After leaving India to pursue a culinary career, Chef Veera stays active with a downtown shop, cooking classes, and mentoring.
Chef Veera Gaul is living a tasty retirement. She and husband, Joe, opened Oil & Vinegar on Main Street in Greenville nine years ago. Joe was retiring from his corporate job, and Veera had just left her job as provost at Johnson and Wales University, where she was overseeing all academic programs and faculty for all four campuses.
“We were too young to retire but wanted to do something together that didn’t have us on planes halfway around the world from each other,” says Gaul. The couple knew they wanted to land in Greenville.
Gaul came to the United States from India in 1989 to pursue a master’s degree at Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island. “I couldn’t get a job in the culinary field in Calcutta because people didn’t want to hire a woman in the kitchen in India,” she shares. After graduate school, she joined the faculty at the university and worked her way to the top.
She maintains her passion for teaching and leadership, and has volunteered as a coach with the Chamber of Commerce Minority Business Accelerator program for the past five years. She is also one of the founders of the Greenville chapter of Cake & Whiskey, a women’s networking group, and loves mentoring young female entrepreneurs.
“I had a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn from my mentors,” she says. “I take any opportunity I get to share what I’ve learned with others. Our store was not just intended to be something we enjoy doing; we wanted to be a part of the Greenville community and help people.”
Gaul hasn’t put away her chef knives. She shares weekly recipes and tips for a Mediterranean lifestyle on her website and newsletter. She leads Zoom cooking classes and at-home cooking demos. On Fridays and Saturdays, you can find her at Oil & Vinegar, leading tastings and helping customers sample the oils, vinegars, sauces, jellies, and other products they stock from across the globe.
During a break in her busy schedule, Gaul talked with vive to share a few of her kitchen tips and some of the wisdom she has gleaned through her unique culinary life.
What is your favorite quote?
‘Be brave.’ I was born ten weeks premature. I wasn’t expected to live. I was one of five women out of 1,000 to graduate from my culinary school. I think people should reach beyond what they know how to do. Also, Veera means ‘brave.’
What is your favorite tool in the kitchen?
A zester. It amazes me how much flavor you get out of zest.
What is a fun fact about you?
Before I decided to be a chef, I wanted to be a zookeeper. I spent six months working at an endangered alligator farm in India. I also worked for World Wildlife Fund’s Project Tiger to save the Bengal Tigers. I got to foster baby cubs and feed them milk. I’m not good at biology. There was no way I was going to be a zookeeper!
What do you collect?
I collect recipes. I have thirty file folders of recipes. I have them categorized: chicken, desserts, sauces . . . . I spend time flipping through them for inspiration.
What is your go-to cookbook?
Even though I went to school in India, I don’t cook Indian food often. Any cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey is amazing. Her books are a reminder of what I should be doing.
What three things are always in your fridge?
Citrus, lemons or limes. Cheese, like a good Manchego or a ricotta salata. It’s a solid ricotta cheese that is great shredded on salads and things. And bread.
Summer Squash Sweet-Spicy Stir-fry
Total Time: 25 minutes
1 ½ Tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar*
1 Tbsp. Marc de Champagne vinegar *
3 Tbsp. soy sauce (or tamari)
¾ tsp. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. roasted sesame oil *
2 cups yellow squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced in half-moons
2 cups zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced in half-moons
2 Japanese eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and sliced in half-moons
4 scallions, white part cut in 2-inch pieces, green parts thinly sliced
1 red jalapeño or serrano pepper, thinly sliced
¾ cup roasted peanuts
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 -1 ½ tsp. crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)
2 cups cooked white rice
Parsley leaves for garnish
In a bowl, whisk together the aged balsamic, Marc de Champagne vinegar, soy sauce, and cornstarch until smooth. Stir in a tablespoon of water and set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan on medium high heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring well until browned (about 4-6 minutes). Transfer to a bowl.
Repeat, heating one tablespoon of oil and adding the zucchini. Cook until browned (4-6 minutes) and transfer to the bowl with the squash.
Heat an additional tablespoon of oil in the saucepan and add the eggplant. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned, and transfer to the bowl with the squash and zucchini.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the saucepan and sauté the scallion whites and sliced jalapeño/serrano pepper for a minute. Add the minced garlic, crushed red pepper, and peanuts, and cook until the garlic is fragrant.
Return all vegetables to the saucepan and add the cornstarch mixture, stirring continuously until the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables (about 2 minutes).
Serve with white rice and top with the sliced scallion greens and parsley.
* Roasted sesame oil gives great toasted sesame flavor to the vegetables. The aged balsamic vinegar adds a nice balance of sweet and acid. Together with the Marc de Champagne vinegar, they provide a flavorful coating on the vegetables. All of these products can be found at Oil & Vinegar. Recipe from ChefVeera.com.
To sign up for Chef Veera’s newsletter, visit her website at ChefVeera.com.
Oil & Vinegar, 220 N Main St, Suite 203, on NOMA Square. (864) 241-6689, oilandvinegarusa.com.