Some of the South's best chefs have come together for an exciting new project: Brown in the South. This collaborative dinner series features acclaimed chefs of Indian descent, Vishwesh Bhatt, Maneet Chauhan, Asha Gomez, Cheetie Kumar, and Meherwan Irani, all who have made the American South their home.
The very first installment of the "Brown in the South" Supper Series, Desi Diner, was held at Chai Pani Decatur in January, 2018. Check out our snaps from the night here. The second dinner, An Indian Supper, was held at Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville on August 13th and also featured special guest chefs Farhan Momin and Samantha Fore. Check out those pics here. To see photos from our last few events, check out our instagram page.
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Brown in the South proceeds benefit the Southern Foodways Alliance, a member-supported organization based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture that documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South through oral histories, films and podcasts.
"This is the version of the South that I’ve wanted to be a part of since settling here, and to be truthful, the one I’ve found to be most elusive. The discrete parts have long been present, but don’t always engage in the same space at the same time and under such joyous circumstances. The South these self-described “brown” chefs celebrate by their thematic collaboration wouldn’t exist if they didn’t stake a claim in it. What I want most from the Brown in the South dinner series is for it to one day be wholly unremarkable that a group of Indian American chefs would claim their Southern identity so boldly. I want the series—and events inspired by it—to eventually be welcomed as interesting but not groundbreaking. Because why wouldn’t there be multiple ways of enjoying the myriad dishes on offer in this abundant region? For people whose Southern identities have been inherited rather than forged, the question of belonging may feel overwrought. It’s not. This distinction is easy to overlook when you have made your life in the place that you’re from, or if you’re not immediately interrogated for characteristics that set you apart from your neighbors. All of us have a role in building our own narratives. But if you never sat in your parents’ laps and asked why they came to America, or had to justify to loved ones why you’re moving so far away, it can be easy to understate the psychic shift required to make a place you’re not from feel like home." - Osayi Endolyn, writer for Gravy and Southern Foodways Alliance.
THE OG DESI DREAM TEAM
MEHERWAN IRANI | ASHEVILLE, NC
Chef/Owner/Founder, Chai Pani Restaurant Group
James Beard Nominee: Best Chef Southeast, 2014, '15, '18, ‘19
“Brown in the South was really born out of a big question that occurred to us as chefs coming from Indian backgrounds. It was us wondering if a time would come where we saw ourselves less as Indians that happened to live and cook in the South, but more as Southerners that happened to be of Indian origin. It may seem like a subtle distinction, but it felt big to us.
My hope is that this is an annual series showcasing how brown immigrants, both first generation and second generation, are bringing their culinary traditions to cooking in the South. Call me an idealist, but I’m trying to start a movement where everyday conversations about Southern cuisine are broader and deeper than the familiar tropes.”
ASHA GOMEZ | ATLANTA, GA
Chef/Owner, The Third Space
James Beard Nominee: Best Chef Southeast, 2013
Author, My Two Souths
James Beard Nominee Book Award in American Cooking 2017
The Gourmand Awards National Winner: Best Indian Cuisine 2017
“My two Souths are over nine thousand miles apart and would seem to be in separate universes. Surprisingly, I have found their shared aspects—a warm, humid climate, abundant produce varieties, expanses of rice acreage, and busy coastal communities along with a spirit of sharing, a gift for entertaining and storytelling, a talent for creating bounty out of an often modest pantry, the love of fried chicken, and a sincere embrace of simplicity—blend easily in my South by South cuisine."
CHEETIE KUMAR | RALEIGH, NC
Chef/Owner, Garland. Guitarist, Birds of Avalon
James Beard Nominee: Best Chef Southeast, 2017, 2019
“When my family moved to the US from India, I was only 8 so it wasn’t really a choice I made. I happily absorbed all the cultures and befriended kids from all over the world who found themselves in a public school somewhere in the Bronx where we made our new life. Moving to the South was the first time I got to choose my home because, well, it felt like home. I recognized the culture in NC as one that was food-centric, w/a long, rich, and sometimes painful history - much like that of my native Punjab. I could drive a couple of minutes to the State Farmers Market any day of the year, pick up produce plucked and pulled from the ground just a few miles down the road, head over to the Asian market of my choice & cook up a nice meal for my friends. I fell in love with cooking while I pursued my dream of playing guitar in touring rock bands. As I traveled, I saw that when we celebrate our similarities, we make more delicious memories. And in the end, that’s what really matters."
