No one really knows where life will take them or what skills they will need along the way. And in the case of one Bridgewater alumna, what began as a part-time job became so much more. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the Eagle’s Nest at the Kline Campus Center was a lounge area with pool tables and a grill, fryers and a crock pot tucked behind a café-style lunch counter. Gopica “Pica” Rasiah ’03 served cold subs, burgers, fries and grilled cheese to her classmates as part of her work study job. Over time, she innovated where she could and soon included more menu options including what became widely known as the “Pica Special.”
“People would just ask for ‘whatever you got cooking,’” Rasiah says.
A Jaffna Tamil, Pica moved around a lot but primarily learned to cook traditional Indian food in her mother’s kitchen. Having lived in five countries—Singapore, England, Sri Lanka, Australia and Indonesia—before she moved to the United States, Rasiah describes her cooking style as “truly global.” Her love of food combined with the satisfied smiles of her classmates turned into a growing passion as she worked in the Eagle’s Nest.
“There was a bar where people could sit and talk to me as they ate. This is where I discovered my love of feeding people,” she says.
After graduating with a B.A. in psychology, Rasiah went on to serve as the residence hall director at Daleville Hall for a year while she pursued a certification in professional human resources and her M.A. in education. She then began grinding through corporate America, working as a marketing manager for Wyndham Worldwide and senior data analyst for Lumber Liquidators, but her cooking skills grew in her home life. Married with two stepchildren and a little girl of her own, during the Great Recession in 2008 she turned to cooking as a means of managing a tight budget. Learning to make all her favorite restaurant dishes at home was a means of stress relief. However, the economy took its toll, and following the difficult decision to file for divorce, Rasiah returned home to Singapore with her little girl in 2013.
“This is the recipe for my daughter’s favorite dish, red rice. When you cook for kids, you can’t afford to use 30 different ingredients.” — Gopica Rasiah ’03
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
3 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup smoked sausage, chopped
1 cup long grain rice
1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add onion, bell pepper and sausage, and cook until vegetables soften. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to simmer until sauce thickens.
Transfer mixture to baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
Bake until rice is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
Adapted from Rasiah’s mini cookbook, Aah – One Pot Meals
After a few years of corporate work in Singapore, Rasiah realized that there was a gap between work-life balance and mental health for the majority of Singaporeans. Going back to her psychology roots, she opened her own coaching business, Rasath1, to teach emotional intelligence. Built solely on social media, Rasathi, as she is known today, has a global following of more than 7,000 people on Instagram and has recorded over 1,000 episodes on her NightOwl podcast. Working in the community and speaking regularly on mental health issues caught the attention of a media agency in 2019, and since then she has also begun acting in local television in both Tamil (her mother tongue) and English.
Last year, her empire expanded to include the culinary skills she first began honing at Bridgewater. The opportunity to compete on the televised cooking competition King of Culinary in Singapore found Rasiah competing against other home chefs. Auditioning with shrimp étouffée, Rasiah was the only home chef to push the envelope with non-traditional dishes during competition. She emerged the winner of the Tamil competition and went on to represent her culture on the national stage alongside a Malay and Chinese home chef who had respectively won their competitions. Pulling out home-tested recipes, such as her version of Olive Garden’s zuppa Toscana (Tuscan soup), Rasiah went on to win second place, and her performance drew more attention to her personal brand and work in mental health.
Going forward, Rasiah hopes her cooking competition accolades will help her further grow her counseling business.
“Everything boils down to mental health for me. I studied psychology to better understand my family and the people around me. Cooking was a coping mechanism through difficult financial times. And acting was a way to showcase mental health,” Rasiah says. “It’s funny how everything comes full circle. Going off to college was an essential phase of my growth and not being able to jump straight into working in my line of study was actually a blessing in disguise. I am proof that anything is possible, and my time at Bridgewater was pivotal to my journey.”
By Shea Gibbs