Some of the South's best chefs are coming 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 on January 14th, 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.
We've vowed to continue these dinners all over the Southeast, and we're keeping that promise to ya. The next one will be in Raleigh in March, 2018. To stay up to date on future Brown in the South events, click here to sign up for our newsletter.
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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THE TEAL MANGO
When they created the “Brown in the South” Supper Series earlier this year, a group of some of the most high-profile Indian restaurateurs in the United States pledged to “showcase the culture, culinary heritage, and cooking styles of these celebrated chefs, while keeping the focus on southern ingredients and uniquely southern themes.” The group recently announced that the supper series would return on August 13. As they did with the earlier event, the chefs will be tasked with creating an Indian meal around a theme (in this case “Indian Summer”) while also centering the dishes around ingredients native to the American South.
-LAKSHMI GANDHI, The Teal Mango
FOOD & WINE MAGAZINE
Irani says that the idea for the series emerged from a conversation he had with Bhatt about the new generation of Indian chefs in the South.
"We wondered 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," says Irani. "It may seem like a subtle distinction, but it felt big to us."
They reached out to other star chefs of Indian descent with whom they'd had similar conversations, including Cheetie and Maneet, and the concept quickly took shape. Each dinner would be shaped around an iconic Southern institution, ingredient or tradition.
-MARIA YAGODA, Food & Wine
GRAVY/SOUTHERN FOODWAYS ALLIANCE
"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
Admitting that he is a passive Southerner whose birth allowed him to inherit the South as his home, John T. applauded those who claim it actively, namely immigrants who choose to come here, who find value and contribute to the region, and who make it home. He recognized that such contributions matter a great deal not only to the SFA, but also to the region. He emphasized that it was not just necessary but important to understand this new South, to look at how these stories must be reframed in the context of where they are told and who is telling them.
NANDITA GODBOLE, Khabar Magazine
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