Namaste, my name is Babita Shrestha. I am a plant-based chef, photographer, graphic designer, and the author of “Plant-based Himalaya”. My cooking journey started over 2 decades ago in my grandfather’s kitchen in Kalaiya, Bara. I moved to Kathmandu, at the age of 12 where I was traditionally trained to cook by my mother. As the oldest child of the family, it was my responsibility to cook and it quickly grew into a true passion of mine.
When I was older, the civil war in Nepal and my love of filmmaking brought me to study film studies in the United States in 2009. There, I discovered Graphic Design during my first year in college and decided to continue with it. I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree at St. Cloud State University, Minnesota. During this time I got an opportunity to be exposed to many cultures and food from around the world.
My journey in life has taken me from a small village in the Terai region of Nepal to the Ancient Metropolitan Temple City of Kathmandu. Then, as a domestic helper in Hong Kong and a Fine Arts student in Minnesota. Later, as an entrepreneur, I started Vegan Nepal in Lexington, Kentucky in 2017. I seriously never got an opportunity to look at a beautiful cookbook until the age of 30 but I wish young kids will enjoy the first ever vegan and vegetarian Nepali cookbook and open their eyes to infinite possibilities, create delicious vegetable recipes and become great future artists themselves.
2017-Vegan Nepal was born.
Cooking is my heritage and I always wanted to become a chef since I was a teenager but I couldn’t see myself working in a chaotic restaurant environment. Instead, I chose to go to the US, and there I ended up studying graphic design. By the time I graduated I was 30 and realized that food is my first passion and I wanted to do something in the culinary field. I moved to Lexington, Kentucky after graduation (in 2016) to take a break and live with my sister.
Around Fall, I visited Barnes and Noble with my then boyfriend (now husband) where I was first introduced to the world of cookbooks. I was shocked and surprised to know that a beautiful cookbook exists. I saw cookbooks from around the world. I come from a background where people hardly read books so forget about finding a cookbook. It seriously opened a whole new world to me and I realized this is where I belong. By this time, I had practiced cooking for over 2 decades, photography for 10 years, and design & photo editing for 5 years. That’s when I wrote probably 10 cookbooks in my head and decided I have to write my first cookbook to fulfill my dreams because I was born to do this. Writing a cookbook isn’t easy, you need time and money so it didn’t happen right away because I was in so much college debt but I decided to go out to work as a Plant-based Chef. This world needs more of it.
After living a vegan lifestyle for over a year in Lexington I really realized there were no good vegetarian or vegan restaurants to eat at in Lexington and it is not only the issue in Lexington but a larger issue around the world even in my own country, Nepal. There are hardly 100% plant-based restaurants that focus on cooking and selling vegetables so I felt like I was meant to start Vegan Nepal in Lexington and do my karma. I let my creativity blossom, curating my own unique vegan recipes for dinner parties. This led me to educate and promote fresh nutritious dishes with classes, pop-up street food vending, selling my products to other restaurants, private cheffing, and catering. During this endeavor, I was fortunate enough to cook for all kinds of foodies in my area including catering for Miss Linda Gorton, the mayor of Lexington, KY as well as become a private chef at dinner parties for Lucy Vanmeter, the Circuit Court Judge of Lexington. I am so thankful to the people of Lexington who loved my food since day 1 and helped me to bloom my creativity to do what I was meant to do in my lifetime. I found something I want to wake up every morning and get excited about my work.
In 2019, I got married and after doing 2 years of pop-up, catering, and food festivals, I had the option to open a restaurant or focus on finishing my first cookbook. I decided to take time off from public events to focus on my passion project which would later be titled “Plant-Based Himalaya”. It was a complete joy to create. Every recipe, photo, illustration, and even layout are of my own fabrication. At that time I had not returned to Nepal for over a decade due to national tragedies such as civil war and devastating earthquakes. After getting married, my husband and I decided to move to Nepal in 2020 to reconnect with my cultural roots and continue living a sustainable life while putting finishing touches to my first cookbook “Plant-based Himalaya”.
2020 and 2021 were very challenging because of moving to Nepal and the global pandemic but I have found my home in Pokhara. I am enjoying my life near beautiful Annapurna Mountain with my dear husband Charles. There are many lifestyle changes in 3 years that I would love to share with you but since I ditched the refrigerator in Nepal living, I have realized that I always eat fresh and healthy. There are no leftovers or any food that goes to the fridge.
I completed writing my first cookbook “Plant-based Himalaya” in 2021. I also found my wonderful publisher Red Lightning Press (Indiana University) I am really excited that it is coming out on September 6th, 2022 worldwide. Currently, I am working on making recipe videos and completing my first documentary project “Baadal Danda”, my journey to Mardi Himal.
Our life is a lifestyle so make the most of it. Local and sustainable food is more healthy and ethical. Even if you are not 100% plant-based, taking control of your food supply from greedy corporations is truly a revolutionary act in our current society. I have seen this first hand in Nepal and have witnessed the problems ignoring this has created in America. As an Indigenous female, it is my responsibility to educate and promote agriculture which is the solution to saving our planet. I truly believe that problems such as pollution, world hunger, gender inequality, and dependency on governments/corporations can all be addressed through local organic farming and self-sustainability. There is no plant-based food if there is no one growing the beautiful and nutritious plants and saving seeds for the future. I think GMOs, processed chemical foods, agri-business, and corporate control of the farmers/food supply are one of the greatest threats to my generation. Farmers are the true artists of our community who feeds us. We really need more of them.
Also cooking at home will always be healthier than in any restaurant. My ancestors knew homegrown, fresh, and raw ingredients can heal the body, mind, and soul. The trend of heavily processed fake meats from the same companies that have been ruining farmlands for decades is not the right direction for a healthy lifestyle, community, or world. I hope my book can help individuals take even a small step on the course to Health and Happiness.