SAN FRANCISCO - For Heena Patel, cooking is about memory.
"It takes me back to Mumbai where food is very loud. Each street has its own flavor. People leave their doors open and they are not shy about showing off what they are cooking," said Patel, owner and chef of Rasoi.
Patel started Rasoi four years ago to cook food from Western India that she missed from her childhood. She describes the food from the region as crisp, sweet, sour and spicy, and less reliant on cream and butter than other parts of India.
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Patel is one of many women of color who have gone through the food incubator program at La Cocina, in San Francisco's Mission District.
She started the program in 2013 and still uses the loud industrial kitchen to prepare food for her catering business and for the food stand she operates in San Francisco's Ferry Building on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
But she proudly says her culinary education began much earlier.
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"My culinary school was watching my mother, my grandmother and my aunts cook in the kitchen," said Patel.
She eagerly shows off a metal Indian spice box with seven compartments that holds a special meaning for her. It is called a masala dabba.
"My mom gave me this little container of spices when I got married. In Indian culture, the mom usually gives it to her daughter with spices the daughter likes as a good luck sign. I like to use it every day. It reminds me of my mother."
Patel is one of seven women chefs from La Cocina who will prepare special meals this week as part of A Week of Women in Food.
The event commemorates International Women's Day on Thursday, March 8.
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