Tragic Details About Aarti Sequeira

In 2010, "The Next Food Network Star" anointed its sixth winner with the task of finding a future big kahuna celebrity chef. The choice that year was Aarti Sequeira, a former journalist with CNN who'd been hosting her own at-home cooking show on YouTube. In the aftermath of her big win, Sequeira got her own show, "Aarti Party," which ran for three seasons. She also appeared as a guest and judge on shows like "Guy's Grocery Games" and "Cooks vs. Cons," among many others.

More recently, Aarti Sequeira began hosting "Halloween Wars," an annual series that gives chefs, bakers, and pastry chefs the chance to compete in several spooky-themed cooking challenges. Clearly, Sequeira has a good attitude toward her role as a high-profile celebrity chef — she's humble but proud, a rare Hollywood personality who came from meager means. Guided by her devout faith, she's traveled around the world and back again, but her journey hasn't always been an easy one. Throughout her life, Sequeira has faced many challenges and setbacks, while fighting personal battles that continue today. 

Growing up an outsider

Born in Bombay, Sequeira was raised as a Catholic in Dubai. But even in her native homeland, she found herself torn between two disparate worlds, feeling like she didn't belong. Around the age of seven, she transferred to a British-run school, and those frequent moves never made things easy for her.

"I felt like something of an outsider, having never spent that much time with, frankly, white people," she said in an interview with Women Working. "Many of them had never spent much time with an Indian person." As a result, the culture clash left her isolated. This led to deep insecurities about where she really belonged, and it took her teacher's intervention to make a friend. "I really felt like a third culture kid," she told the Mere Christian Podcast

But over time, the melting pot of American cities helped her overcome feeling like an outsider. "The longer I'm here, the more I understand the diversity of this country, and its people. So, I just feel like I'm all over the map at this point." Though she admits that she may never truly feel anything but "mixed up," she has found a way to belong. And it's all about the kitchen, where she faces several challenges. "At the end of the day ... even if in my head and in my heart feels like a jumble, when I cook, it seems to all make sense."

She's suffered for imposter syndrome for years

We've all probably felt like we don't deserve the good things we have, or worse, that we're really not as good as everyone says, especially when it comes to a new job or vocation. Celebrities aren't immune to the phenomenon of imposter syndrome, and it can be made much worse by the attention of the media, press, and even paparazzi — not to mention fans — who shower them in accolades they feel they might not deserve. It's something Sequeira felt for years, and it was often a struggle to get past it. 

"I didn't go to culinary school, and I didn't work in restaurants for years," she told Locale Magazine in 2022. After years of making cooking videos for the fun of it, she was eventually hired to make one as a professional, and that's when she began a battle with her own self-confidence. Thankfully, like many challenges in her life, she turned to her faith, which ultimately helped her realize she was on the right path. 

"[I thought], 'Oh my gosh. I'm getting paid to do this. Maybe this is something that God's made me to do.' I think that was the first moment where I thought, 'It doesn't matter what I think is the right way to go about things.' I think that this is something that's been ordained for me, and I just have to trust that," she shared. 

Aarti's first restaurant experience was no party

She's often talked about her time at CNN, but Sequeira's journey from reporter to chef didn't happen overnight. The transformation wasn't easy either, and at one point, she found herself facing an existential crisis about her future. Her first real experience in the restaurant world was anything but pleasant.

"I interned at 'Lucques,' where James Beard Award-winner Suzanne Goin is executive chef," Sequeira said in a 2010 interview for Medill at Northwestern University, her alma mater, where she studied journalism. According to Sequeira, the experience taught her that no matter how much we want her to own her own restaurant, she just wasn't cut out for the business — and that was a tough realization to digest. "It was really hard for me — all my fellow Medill grads were moving up the chain, and producing work that I really admired. But I felt lost. I didn't feel the drive they did." 

So how did she find her purpose? On a whim, she turned to the kitchen and with her husband's help produced her first at-home cooking videos. "Finally, one day, I picked up the camera and shot my own cooking segment ... A few months into that, called and asked me to host some segments for them." Within a year she applied for a spot on "The Next Food Network Star," and the rest is history.

