Why She's Amazing: Because her Southern American riffs on southern Indian cooking—using local ingredients like green tomatoes in bhajia (fritters), and peaches in chutney—is attracting Americans and natives of India alike.
Culinary School: Self-taught
Background: Neem Tree Spa, Spice Route Supper Club (Atlanta)
Quintessential Dish: Pork Vindaloo
How She Learned To Cook: "Where I came from (Kerala, in southwest India), it's just kind of the fabric of my culture. You learn how to cook. It was just part of our life. I watched my mother and three sisters create magic. I'm very rooted in Kerala cuisine and Kerala tradition."
What Flavors Define Kerala Dishes: Fresh curry leaves, mustard seeds and coconut in all forms, including coconut oil.
On the Spice Route Supper Club: For five years, she ran a luxury Ayurvedic spa where every treatment ended with a meal she cooked. After the spa closed in 2008, her clients would ask, "How do we get to eat your food again?" In answer, she started the supper club, intimate dinners at her home featuring the cooking of her childhood. "I never thought it would garner so much attention."
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.