An Orgy of Curries and Suvir Saran
Lately I've been spending lots of time at The Setai. As far as hangouts go, it's pretty nice. One week I stopped in to drink lots of champagne and listen to jazz in their temple-like courtyard. Last Wednesday I was there to feast on delicacies from the Far East.
Saran isn't a huge fan of Florida but he's a huge fan of Setai chef Jonathan Wright (and Lee Schrager who has invited him to participate in past Sobe Wine and Food Fests). And he was a gracious host, making the rounds from table to table, taking time to chat with diners (a potpourri of old friends and chef groupies). Little did I realize that before the night would be over I'd fall into both camps.
He's a charming guy, sporting chef's whites and plaid Paul Smith pants. "The cuffs are too narrow - like Indian pants." I found him inspiring, too. He's doing what he loves - writing and lecturing about the food of his childhood. The food he finds endlessly fascinating. The intersection of history, culture and appetites that forms the backbone of culinary traditions.
He sipped watermelon juice spiked with ginger. We talked about my Persian background. "India and Persia were once the center of the world. Everything beautiful in life comes from Persia - not just food and carpets. Everything." It made me want to visit Iran.
In this lifetime, inshalla.
He reflected on the origin of curry dishes. "What we Indians refer to as curry is very different from what Americans think of as curry. It's definitely not that vile powder that comes in a jar." And do not get him started on the murky brown gravy that is the abomination known as Japanese curry.
By the end of the night I had tasted twelve dishes and each one was a magical carpet ride through the souks of Arabia, the crowded alleyways of Mumbai and the vast waters of Indus River. At the end we tempered everything with pastry chef Noah French's banana ice cream and fritters, fennel and anise seed pancakes and Saran's famous rice pudding cooked with almonds, cardamom and saffron.
At the end of the night he signed my menu: "May Persia come alive for you with each meal you eat." It wasn't The Setai but a very creative place I visited that night.
The restaurant will be showcasing the Indian menu every Wednesday night. You won't find Suvir Saran there but you will encounter his recipes.