Photographer: Greg Dupree, Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton, Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

At Preeti Mistry's Bay Area restaurant, Indian-spiced mac-and-cheese is only a fraction of the mission

By Chris Hughes

"From an early age, I accepted that change is the only constant," says Preeti Mistry. It's a maxim that seems particularly appropriate for the Oakland, California–based chef, who recently earned a James Beard Foundation nod for the Anthony Bourdain–approved Juhu Beach Club, and then closed its doors to focus on a completely different project: her Indian pizzeria/café, Navi Kitchen, which she opened in nearby Emeryville.

When explaining her professional restlessness, Mistry likes to toss out marketing terms like "identity refreshment." But her nomadic tendencies, she admits, can be traced back to an itinerant childhood that took her from London to Orlando and, eventually, the suburbs of Toledo, Ohio—disparate locales that contributed to a perpetual state of "otherness."

Yet it's that sense of individuality that's helped her weather the "bro culture" of haute cuisine. Since a disastrous turn on Top Chef: Las Vegas ("getting booted early was a relief," she says), she's been able to turn her experiences into real industry change. Besides striving for staff-wide diversity, Mistry is donating proceeds from various dishes at Navi Kitchen to support nonprofit organizations within the community.

A dollar from every daily calzone (with fillings such as chai-spiced bacon) goes to Planting Justice. Sales of the already famous tikka masala macaroni and cheese benefit Destiny Arts. And every item on Navi's menu reflects Mistry's modern sensibilities mixed with her unique Indian-American background, celebrating the beauty of "otherness."

Related: 3 Creative Paleta Recipes

Meet Preeti

Age: 41

Experience: The Sugar Club in London, executive chef at Google Headquarters

Life-changing meal: "I was a vegetarian until I went to New Orleans and had those barbecue shrimp at Feelings Café."

Favorite movie: "Every frame of Do the Right Thing is perfection."

Make Her Recipes

Photographer: Greg Dupree, Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton, Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

 An instant classic at chef Preeti Mistry’s latest Oakland restaurant, Navi Kitchen, this tikka masala mac & cheese is the embodiment of the chef’s style: Cali-cool mashed up with traditional Indian flavors. To really capture the chef’s super fresh results, toast and grind whole spices with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder.

Recipe: Navi Kitchen Tikka Masala Macaroni & Cheese

Photographer: Greg Dupree, Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton, Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

The combination of earthy turmeric, smoky mezcal, and chile heat makes this one of chef Preeti Mistry’s favorite cocktails from her Juhu Beach Club Cookbook.

Recipe: The Elephant’s Fury