unremarkable bit of produce. You start to peel it away. You start to clean it up. You slice it just the right way with a sharp knife and the Lord will slice things away. You introduce it to heat and fat and suddenly it starts to caramelize and suddenly it turns into something sweet. And then you add chicken broth and beef broth and vinegar and maybe a touch of sugar, and suddenly it’s this gorgeous bowl of soup. Which, let’s be honest, I mean, that crowning glory of cheesy bread is really what makes it amazing, but let’s just say that that’s the Holy Spirit. I relate to that dish so much. And so I think the reason that I talk about the Lord is because I see everything through His eyes, as much as I’m able to in my sort of fallen, broken state. But also because I don’t want anybody to mistake anything that I’m doing to be my doing. This is completely God working through me and working through me to call people unto Himself.
I’ve had some of the best conversations with people eating tuna salad and crackers. The very basic nature of sitting elbow to elbow with someone and talking to them face to face is something that our soul is actually aching for. We’re malnourished people, and we’re malnourished because we’re not spending enough time with each other face to face. I remember telling my daughters—I have two daughters, seven and nine—that, you know, if we hug for twenty seconds, our heartbeat syncs up, and our breathing syncs up. So can you imagine what happens when you’re sitting around a table and eating and talking for an hour? What that does for you—even if you’re sitting around for an hour and disagreeing with each other, you know? It’s connection. And I mean, if God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and loves to be in relationship with those three, or I guess those two, and we’re made in His Image, we’re meant to be living in constant relationship with each other.
“The very basic nature of sitting elbow to elbow with someone and talking to them face to face is something that our soul is actually aching for.” – Aarti Sequeira
I feel so, so grateful that I have this filter of Jesus that I look at the whole world. I look at every person through it, and I just have so much compassion for people because of that.
“I feel so, so grateful that I have this filter of Jesus that I look at the whole world. I look at every person through it, and I just have so much compassion for people because of that.” – Aarti Sequeira
Give God 5 Minutes
I think I used to feel like my having quiet time everyday with God needed to look very elaborate. You know what I mean? My Bible, my study Bible, my phone with my concordance in it, my seventeen different highlighters, plus my notebook. I can get a little carried away with that stuff. And so that means I wasn’t doing it every day. I don’t know how this came about exactly, but I felt like the Lord was saying, “Give me five minutes every day.”
I mean, my life is very busy, especially at the moment. And so even today, I set a timer for five minutes and I just feel like God did so much work in those five minutes on me and just reminded me, Hey, it’s about the daily ritual of it. It’s coming back to me.
This is from Jesus Listens, March 4th:
I want to let Scripture saturate my mind and heart so I can walk steadily along the path of Life with You. Your Word tells me that I need not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Although I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, I can be absolutely sure of my ultimate destination. You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into Glory. Hallelujah!
In Your magnificent Name,
Stay tuned to Darnell Ferguson’s story after a brief message.
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Order Reba McEntire’s Not That Fancy
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Our next guest is author and professional chef, Darnell Ferguson. Darnell’s growing up years were challenging at best, and the only thing that gave him hope for something better were the cooking shows he watched on TV. It took a special teacher to recognize that Darnell was something special, but it would be years before he would be able to see that potential in himself.
Darnell Ferguson: I am Superchef Darnell Ferguson. I am a chef, entrepreneur, restaurateur, and TV personality.
I grew up in a very violent neighborhood, which really dominated my perception of life. My mom made sure she took care of everything. I grew up seeing somebody do some amazing things in my life, but at the same time, I really didn’t dream much. People ask me, like, “What did you dream of?” I just dreamed of being somewhere else, but my passion for cooking came from watching TV.
A lot of times people [that] grow up in the inner city, they want to be like what they see on TV because they really never see anything else. So I ended up watching Food Network and watching Emeril on TV do Emeril Live. And even though he was nothing like me, I connected with him in a way I don’t know why or how. He was just so relatable to me, and that’s really where the passion came from.
A Teacher Sees a Spark of Talent
I went to vocational school because I was interested in cooking enough that I figured, What do I have to lose? Getting in that class and this teacher that we had, she was so kind and she was so patient and she was everything I had never seen in my life.
I remember when she asked me to do the knife skills test where I had to practice and show what my skill level was. And she asked me if I ever held a knife before. And I told her, “Miss Cleary, ain’t no way nobody in the world gonna give me no knife,” you know? But she was like, “All right, well, I need you to make these knife cuts like this.” And they give you a little board with every single knife cut on it, the perfect shape you need to make. And I had no idea how to get to these shapes.
When she came back and she saw my knife cuts, she was so impressed. She was like, “How long have you been doing this for?” And I’m like “I’ve never done this before.” She said, “Well, you got the knife skills of somebody who’s been doing it for thirty years.” And I look back on it now, it makes me sad because no one ever did anything, never said anything to me. Most people never saw anything special in me, so nobody ever called me nothing. I’m glad that she gave me something that I was not quite yet ready for, but she could see it inside.