She battled postpartum depression

Bringing a new child into the world should be nothing but a joyous occasion. Nevertheless, postpartum depression afflicts some women following childbirth, a long-lasting form of depression that can begin during pregnancy. Sadly, postpartum depression made Sequeira one of its targets, and she wrote about how hard it was to handle in a blog post on her website (via CALLED Magazine).

More than just a mere lack of self-assuredness, postpartum depression causes real emotional turmoil, and Sequeira was no exception. "It sometimes feels like I'm being attacked by a swarm of bees," she said of her time enduring the condition. "Their stings are so painful, so demanding of my attention, that I can't swat them away with words of truth." Eventually, she found her way through by seeking out professional help.

"[I] found an organization called Postpartum Support International, and called the helpline. The voice on the other end was so soft, so gentle, and so understanding — they suggested a support group to start, and that's how my healing began." Since that experience, Sequeira has endeavored to help others dealing with depression by talking about her own ordeal. "You cannot fully know what it's like until you've gone through it or you've stood alongside someone going through it ... It has been my privilege to help a number of women get help."

Her husband suffers from a chronic health condition

While attending Northwestern University, Sequeira met her future husband, Brendan McNamara. Together, the pair moved to California from New York, with Sequeira supporting her husband's dream of pursuing acting in Los Angeles. Though she's been able to achieve many of her own life goals, some of their dreams as a couple haven't been as easy to achieve, in part due to a difficult illness they've had to deal with. 

"A lot of the dreams that I still hold on to, honestly are for my husband," Sequeira said in an interview with podcaster Annie F. Downs. Years into their relationship, their health and happiness were shattered when her husband was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic intestinal disease marked by inflammation of the bowels. Once again, Sequeira turned to her faith to see her through as she and her husband struggled with his condition.

"I'm just aching and aching for God to heal him." The circumstance, though, has reminded Sequeira that sometimes life's biggest problems can be more important than you might realize. "It is a constant sort of object lesson to [my children] that you bring it all. You bring it all to God, the ugly stuff, the pretty stuff, and it's all okay."

Her first failed career led to a crisis of faith

As a successful journalist and TV producer for CNN in the early 2000s, Sequeira probably felt on top of the world having achieved a dream she'd first had while watching news coverage of the Gulf War as a preteen. But things didn't work out the way she'd hoped, and while it might be easy to think she smoothly transitioned into a new role as restaurateur and celebrated chef, that's not the case at all.

As she told Jordan Raynor on the "Mere Christian" podcast, Sequeira first left New York for Los Angeles to support her husband in his career. And unfortunately, finding work on the other side of the country wasn't as easy as she thought. When she came up empty, it created something of an identity crisis. "That was a really hard time because again, speaking of identity, I identified as a journalist. It was who I was," she told Raynor. "So, for that to be taken away from me, I thought, 'Oh, who am I? What's my worth? What's my value?' ... it was a very hard time."

Feeling like a failure — and a disappointment to her family — Sequeira again found answers in her faith. "I think that it made me cling to God," she explained. "But it also made me -– it pushed me to be really honest with Him."

She's struggled with anxiety for years

Just because Aarti Sequeira is on TV and has legions of fans around the world, it doesn't mean she isn't affected by the same life stresses as the rest of us. Severe anxiety is one of her biggest emotional battles, and something she's had to deal with for years. She hasn't been fighting that battle privately, and has been surprisingly open about the problems it creates in her daily life.

In 2017, Sequeira posted on Facebook to talk about an emergency visit to a psychiatrist after a panic attack. She used the opportunity to encourage her followers to check up on their own mental health. "If you think that you're mentally unwell (or someone you love might be), there is NO SHAME in going to get some professional help. Ain't nobody got time for shame."

Proving that panic attacks and anxiety are a persistent foe for those afflicted, she spoke up again a year later on Facebook. When facing another sudden rush of anxiety, she shared her solution and offered support to those going through it themselves. "I'm taking a walk. If you're not feeling like a picture-perfect Christmas card today, it's ok. I'm walking right alongside you!"

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.