MANEET CHAUHAN | NASHVILLE, TENNESSE
Prominent TV personality, active philanthropist, and James Beard Award of excellence winner
Judge, Food Networkʼs Chopped
Founder, Morph Hospitality Group
“When I first came to the States I was shocked to see how often Indian food was misrepresented. It then became my crusade to showoff the true beauty of the cuisine. Now I'm excited to see the new wave of passionate and talented chefs who are bringing Indian cuisine to the forefront in America. Being relatively new to The South, I feel the souls of Indian and Southern food are the same and having the opportunity to hang out with these rockstar chefs was the most enticing part about this dinner!! Proud to be “Brown in the South” y’all!"
VISHWESH BHATT | OXFORD, MS
Corporate Chef of City Grocery Restaurant Group, overseeing restaurants City Grocery, Snackbar, Big Bad Breakfast, Main Event Catering, & Lamar Lounge
James Beard Nom: Best Chef South: 2012, '13, '14, '15, '16, '17, ‘19
“I am a Southern chef. No, not one that was born here, not the one whose Nana made a sublime chicken and dumplings that is the talk of church suppers in three counties. I am not the Southern chef who grew up eating BBQ & hunting ducks with his uncles. I am not the guy who knows where the best fishing hole is, nor am I the one that makes venison jerky every winter w/ his grandfather. No, I am not even the chef that cooks the comfort foods of your childhood. I am not here to alter Grandma’s fried chicken recipe, nor am I attempting to mess up a perfectly good pecan pie, but I am a chef who wants to add to that story. I want the food of my childhood to become part of the Southern Culinary repertoire just like tamales, kibbeh, and lasagna have become.I want to show that the ingredients of the modern southern pantry were very much the ingredients of my mother's pantry as well. I want to tell you my southern story the best way I know - through my food.”
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"At my table, I dine with white Atlanta farmers, a Kentuckian chef of Sri Lankan descent, a reporter of Indian heritage, and Southern-born African Americans who work in publishing and academia. This is the version of the South that I’ve wanted to be a part of since settling here, and to be truthful, the one I’ve found to be most elusive. The discrete parts have long been present, but don’t always engage in the same space at the same time and under such joyous circumstances. The South these self-described “brown” chefs celebrate by their thematic collaboration wouldn’t exist if they didn’t stake a claim in it."
- OSAYI ENDOLYN, Southern Foodways Alliance
Chef Vish Bhatt remembers spending countless hours in the kitchen helping his mom prepare meals when he was a little boy in India. Much of the produce they cooked with was not much different from that found in many Southern kitchens: black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, greens, rice, and okra. Now a transplant to Oxford, Mississippi, Bhatt has found a way to merge his old and new influences to create a culinary experience that is both Southern and Indian. He is just one of many Indian chefs bringing new flavors to old Southern staples. Like him, chef Meherwan Irani has made Asheville his home and runs the popular restaurant Chai Pani. Together they mused: What if our cuisine could become as mainstream as nachos or spaghetti? Seeking to show that the South is evolving, they came up with a collaborative dinner series called “Brown In The South.”
-DANA TERRY & FRANK STASIO, WUNC
It’s Sunday afternoon, and there’s a party going on in downtown Raleigh. Revelers crowd Cheetie Kumar’s restaurant Garland and sister music venue Kings, cocktails in hand as they sample mac ‘n cheese, deviled eggs, succotash, and more. But although the menu seems classically Southern, closer inspection reveals that the deviled eggs are infused with a Sri Lankan spice blend, and the mac ‘n cheese is actually a riff on a stew made by the Bhori people of northwest India. Over in the corner, guests are lining up at a photobooth to be showered in colored powder as the camera flashes. This isn’t your average happy hour: we’re celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi with the chefs of Brown in the South.
-MAGGIE BORDEN, James Beard Foundation
Just 20 years ago, the idea that chaat (a tangy-savory Indian snack mix) would become a popular restaurant dish in Oxford, Mississippi, would have sounded crazy. But chef Vishwesh Bhatt has built a bridge between Southern food and the South Indian recipes from his childhood using common ingredients (like fried okra, the base of his chaat recipe) and a shared love for big flavors. Almost 10 years after taking the helm as executive chef of Snackbar, Bhatt is still continuing to explore those connections and what it means to be both Indian in the South and a Southerner of Indian descent. Those discoveries sparked Bhatt and a new generation of chefs to share how they cook with both cultures in a dinner series called Brown in the South, Their collaborative dinners make for meatier exchanges about an immigrant cuisine that can often take side dish status in conversations about Southern food.
-HANNAH HAYES, Southern Living
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