Akhtar Nawab G’86, ’90 is a chef and business owner in New York City and Washington D.C. He is currently the chef/owner of the fast-casual concept, Choza Taqueria and Indie Fresh – a health food delivery service – both in NYC. As well, he is the Chef Advisor at Table in Washington D.C. Akhtar’s newest venture “Alta Calidad” is a modern take on Mexican food and is slated to open in NYC this winter 2017. Akhtar studied at the California Culinary Academy and trained under chefs Loretta Keller, Roland Passot and Tom Colicchio. He has received many accolades in the restaurant industry, including the 2007 StarChefs.com NYC Rising Star Chef award and recognition as a top ten emerging culinary star by Mario Batali. He has appeared on numerous television shows, such as Iron Chef and as a judge in Worst Cooks in America.
Briefly describe your path after leaving St. Francis.
I went away to Bradley University for a year, then returned to Louisville to begin pursuing my interest in the culinary arts. I took courses at U of L for a year and got a job at a local family restaurant where I worked for four years. I then moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy. After that, I moved to New York, had a daughter, and have been there ever since.
Looking back at your time at St. Francis, what stands out?
For me, it was a little more freedom of expression. St. Francis was liberal enough that I didn’t feel pressured to pursue a traditional career. It was a precursor to my open-mindedness about my own career.
Do you recall a specific teacher or friend that influenced you in some way?
I remember Mr. Foshee. I had a brother who was a very good student. I had to work very hard for the grades that I got. Mr. Foshee understood that about me and was very helpful.
How was your experience at St. Francis a factor in determining your career path?More than anything, photography was a big piece of my time there. Those kinds of creative things gave me the freedom to explore what I wanted to do. It sent me in another direction. It made me feel that it wasn’t wrong to pursue those things. Many of my contemporaries didn’t have that.
What are the highlights of your career thus far?
It’s taken a lot of work, but I feel like I’ve been very fortunate. I employ a lot of people – 50-60. As a business owner, that’s probably one of the most important things in my career. All of the businesses that I have are much bigger than me. I’m fortunate that I get to be creative and that I’m recognized for the work that I do. At any given time, I can put away my computer and phone and focus on cooking. I got into cooking because it’s a passionate occupation that engages all of my senses. That’s very valuable to me.
How do you define success?
I’m growing my business. I have four taquerias in New York called Choza Taqueria. In 2015, I took over as executive chef at Table DC in Washington, D.C. I also started a health food company, Indie Fresh. We deliver healthy gluten/dairy-free food options in New York and have recently started shipping nationwide.
What’s next for you?
We have signed leases to open new restaurants in Alabama, Brooklyn, and Washington, D.C.