A taste of Fairfield – and beyond

Yamini Lal will be the first to tell you, accompanied by a hearty laugh, that there are “two interests I have.”

While she’s a self-proclaimed “tech geek,” it’s her passion for — and celebration of — food that has brought WAG to Stamford to dine with the voice behind the Fairfield County Foodie blog.

At her suggestion, we’re at Teff, a family owned-and-operated restaurant serving the cuisines of East Africa.

And it is proving a most fitting backdrop, as Lal gamely walks us through the menu of Ethiopian dishes, describing the flavors, her favorites and the traditional way to eat — by hand.

Oh, WAG is in for something new, and Lal’s enthusiasm draws us right in.

“It is such a great time to be living,” she says, offering her overview of the culinary landscape.

In rapid-fire delivery over the sharing of a few delicious entrées, she’ll tell us all about her childhood in India, her coming to America 26 years ago and most recently, her foray into the blogosphere.

It’s all been quite the journey.

Four years ago, she was working for a boutique real estate company in Westport — and had no social media experience. She quit to study social media and never looked back.

“That’s how it got started, but it has become such an addiction.”

She says if she weren’t blogging, she would be content, like most of us, to go to the same handful of favorite restaurants, having good meals but not any surprises or discoveries.

“This kind of forces me to go out and have new experiences.”

A WORLD VIEW

Lal’s is a sophisticated palate, one developed from her earliest days in Delhi and constantly expanded by travel. Trips have even been planned around restaurant reservations, such as the trip to Barcelona and a particular destination.

“I told my husband I need to get into this restaurant. As soon as I get my reservation, you can book it,” she says, shaking her head to assure us it’s true.

Such passion, she says, can be traced back to her earliest days — and food memories.

“I think I owe a lot of it to my mom and my family,” she says. “Forty years ago in Delhi, we didn’t have ovens,” she says. But her inventive mother found ways to make not only cakes but pizza.

Lal talks of the way of life, of compounds where families had their own rooms but also communal areas where they shared meals, stories, songs and traditions.

“Food, in our culture, is totally the thing,” from traditional celebrations to the street scene. “It’s food vendors every couple of steps.”

She says with a laugh that even if you’re enjoying a meal, you’re already looking ahead.

The attitude is, she says, “It’s so delicious, but where are we going to eat the next meal?”

She talks about world cuisine with a mention of the “strong Asian food scene” in Sydney, which she savored when visiting her son during a semester abroad.

Sure, she tried everything from local favorites to British-inspired meat pies, finally deciding, “I’m not very fond of kangaroo meat… The Asian food was to die for.”

Going out, she says, is just a part of her life, from a quick lunch from a food truck to a marathon meal savored at the famed farm-to-table pioneer Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills.

She loves the local restaurant scene and thinks her travels beyond only add to her experience.

“It gives you a reference point.”

HER OWN WAY

Lal, who loves cooking, says, “It’s very hard to juggle the time.”

“One would think as a food blogger all I do is eat out,” she says.

But it’s not true — she just tries to go enough to satisfy her weekly posts.

“It’s a lot of money out of my own pocket,” she says before bursting into another laugh, “That’s why I have to work.”

Her day job is as the social and digital campaigns manager for Carolee. The Stamford-based fashion jewelry wholesaler taps into her technological side, but she can still combine that with her passion for food. Travels to the Carolee showroom in Manhattan always include a food-related stop before or after work.

She takes out her phone to show a map of the city — with what must be dozens and dozens of stars on it, marking “restaurants I need to hit.”

“I have stars all over the world,” she says. She’ll be reading or talking and hear of a place — in, say, Thailand — and it’s added to her list.

But that list has a lot of competition.

“One of my favorite things to do is go to cooking classes,” she says. She loves to see how other cooks and chefs work. “You get such a great insight into every little thing that they are doing.”

Lal will share that busy schedule extends beyond the food world. She is dedicated to Indian classical music and travels to New Jersey on Sundays for her vocal lessons.

GOOD THINGS

“My concept and my blog is a celebration of good chefs and food and restaurants,” she says. It’s not designed to pan places or spotlight bad meals.

“Every kitchen has a bad day. Every chef has a bad day.”

She also doesn’t feel an obligation to be among the first to try out a new restaurant.

She gives it time to settle, to find its groove.

Lal likes to chart her own path and says she doesn’t like to attend blogger dinners where, she says, “All 15 people are eating the same bites, writing the exact same words.”

Her voice is important.

“It’s literally as the thoughts come into my head, because I want (it) to be like I’m talking to you.”

And it’s been proven time and again.

Take the way she describes a dish at a Vietnamese restaurant in Bridgeport: “The steamed fish was another great discovery on the Nom-eez menu. It arrives wrapped in a banana leaf — just slightly opened — bound to intoxicate your senses as soon as it gets near you. I wish I had ordered another of these — it’s that good!”

The blog, she says, is not a place for advertisements.

“It’s my baby. I want to keep total control over it. I don’t want to monetize it.”

DAY BY DAY

She posts weekly, though will skip if she’s traveling or otherwise occupied.

“Living life is more important than reporting on life.”

Lal got a degree in English literature in her homeland, coming to the United States and settling in New Jersey (picking up a master’s degree in computers along the way). She and her family moved to Connecticut about a decade ago and live in Weston.

Lal’s husband, who is in finance, travels for business, with Lal often joining him.

While some might find her blog glamorous, Lal says it’s “not as easy as it sounds.

“I’m the writer, the photographer and the editor and I’m also the webmaster.”

She’s also connected with fellow bloggers, people in the food business and, to her surprise, plenty of farmers.

“I’ve found a group of friends who are so real.”

Trends, she says, will keep coming.

“Everybody is interested in the next, the next, the next… To a great degree, you actually find the trends as you go about your merry way.”

And you just know she’ll keep an eye on them all, while still keeping it decidedly personal.

“It’s simply a catalog of my life experiences, from a culinary point of view.”

And we’re glad she takes us along on her travels.

For more, visit fairfieldcountyfoodie.com.

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