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Featured on Apr 18, 2012

Chitra Agrawal

"Don't be afraid to go out on a limb. It's where all the fruit is. - Shirley MacLaine"


I was raised by engineers who also share a passion for cooking, but it wasn’t until recently that I came back to these roots.

I studied Psychology & English at Berkeley and oddly fell into tech investment banking out of school - unfortunately right when the market tanked. At that point, I changed paths, and for the next 9 years worked in advertising and marketing, getting my MBA at NYU along the way.

2009 was the first of many turning points for me. I started writing The ABCD’s of Cooking, which chronicles my adventures cooking American Born Confused Desi recipes. The growth of this site led me to make cooking videos, sell Indian street foods at markets and events, teach cooking classes and host my own supper club. I now also contribute food writing to Gojee, Food+Tech Connect, The Daily Meal and Brooklyn Based and am currently in talks to partner on a restaurant.

Last year, I co-chaired a session at SXSW on the intersection of food and technology called "How Technology is Revolutionizing the Way We Eat,” which brought me to my current position at Cinchcast/BlogTalkRadio. BlogTalkRadio is the largest online live talk radio network, and Cinchcast is our white label audio broadcasting solution for companies that we launched last year. I work on marketing, content, social media and host a radio show on our network, educating 1,000s of our hosts on how to better market and produce their own shows.

  • Title: Director of Marketing, Cinchcast/BlogTalkRadio; Founder, The ABCD's of Cooking
  • Age: 32
  • Location: Brooklyn
  • Contact: @abcdsofcooking,

You went from writing a food blog to working at BlogTalkRadio. How did you get involved in BlogTalkRadio? What are some of your favorite shows?

I actually found my way to BlogTalkRadio through a food blogging friend of mine, Emily Cavalier, who I got to know at SXSW.  She knew the CEO & Founder, Alan Levy and connected us.  As a blogger, who is covering a very specific niche in food, I was naturally drawn to BlogTalkRadio’s platform because it’s helping to democratize the medium of audio by allowing anyone to broadcast their point of view.  I’ve worked in digital marketing since 2002 and was also fascinated by how BTR had transformed podcasting into a live and interactive format and was providing companies with a new way to create content and reach an audience.
It’s kind of difficult for me to pick out my favorite shows because our platform is so interview driven.  For instance, I’m a big Chris Rock fan, and last week I found out that he was going to be a guest on one of our shows so I just listened in live.  Some of my favorite interviews on the site have been with Ira Glass, Arianna Huffington, David Bowie and Salman Rushdie and now we’re starting to get some well-known hosts like Deepak Chopra and C.C. Chapman, which is pretty exciting.  If I have to choose though, I’d say I listen to Columbia Journalism, Movie Geeks United, Intel’s MashUp Radio, Milling About and Small Business Roundtable most often.

You said that you recently "came back to your roots" when you started your food blog, The ABCD's of Cooking. What inspired you to start the food blog and come back to your roots? What's your go-to recipe?

I grew up in a household that was quite centered around food. Both of my parents are avid cooks and since they come from two different parts of India (Bangalore and Allahabad), they have worked hard to maintain the cooking traditions they grew up with.  I have always taken an interest in learning from both of them in the kitchen and I started my site to preserve, document and share our family recipes. 
I've adapted many of them by using local ingredients that I have, but have stayed true to the original Indian cooking techniques that I was taught and am still learning from my family.  My parents actually cook very much in this same way. I remember when they first moved to Alabama from New Jersey even, they started incorporating many of the new types of vegetables they’d find at their local farmer’s market into their traditional home-style Indian dishes.
Writing this site has brought me closer to my parents and relatives across generations, which has been really nice.  It’s also created a mini-community for me where I get feedback, ideas, and involvement from others, including many people in my family who have also been motivated to exchange ideas and recipes.  I also feel good when I hear that my little nephew likes a recipe from the site because maybe one day he'll want to learn how to make it:) I don't think these things would have been as possible without the blog and it’s motivated me to grow it further.
I’d have to say my go-to-recipe is chitranna (not because it has my name in it;) but because it was a favorite of mine growing up. It’s basically yellow (from turmeric) lemon peanut rice that is flavored with fried lentils and spices and fresh coconut and cilantro.  I can eat it for days and love to teach it to my students because it’s so easy and really colorful.

You host your own show about how to be a better marketer. What are some common marketing mistakes that you often come across? Can you give us any special marketing tricks and tips?

I’d say one common marketing mistake is that I see a lot of brands using social media for promotional messages, more than trying to connect or respond to their existing customers. I also find that a lot of brands are still sending me messages that I’m just not interested in or that are just not relevant to me, which tells me they are not doing enough research and vetting of content.
One tip is that I think more marketing strategy needs to be informed by customer service insights. I’ve been lucky to work at organizations like American Express and now BlogTalkRadio that support a strong relationship between marketing and customer service, which makes a huge difference in how effective you are at communicating with your audience.
When it comes to marketing your individual brand, one piece of advice that I often give to our hosts and realized firsthand from The ABCD’s of Cooking is to not underestimate the power of your personal network.  I’ve found that those who are closest to you are often your strongest advocates and most helpful in spreading word of mouth when you’re starting to get things off the ground.

As someone who is involved in both food and tech, in what ways do you see the two communities working together and do you see further growth in the relationship between the two communities?

Currently, there is a lot happening in food and tech, most visibly in the consumer space with launches of many new apps and sites geared towards helping people shop for local produce, make healthier recipes, find customized restaurant recommendations, etc.  I’m a contributor to Food+Tech Connect, a media company founded by my friend Danielle Gould, which covers and connects innovators at the intersection of food and information technology.  The amount of content on the topic that lives on her site is a testament to how closely these two communities are already working and will definitely continue to work together. There is also a very active and growing Meetup group in NY that I’m a part of called Food+Tech that is organized by Lizzy Greene, which is also helping to bring the two communities together.
Danielle hosted a panel at SXSW this year called Better Food Through Open Data Standards, that I feel sums up where food and tech are going next, which is an open data standard for food that she is helping to build.  Collecting and making all of this data accessible will help to tell a more complete story of the food system and drive innovations that will not only affect consumers, but inform policy and change the agricultural and food industry as a whole.

Founder, CEO, Marketing