I dipped a charred piece of bread into a rich gravy that soaked each crumb like a sponge. I raised it to my mouth and closed my eyes, and that is where my journey began.
I am a western chef. I grew up in a small city in New Hampshire in the United States where one wasn’t exposed to Indian food. Growing up in kitchens, I learned how to cook from many amazing western chefs. Each chef would impart the knowledge passed down to them by their mentors. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would try my first bite of Indian food. From the moment my mouth tasted the tangy and spicy gravy of chicken vindaloo, I became transformed. I wanted to know why the west didn’t embrace Indian food the way many other parts of the world did.
I cannot think of a cuisine that represents its country better than Indian food. It’s a passionate dance of fire, ever-changing and evolving with each bite. From spicy and sweet to sour and salty, Indian food, much like the country, is bold and full of life — its intensity amplifying as its unapologetic flavors barrage your sensations. To master the cuisine would take lifetimes but to fall in love with it, takes only one bite.
Since I began my journey with Indian food years ago, I knew that this cuisine was different. To define Indian food is like trying to define life, it changes based on the journey. From the rich curries of the north to the dosa, idli, and spices of the south, Indian food cannot be defined, it can only be experienced.
It all began in a small grocery store in the U.S. A friend of mine needed to buy some spices, so he dragged me along. The store was located in a small strip mall in my town, surrounded by independent restaurants serving various cuisines.
I walked into the dukaan (shop) on a cold fall day. The door opened and a wave of scents hit my nose. Spices lingered in the cool autumn air as I closed the door to a new world that awaited me. The smell of incense and toasted jeera (cumin) was…