Akhtar is the Co-Founder of Indie Fresh, Chef Advisor of Washington D.C.’s Table bistro, and Executive Chef of Choza Taqueria He has specialized in everything from European pub fare to Mexican street food, and even appeared on Iron Chef America after opening the American-Indian restuarant Elettaria. We sit down with Akhtar Nawab to learn about his morning routine as a chef in NYC, and more importantly – the secret to making an amazing plant-based Valentine’s Day pancake.

What does your morning routine look like during the week?

Three days out of the week, I get up at 6AM, and then get my daughter, Ela, out of bed by 7.15. I make my daughter’s lunch, both of our breakfasts, and then always go to the gym or running outside. After that, it’s off to work by 10AM.

What’s on your breakfast plate most mornings?

Always some fruit. Very frequently, I’ll have a gluten-free oatmeal that I make at my company, Indie Fresh. It’s a blend of gluten-free oats, chia, flax, pumpkin seeds, cashew puree, and then topped with granola, goji berries, and cocoa nibs. So satisfying.

Coffee, Tea, or Other?

Pretty much every day, I’ll have two cups of coffee. Always black. Sometimes I’ll go for an Indie Fresh coffee smoothie with things like cold brew coffee, cocoa nibs, almond butter, gluten-free granola, bananas, and dates.

Do you slow things down on the weekends at all?

I like to be busy all the time, so I usually go right into recipe testing on the weekends. Lately I have been playing around with cashew, whole wheat flour, and spelt flour for a hearty whole grain pancake.

That sounds delicious. What’s the secret to a perfect plant-based pancake?

I like to use a small amount of cider vinegar in my pancakes. It reacts with the baking soda and helps to keep the pancakes light and fluffy. Sometimes these whole grain pancakes can be super dense, so it’s always a challenge to keep them airy.

I love pumpkin this time of year, so I often add a spoonful of unsweetened puree to my pancake mix.

Another tip is to use a mixture of coconut oil and olive oil to cook the pancakes. Always over medium heat, to allow time to gently set the pancakes on one side before flipping. I look for small pockets of escaping air. When I see many begin to form at once, I quickly go for the turn!

For a quick Valentines Day pancake recipe, here’s one from the Purple Carrot kitchen that you can whip up for your sweetheart in no time:

Purple Carrot’s Valentine’s Day Pancakes

Serves: 2


  • ½ cup All Purpose Flour
  • ¾ cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 tablespoons Cane Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon Salt
  • 1¼ cup Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1 tablespoon Oil


Step 1.  

Mix the all purpose and whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the non-dairy milk and oil together in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir, just until blended. Mixture will be lumpy.

Step 2.  

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Using a ¼ cup measuring utensil, drop the batter into the hot pan, and cook until bubbles form and the edges are dry. Flip, and cook until golden brown on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter.

Step 3.

Serve pancakes with vegan butter, maple syrup and fresh fruit!