Knowing Where You Came From and Why You Need Grace
I had to figure out life on my own. There was a point where I was living in my car because I got locked up. And when I got out, I just told myself I wasn’t going back home. I wasn’t going back to Columbus, Ohio. That wasn’t an option for me. I knew what I did not want in life, and I knew I didn’t want to be there my whole life. I knew I wanted to go somewhere, be something special, but there was something in my body that said, “Don’t ever go back home.”
I had to figure out how to make it, and I made a lot of bad choices that got me in situations to where I really had to deal with it, locked up more times than I wanted to count. I didn’t know nothing about God. I knew nothing about Jesus. I thought Jesus was like Jack and the Beanstalk, like, I thought it was a folk tale that some of the kids talk about in school, but that wasn’t a real thing.
I always got what I deserved in life, and that’s been like the hardest—I think that’s why forgiveness is my spiritual gift, because before I got into church, I only got what I deserved, nobody gave me anything extra. So I had to learn the hard way. And it also made me understand how much I need forgiveness, how much I need grace, because I know where I came from and I know where a lot of people are at today.
“I had to learn the hard way. And it also made me understand how much I need forgiveness, how much I need grace, because I know where I came from and I know where a lot of people are at today.” – Darnell Ferguson
I got a job, I worked my way on up, and I started focusing on my career 100%. 100% my career, nothing else mattered. I told myself one day, You will be one of the best chefs in the country. That was my goal to get to, and that’s the only thing that mattered. Until I got to a point to where I ended up leaving one of the best new restaurants in America to go fry fish at a little mom and pop place because they paid me two more dollars an hour. When I got there, the owner was such a bad person that we could not mix, like oil and vinegar.
I remember one day, it got so bad that I wanted to just beat him up so bad, and I didn’t. But I didn’t know what to do with the anger, and I never knew what to do with my anger. Anger was always my first and most common emotion I had. And I remember coming back to work the next day, and then I asked him, I said, “Hey, do you know a church I can go to?” So he told me about a church.
Attaching Yourself to What God Says About You
The preacher that day, I think he was preaching on who God says you are, and he said everything I’ve been searching for my whole life. At that point in my life, I’d probably cried twice, but that day in church, I bawled like a baby. I’d been looking for this my whole life. My whole life I’ve felt special, but nothing matched up to how I felt about myself. And then I went to church and heard about all this good news about how I was created, who I was for, all these things I could do, what God wanted for me, and I was like, Oh my gosh, I cannot wait.
I think a lot of people don’t truly believe what God says. You know, they believe part of it, but not everything. Connecting with God daily is the only way to be a superhero. It’s the only way. If you can attach yourself to the truth about what God says about who you are, it will change your entire life. You can do way more than you ever imagined. Everything that you’re trying to do and you want to do is easy work for God, you know? So I think that we are the everyday superheroes, we just have to allow God to shine inside.
“If you can attach yourself to the truth about what God says about who you are, it will change your entire life. You can do way more than you ever imagined.” – Darnell Ferguson
This is Jesus Listens, April 8th:
Radiant Lord Jesus,
You are the Light that shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it—and it never will! Yet when multiple problems are closing in on me, the Light of Your Presence sometimes seems like a dim memory. Whenever I’m feeling distant from You, I need to stop everything and pour out my heart to You. Help me to carve out time and space to talk with You about my problems and feelings. As I unburden myself to You, please show me the way forward.
No matter how much darkness I see in the world around me, Your Light continues to shine on, for it is infinitely more powerful! Because I belong to You, this Light shines not only upon me but within me. I live in the midst of a crooked and per-verse generation, and this is an opportunity for me to shine as a light in the world. To do this, I must take time to bask in Your radiant Presence, asking You to transform me into Your likeness.
I am weak and sinful, but I long to live in ways that reflect Your Glory.
In Your glorious Name,
Narrator: To learn more about Darnell Ferguson, check out his new cookbook, Superchef Family Cookbook, from your favorite retailer.
If you’d like to hear more stories about finding yourself in the kitchen, check out our interview with Melissa d’Arabian.
Now, please enjoy this special reading from Reba McEntire, from her new audiobook, Not That Fancy.
SNEAK PEEK: Reba McEntire’s Not That Fancy
Reba McEntire: The main thing I try to stay consistent with in my life is my relationship with the Lord. He’s always been there for me. My faith has gotten me through the loneliest of times. He’s that rock, that fortress you lean on when things go wrong or when they’re right. The best way for me to be still in my spirit is to go out for a long walk. I love being outside and looking at God’s creation, watching the clouds go by and listening to the birds singing always fills me with peace. I felt the same way when I was a girl running through the hills on our ranch. There’s just something about being alone in nature that helps me listen in a way I can’t in the middle of the hustle and bustle of my usual life.
Next Week: Nicole Avant
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Nicole Avant, producer, philanthropist, and the 13th U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas. Nicole opens up about the unimaginable and horrific loss of her mother, and how she learned to navigate her grief with grace and forgiveness.
Nicole Avant: You’re a conduit for God and for the universe, and you’re a conduit and you’re a vessel and they’ll work through you. And yes, you get to be blessed through that, but it’s not you. They’ve chosen you to be the conduit and they channel through you, which is a great thing, because then it takes off a lot of pressure, but you want to be responsible to the divine.