When it comes to women who have reinvented their careers, Divya Gugnani takes the top prize. The New Yorker went from one highly successful career to another without missing a beat. And that’s just the way she likes things.
Divya Gugnani grew up on Long Island with parents who were natives of India. She studied economics at Cornell and then got an MBA from Harvard University. She followed that career path all the way to the financial firm of Goldman Sachs in New York City, where she worked as an investment banking analyst. Despite long hours, she found time to pursue another passion at the same time, taking courses at the French Culinary Institute.
The high powered job and six figure income suited Gugnani for awhile, but her love of cooking and desire to have more time and control over her life led her to launch Behind the Burner in 2008. She remains the company’s CEO and she works with hundreds of chefs and foodies around the world to bring their best tips onto videos and into stories. Her shows can be found online and on television, at MSNBC and NBC’s Weekend Today, for which she is a culinary expert.
One of the biggest and most well known projects of Divya Gugnani of late is the release of her book, Sexy Women Eat: Secrets to Eating What You Want and Still Looking Fabulous. The book was released in 2011 and is a biography, cookbook, diet plan and life lesson all in one. Sexy Women Eat explores the good, the bad and the ugly about food and how women can stay sexy without giving up the things they love. It also gives a frank look at the love-hate relationship between women and food.
Gugnani keeps it personal within Sexy Women Eat. She offers up some stories from her life as a single woman trying to have a healthy relationship with food and men at the same time. Though she is still sympathetic to the struggle, it’s something she no longer has to worry about since she married Manoj Chugani in 2010, at the age of 34.
During the Food Network Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, Divya Gugnani held a Sexy Women Eat event in The Foundation Room of the Showboat Resort to bring the points of her book alive. She served two low calorie drinks, “Sexy Strawberry Smash” and “Drinkable Dessert” (recipes below), as well as a healthy “Panko Crusted Chicken” and “Baked Apple (Hold the Pie).” While the mostly female crowd sipped and nibbled, Gugnani opened up the evening with them her philosophy, “Women are constantly making choices, but one of the most important ones they make is how to treat themselves,” before personally speaking with a signing a copy of her book for every woman in attendance.
Travel, Food & Drink talked with Divya Gugnani after the event to hear some of her specific tips about how she stays sexy while traveling.
Travel, Food & Drink: What snacks do you always have in your bag when traveling?
Divya Gugnani: I usually travel with a variety of easy to pack items, such as almonds (20 max should satisfy!) and dried fruit. If I know it’s going to be a quick trip, I’ll bring a Greek yogurt (usually Fage with honey). In regards to dried fruit, it can be a bit high in sugar so you need to be careful how much you consume. It’s a convenient substitute for fresh berries, which the airport usually frowns on when you’re traveling by plane.
Travel, Food & Drink: What is the most diet-friendly city you have visited?
Divya Gugnani: Diet friendly is probably anywhere in California. A lot of the restaurants, especially in the Malibu/Los Angeles area, are very eco/earth friendly and delicious to boot.
Travel, Food & Drink: What is the least diet-friendly city you have visited?
The least diet based country, really, is Brazil…everything is fried! Admittedly, they do have some delicious vegetable based dishes, but overall just delicious, not healthy.
Travel, Food & Drink: What city (or country) do you most look forward to visiting for food?
Divya Gugnani: When I went to Spain for Behind the Burner, the tapas were amazing and the creativity to which the chefs are expanding is astounding! They really have quite the culinary outlet. If you want something a bit closer to home, Chicago restaurants are extraordinary. In the Midwest it’s the chef that chooses the meal and creates the masterpiece, not the customer. They’re very content just to sit and be surprised!
25 ml Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur
Sparkling water (such as Perrier), sparkling wine or champagne
Splash of fresh lemon juice
Pour Chambord into a champagne glass;
Fill remaining glass with sparkling water, sparkling wine or champagne;
Add a splash of fresh lemon juice.
Sexy Strawberry Smash
50 ml tequila
25 ml fresh lime juice
15 ml agave juice (or Stevia liquid)
Muddle strawberries in a shaker;
Add ice, tequila, lime juice and agave (or Stevia) to shaker;
Shake for 20 shakes;
Pour in a rocks glass over fresh ice;
Add club soda to fill glass.
By Marcia Frost