Nik Sharma, the blogger behind A Brown Table, loves images that show motion. All photos courtesy of Nik Sharma.
Four months ago, half a year shy of his 35th birthday, Nik Sharma took a leap of faith. After seven years employed as a scientist, the California-based pharmaceutical researcher decided to shift gears and pursue the career he’d dreamt of since his childhood in India: cooking.
“Growing up, I’d wanted to be a chef, but I decided to choose a more stable path — I went into molecular biology,” Sharma told Yahoo Food. He’d journeyed to the United States for college, earning degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Georgetown University. But after long days in the lab, Sharma’s mind flooded with thoughts of vibrant Indian spices and simmering, curried sauces.
In 2011, he started his food blog A Brown Table, which over time earned a steady following. It also buoyed Sharma’s confidence, and after a few years of soul searching, he resolved to hang up his lab coat once and for all. After a two-month trial period at a local bakery, Sharma became a full-time pastry chef this year.
Sharma’s coffee hazelnut tart.
“It’s quite nerve wracking,” Sharma said, but he loves every minute. “It’s exciting because I work with people — a lot of people — at the same time,” he explained. “I also enjoy learning things that I never would have learned by myself at home, especially different techniques. People are really patient in teaching me, which is really nice. You quickly learn to adapt to a high-speed environment and churning out something that’s still good quality.“
Through it all, Sharma has kept up his blog. Although he cranks out classic desserts like Italian tiramisu and French-inspired chocolate mousse at work, his recipes for The Brown Table are inspired by his years in bustling Bombay.
Sharma prepares blood orange curd.
“My blog focuses on nontraditional ways to use Indian food in everyday American cooking,” Sharma told us. “I feel like I’m on the fence, halfway between both [cultures]. I want to tell people that there’s a lot more than curries and naan to Indian food. You can make a pasta with curry. You can make great desserts with Indian ingredients. It’s fun to do.”
A Brown Table stands out not just for its recipes, but its dark and moody photography. Sharma’s colorful dishes are usually draped in shadow, and his hands, often in motion, are captured in the frame. These choices lend Sharma’s images a living, breathing quality, and — to his surprise — have been a source of inspiration to readers of color. “They just say that it’s really nice to see a hand of color, because you rarely get to see that these days in the food blogging world,” Sharma said.
The pictures are in stark contrast to the light and airy images that plaster many other food blogs, which initially resulted in the rejection of Sharma’s submissions to popular sites like Foodgawker. It’s a badge Sharma wears proudly. “There came a point where I had to decide: Should I follow the rules, or follow my intuition?” he said.
Sharma plates Indian dosas and uttapams.
Sharma is thankful he stuck to his guns. Earlier this year, A Brown Table was awarded “Best Photo Based Culinary Blog” from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Sharma is also currently up for “Best Photography” in Saveur’s annual blog awards. (You can vote for A Brown Table here.)
Sharma admits that he’s been floored by the response to his blog. His parents, once skeptical of their son’s career choice, have since come around. “They support me 100 percent,” he said. More backing comes from Sharma’s husband, Michael, whom he’s been with for nearly a decade. “A lot of this would not be possible without [his] support,” Sharma said. They were married in Washington, D.C. last year.
When Sharma looks at how different his life is today from what it was five years ago, it all seems a bit surreal. He now hopes to attend culinary school in this fall and pursue a degree in pastry arts.
“I feel emotionally satisfied with what I do right now,” he said. “It’s a big thing for me.”
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