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An Examined Life

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Tag: Atlanta (page 1 of 6)

Sharing some Virtual ‘Chai Pani’ with Chef Peach

I don’t recall when/how I stumbled upon Daniel Peach’s blog. One post in, and I was hooked. Here was an American guy traveling in India, eating at roadside joints, staying with friends, unearthing hidden recipes, cooking at local restaurants… I couldn’t help marveling at his sense of adventure and freedom that allowed him to experience India so fearlessly through his heart and senses.

One post, then another, another… I think I read the entire blog end-to-end. Wrote to Daniel and he responded. I came to know that he was moving to Atlanta to cook at the hip-n-trendy Chai Pani. We have been planning to meet up for a while now… hopefully, our plans will materialize soon. Anyway, I became curious to know more about Daniel’s journey into the world of food, Indian culture, spirituality, etc. He agreed to do an email interview for me, and voila, here is the end result.

Q. How did you develop an interest in Indian cuisine?

A: My first real exposure to Indian cuisine came through Ayurveda. This was back in 2007. Over the next two years my interest in India grew immensely after reading several books on meditation and yoga as well as Indian spiritual classics like the Upanishads and the Gita, and it seemed like everywhere I went India just kept popping up at me. I even randomly purchased a book called ‘Teach Yourself: Hindi’ which 2 years later got me started on learning Hindi.

Daniel Peach, Chef, Chai Pani

Daniel Peach, Chef, Chai Pani

In 2009 I decided to move to Asheville and started looking for a job. I had been working as a cook in an Italian restaurant in Charleston, SC so I was excited when the first (literally, very first) post on Asheville’s Craigslist was for Chai Pani, a new fast casual Indian street food restaurant that was getting ready to open. I knew how to cook and it seemed in line with my personal interests.

I got the job at Chai Pani and Meherwan, the owner, had his mom come from India to train us on her food. On numerous occasions I would taste things I’d never seen or heard of and be instantly engulfed with a strange, unplaceable nostalgia. Specifically when I first ate some besan barfi It drove me nuts because it was so familiar but I couldn’t figure out why. I sort of, by default, became the main cook at Chai Pani Asheville and spent a lot of my free time experimenting with different recipes and researching as much as I could about Indian cuisine.

I think my interest culminated in me going to India for the first time in 2011. I studied Hindi from the book I had bought years before and went to travel around India for 6 months.

Since then I’ve been to India several times, cooked in all kinds of restaurants, hotels, sweet shops, and homes and made lots and lots of friends.

Tasting the food in India and meeting the people who cook it every day completely changed the way I understood the cuisine and how I cook it. Eating in homes was especially enlightening, being brought roti after roti and pleading with my host to not pile any more food on my plate. I also love Indian street food, and tasting all of the varieties of street snacks amidst the traffic and hulla brought the whole thing into perspective. There is nothing like drinking chai out of a clay cup on the street in the morning or leaning on your friends bike next to a chaat stall and having some bhel puri in the evening. Late night desi-chinese at Juhu? Come on! I could have never gone to India and still been able to cook all those dishes, but going there and experiencing it has inspired my cooking and career in a very special way.

Indian food is not subtle. Especially street food. It’s bright, in your face. You know come to think of it really nothing in India is subtle (acting, music volume levels, clothing…even AC is either terrible or Arctic blast cold) I love that about Indian food, and the unbelievable diversity in Indian cuisine is so underrepresented in America.

There is so much history in all of the dishes yet cooks in India are, for the most part, still open to experimenting with new things and adopting whatever cooking techniques or ingredients may come their way. Also I love how much pride Indians take in their food, it reminds me of how we here in the South squabble over how barbecue sauce should be made or which coasts have the better shrimp. I recall seeing a man from Delhi in Bombay on business shouting at a street vendor selling poori sabji (“Yeh kya aloo hai?? saale har cheez mein curry patthe daalne chahiye??”) (Loosely translated as, Is this potato? Should you add curry leaves to everything?). Food tells a story, and I think Indian food is a perfect representation of the diverse, ancient, loud yet sublime country that is India.

Jai Hind.

(To be continued…) (All pictures, courtesy Daniel Peach.)

Interview with Sucheta Rawal, Founder of Go Eat Give

Go Eat Give is a non-profit organization based in Atlanta that connects three favorite interests of people: traveling, food and volunteering. When I first heard of Go Eat Give, I marveled at the ingenuity of the founder Sucheta Rawal who had alighted on this winning combination. I wonder if a better way exists that can bring people together in a spirit of service, curiosity and adventure. Also, my inner wordsmith loves Go Eat Give’s tagline – Connecting People, Places and Palates!

Sucheta is an avid traveler herself who dreams of visiting every country on the planet. She is also an accomplished cook who holds classes and demonstrations around Atlanta. Here is her story.

Sucheta Rawal, Spain

Sucheta Rawal, Spain

When and how did you get bitten by the travel bug?
My first international trip was to USA when I was 16. Up until I graduated with my masters and started working, I really did not have any money to travel. But once I was earning a decent living at an investment bank, I started taking 4 big trips every year. The more I traveled, the more I got addicted to it. The bug of seeing the whole world bit me about 8 years ago!

Love the concept of combining volunteerism, traveling and food! How did you hit on this deadly combination? 🙂
After visiting 30 countries for leisure, I felt the experience was getting rather repetitive. I would stay in a hotel, eat at restaurants recommended by guide books & get photos of attractions that everyone else had. Even the souvenirs began to look all the same! I chanced upon an organization that offered volunteer vacation packages & went with them to Russia & Morocco. I loved the fact that I got to eat home cooked meals, interacted with the locals, learned so much about the culture & also gave back to the community. I have always been involved in community service all my life, and writing about food & teaching cooking classes since 2003. All those 3 aspects – travel, food & service were so close to my heart, the combination seemed very natural.

Tough question coming up… What are the top 3 favorite places you have visited?
Yes, that’s tough, like having to choose your favorite kid! I love the rich art, culture and architecture of Vienna; the never ending bazaars in Morocco; and the unbelievable landscapes of Iceland.

Friends Abroad!

Friends Abroad!

Can you share a memorable experience from a trip abroad?

There are so many! Last year when visiting Rio de Janeiro, I stayed with a Brazilian lady (a complete stranger) at her home. She was extremely sweet and showed me her favorite spots in the city from beaches and rain forests to neighborhoods and restaurants. She drove me around town and even introduced me to her friends. We became very close and still talk regularly. I will never forget her kindness and sweet smile. I plan to visit her again this year.

So many trips, a long list of countries… what are the lessons you have brought home to yourself?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that no matter what the race, religion or belief, people everywhere are generally very nice. I have learned to put prejudices and stereotypes away and accept the differences among cultures. I have also first hand witnessed how people live and how little they can get by with, which has helped me appreciate everything I have. When you see people in the poorest of conditions being calm and happy all the time, you realize what is really important in life.

Around the World with Go Eat Give

Around the World with Go Eat Give

What are your favorite foods?
I love to try ethnic foods. Anything made using fresh ingredients where you can still taste the real food is very appealing to me. However, if I was stranded on an island, I could live on wine, bread and chocolate. I can never resist a good gelato!

Can you share a favorite recipe?
Here is the easiest molten chocolate cake aka chocolate soufflé I have made. When I want to spend little time in the kitchen & yet wow my guests, I make this recipe. See Easter Chocolate Leftovers.