April 10th, 2011

Top Chef Masters, Chef Suvir Saran and the American Masala Farm

Top Chef Masters has just premiered and already there seems to be a favorite.  This season’s Masters include Floyd Cardoz, Mary Sue Milliken, NOLA’s Sue Zemanick, Naomi Pomeroy, Traci des Jardins, John Currence, Hugh Acheson, George Mendes, Alessandro Stratta, Celina Tio, and John Rivera Sedlar.

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Suvir calls himself Susie Homemaker…well, here he is. Actually, Suvir graced food lovers and writers with his presence and taught us that there is life beyond curry at The Floating Island Workshops last summer in Seaside, Florida. Photo courtesy Rose Dobrez

As to my favorite: I feel that Suvir doesn’t need to be on any show to prove that he is a “Master,” but for Reality TV viewers, he is definitely a breath of fresh air.

He reminds us that there is no need for drama in the kitchen, that cooking is fun, and that Top Chef Masters is entertainment first and foremost.

“When we cook with friends–chopping and shopping, talking together, there’s no sense of judgment.  There’s a sense of ownership when everyone is involved,” he told me earlier today. “It seems we share as little as possible for fear that we may be asking too much of another. But in the kitchen and at the table, all is forgiven. Each chore requested of a guest, makes them that much more vested in your dining experience thereby eliminating any performance anxiety. I hope for more Americans to think of every day cooking and eating as a family concert in the form of a symphony with an elaborate orchestra. Let the fancy chefs be the solo performances. The day we free ourselves of the fear of failure at the table, is the day we become the masters of our own destiny and fate. You are what you eat, so make more of an effort in indulging yourself and sharing it in a meaningful way with all.”

We’re happy that Suvir took time out of his busy schedule to write about  turmeric in Organic Gardening.  Suvir and his partner, Charlie, have a wonderful farm in Upstate New York with an organic vegetable garden, chickens, ducks, goats, and more.  For more on Inidan cooking, check out Suvir’s books Indian Home Cooking and American Masala. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of cooking with him in Seaside and summers at his American Masala farm; not only is he fun and funny, but he’s a true testament to his craft.

Peppers in the wok.

Peppers in the wok.

Here are some recipes Suvir and I have cooked together with Charlie and friends at the American Masala Farm, especially the Mirchi kaa Salaan; the recipe will be available in his forthcoming cookbook, Masala Farm.

TELL US WHO YOU’RE ROOTING FOR ON TOP CHEF MASTERS AND WHY. AND WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE INDIAN-INSPIRED RECIPES?

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Comments

    Kim, you have so beautifully summed up all that is good/right about Suvir Saran and his presence on Top Chef Masters. He need not win the contest to have taught thousands of viewers and the other contestants about what is important in the kitchen and in life. Hopefully, those who did not know him before will pick up his books and learn his fabulous recipes. And on top of that, he sure has nice legs and looks fabulous in an apron!!

    Dear Kim,

    Dear Carolyn,

    I am so happy to fall upon this interview with the brilliant and talented chef, Suvir. NOt to mention all the great recipes and experiences you’ve shared from cooking with him at his farm. Realizing what a down to earth, thoughtful man he is certainly has made me love him even more!

    Watching Suvir on Top Chef Masters has been so wonderful. He is such a gifted chef with an awesome sense of humor, and I know I am gushing, and that is probably something as humble as he is, likely rejects, but allow me to indulge just a second.

    I too am from New Delhi, as is Suvir, born there in 1970 and came to America (Ohio) in 1972. Back in my early teens I realized that if I cooked things well, like delicius chana masala or rajma (kidney beans) and made my rotis (Indian bread) nice and round, and thin, my father would allow me a bit of freedom…perhaps bend my curfew a bit, or allow a friend to sleep over. When Suvir speaks of how people should cook together so there is a mutual ownership and pride for the final product, I could not possibly agree more.

    Although I love Indian food, more than any other variety, I really think the attempts of making Indian food all fusiony is a terrible thing that is happening to our food. But, to each their own I suppose. It makes me sad to see people filling up their shopping carts with frozen chicken tikka masala from Trader Joe. I wish I had the time and energy and of course, welcome factor to show them how easy and fun and rewarding it is to make it….but i digress.

    I am so happy to see Suvir is such a thoughtful chef that does not drown his food in garish garnishes or insipid spices, but rather adds them at appropriate times and in appropriate measure. He lets the ingredients shine on their own. This is something that took a long time for me to learn as a cook.

    His chana and potato chaat was so unexpected, refreshing and something new in that ten course meal last night on Top Chef Masters. Everything else has been done before…he was robbed in my honest opinion.

    I wish Suvir was coming to Southern California, as I live in LA and San Diego and would love to meet him. You are very lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy his, I’m certain, delightful company and fresh food cooked in his own turf. Very lucky indeed:)

    Perhaps some day I will have to get out to his restaurant in NY. I am sure his food includes equal parts wicked wit and the saltiness of preposterous possibility, the bitters of human vices, the spiciness of quirky curiosity and a sharp sweetness that awakens a ray of sunshine slumbering way down deep in our memories of how food should taste.

    Admittedly, when it comes to cooking shows, I tend to have a wandering eye, flipping through them for something that sparkles and catches my eye. This is not likely to happen with Top Chef masters, as long as Suvir is on it.

    So many chefs these days are rather lackluster or boringly always doing the latest trend (raw beef, raw fish, capers…) The artfulness of chefs seems to me, regretfully, to be waning. But while many chefs seem content mostly recycling recipes from the latest on the food channel, Suvir does not does not dance the latest culinary cha cha cha. I am sure the latest gastronomical craze would never sully the always unpredictable world of Suvir’s cooking.

    Just from a brief glance at his restaurant, Devi’s menu, one can tell his cooking embodies the imaginative possibilities of the best of old world recipes I have seen to date. And I love so much how his items (Abha Auntie’s Khatta Meetha Baingan) conjure up delightful scenarios steeped in subtleties that are uncannily unique, clever and sound so very delicious.

    So glas to find your webiste, and thank you for sharing your experiences with Suvir….and…if you are so inclined, please check out my cooking show I did with my Gaylords (my gay landlords) earlier this year.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFPdNS8ifGQ

    Cheers!
    Sunana Batra
    Encinitas, CA

    Hi Sunana,

    Thanks for your kind words. Yes, Suvir is the real thing and such a pleasure both to watch on Top Chef and in real life.
    You should definitely dine at Devi if you get to NYC. Also, his new cookbook will be out this fall.
    Best,
    -ks

    “Cheff; has beautiful legs” :) )

    Sarah sure know how to cook Fried chicken Southern style. I think you need to look at all the things Edwin Marty is doing in Montgomery in his new job-jaf

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