Award-winning chef Asha Gomez enriches the Atlanta restaurant community with food inspired by what she calls her “two Souths”: Kerala, the southern region of India where she was born, and the American South. Her most recent culinary endeavor is Spice to Table, which features globally inspired cuisine, as well as an open spice market. A fried chicken stand called Spice Road Chicken is set to open in Krog Street Market later this year.
What inspires a chef?
The farmers and their produce. There is a symbiotic relationship between farmers and chefs. I’m inspired by the passion and respect for the craft that the farmers I work with have for the abundance of nature around them. In essence a chef is tasked with and receives stewardship of bringing out the best flavors from the produce,meats,and seafood procured from the artisans we call farmers. Farming and agriculture is truly global and surprisingly local. Earlier this year , I was privileged to work as a CARE ambassador and traveled to the mountains of Peru where I saw first hand the positive impact that responsible farmers can have on local communities. Here I witnessed the tangible results of sustainable agricultural practices making a difference in the lives of an impoverished community.
What’s the first dish you remember making?
That would be biryani- a celebratory, layered- rice dish that came to us by way of the royal Moghul courts of India. It’s India’s answer to paella. Every family in every region of India has their own way of making it. As a young girl growing up in India I have fond reminsences of watching my mother go through the multi-staged processes of making biryani for any number of celebrations and holidays. The intoxicating aromas of spices wafting through the kitchen and the rich, textured flavors of the dish bring back tons of memories. The first time I made biryani for my family it was simultaneously exhilarating and nerve racking all at the same time. Since ancient times to the present day – biryani making is a craft that has passed down from generation to generation almost akin to the barbeque pittmaster of the American South.
How has working with farmers affected you as a chef?
This ties in with your first question, I’m inspired to do justice to the remarkable produce cultivated by local farmers.
What are the biggest factors in your menu planning?
Seasonality , introduction of spice, tradition, and innovation.
Is there any ingredient that you’ve found particularly challenging to work with
Every ingredient is like a present to be opened- revealing a nuance or particular attribute that connects and interplays with other ingredients. The fun part is solving the mysteries of unraveling their gifts.
You’ve talked and written at length about the connection between your “two souths”– South India and the American South. How does cultural exploration inform your work as a chef? And what attracts you to that exploration?
I believe that our culture and foodways are directly intertwined. To the extent that chefs tell stories with their food I think there is a natural connection. The cultural exploration has been happening here in the South for years- take “ Chicken Country Captain” for example- a century old, beloved Southern dish with origins in India. I’m just happy to help connect the dots and add a little something new to our culinary repertoire.