No Place for Curry; Chef Suvir Saran Brings Indian Cooking Home

By Patel, Vibhuti | Newsweek International, September 26, 2005 | Go to article overview

No Place for Curry; Chef Suvir Saran Brings Indian Cooking Home


Patel, Vibhuti, Newsweek International


Byline: Vibhuti Patel

New York's trendiest new Indian restaurant does not serve curry. Indeed, Devi offers no tandoori chicken, no "fusion" food and no sitar music, either. Chef Suvir Saran has deliberately done away with all the stereotypes that characterize most Indian eateries in the West. Instead he showcases authentic Indian home cooking, the subtle food he grew to love at his family's table in New Delhi, re-created with a new twist and served on stylish Japanese plates. Presenting a limited menu of small portions paired carefully with select wines, the restaurant has been such a hit with foodies and critics alike that Saran has been inspired to open Veda, a similarly upscale restaurant in New Delhi. It's a sweet homecoming for the 32-year-old chef. "Indians have forgotten their classical cuisine, so it needs to be exposed again," he says. "I'm not discovering these recipes; they are our heritage."

They are certainly his. Growing up in a middle-class family, where three generations lived together and people routinely dropped in for meals, taught him to be gregarious from childhood. As in many Indian families, food mattered deeply. "The last thing we spoke about at night was what everybody wanted to eat the next day," Saran recalls. A powerful grandmother ruled the kitchen, along with Panditji, the cook who originally came as part of her dowry. He served as the family historian and raconteur, entertaining the children with stories as he cooked and making a deep impression on Saran. When he first arrived in New York to study art 12 years ago, Saran made friends by entertaining in his dorm room.

The Delhi kitchen was important to Saran for other reasons, too. "From the age of 3, I knew I was different from other boys," says Saran, who is gay. "At the family table, there were always outsiders; we were onstage. In the kitchen, I could be myself. Panditji didn't care who I was." Neither did his parents, who encouraged his love of music, painting, gardening. "Their attitude was, 'If a girl can do it, you can do it.' I was the first boy to take home economics--the school did not stop me--and the only one to teach macrame." He desperately missed having a role model. "I don't wear my sexuality on my sleeve but identity is important--if you're not yourself, you're nobody."

Then, at 14, he saw a magazine picture of Rohit Bal, India's leading fashion designer, who was then 24 and just starting out. Saran tracked him down; they met and became close friends. He credits Bal, "India's Versace," for his "emancipation." (Business partners now, Bal has designed Veda, their New Delhi restaurant. …

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