New Dinner Series Will Explore What It Means to Be 'Brown in the South'
Some of the South's best chefs are coming together for an exciting new project.
On January 14, Desi Dinner will be the first installment of the "Brown in the South" Supper Series, a program of collaborative dinners benefitting the Southern Foodways Alliance, and the evening's line-up is packed with serious star power (and a combined eleven James Beard Award nominations). Serving a blend of the comfort foods of South Asia and the Southeastern U.S., featured chefs include Vish Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, MS; Cheetie Kumar of Garland in Raleigh, NC; Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani in Asheville, NC; Asha Gomez of The Third Space in Atlanta, GA; and Maneet Chauhan of Chauhan Ale and Masala House in Nashville, TN. The dinner will be hosted at Chai Pani Decatur in Decatur, GA.
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.
"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," he says. "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."
Bhatt considers the dinners to be especially important given the current political climate.
"It is important to me that folks like Maneet, Meherwan, Cheetie and Asha, who are constantly doing amazing work in their communities, are recognized," Bhatt says. "It is important that people see these chefs as assets to their community, as folks who have made this country a better place for us. It is important that the media turns attention to and highlights accomplishments of immigrants who have made their mark as Americans. It is unfortunate that immigrants don't often get the respect or recognition they have earned."