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7 Indian American Chefs Among Semifinalists for James Beard Award in Best Restaurateur and Best Chef Categories

7 Indian American Chefs Among Semifinalists for James Beard Award in Best Restaurateur and Best Chef Categories

  • The annual award recognizes chefs, restaurateurs, authors and journalists in the United States.

Indian American chef Niven Patel, top photo, has been named a semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurateur category for James Beard Award along with his partner Mohamed Ali Alkassar, the James Beard Foundation announced on Jan. 25. The duo runs three restaurants in Miami, Florida — Ghee Indian Kitchen, Orno, and Mamey. The annual award recognizes chefs, restaurateurs, authors and journalists in the United States. 

In the Best Chef category, Srijith Gopinathan of Ettan in Palo Alto is among the semifinalists in the category from California. Others nominated include Cindhura Reddy of Spuntino in Denver, Colorado (Best Chef: Mountain); Sahar Siddiqi of Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia and Preeti Waas of Cheeni Indian Food Emporium in Raleigh, North Carolina (Best Chef: Southeast); Pushkar Marathe of Stage in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida Best Chef: South); and Kiran Verma of Kiran’s in Houston, Texas ( Best Chef: Texas). 

Other semifinalists will be announced on March 29, and winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on June 5, 2023, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. 

The New York Times describes Niven Patel, 36 as “one of Miami’s best-known and promising young chefs.” In May, the Food & Wine magazine anointed him as one of the country’s 10 Best New Chefs. 

After culinary school, he worked with chef Dean Max in Fort Lauderdale. He then “took a six-month sabbatical to travel around Italy seeking inspiration and picking up further culinary skills along the way,” according to Patel’s profile in Heritage Miami. “It was on that trip his strong identity with farm-to-table cooking was forged,” the magazine added. 

On his return, he worked in Baltimore before being recruited as executive chef at Islamorada’s Cheeca Lodge and Spa, the magazine said. He reunited with Dean Max to create a restaurant in the Cayman Islands, and later worked at Michael Schwartz’s flagship, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. After a short stint there, he trucks out on his own, establishing his own farm — Rancho Patel — to supply the produce so central to his cooking style.

Today, he has an eclectic portfolio of restaurants, including Ghee which celebrates his Indian heritage; Mamey, a gastro bar situated in the new Coral Gables’ THesis Hotel, and Orno, offering wood-fired cuisine All of his restaurants focus on the produce he grows at his farm. 

Srijith Gopinathan, chef and co-owner of Ettan, is known as the innovator of the Cal-Indian culinary genre. He helmed the kitchen at Taj Campton Place in San Francisco since 2008 where he has continually earned two Michelin stars and 3.5 stars from the San Francisco Chronicle. A native of Kerala, he received his formal training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and “via ‘staging’ at the Michelin two-star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in England, according to his profile on Ettan’s website. “A culinary master, his highly personal blend of East and West sensibilities allows him to present the flavors of the east with a western flair that is both unique and faithful to his Indian root,” the website says.

Cindhura Reddy fell in love with food while cooking alongside her Indian-born parents. A Cleveland native, she studied government and pre-law at Oberlin and was on the path to becoming a lawyer when her classmate and future husband, Elliot Strathmann, convinced her to follow her passion. After graduating, the couple moved to Philadelphia, where she attended culinary school and joined the opening team of Mike Solomonov’s Zahav. She and Strathmann married in 2011, “and the couple went on an epic eating adventure through Southeast Asia and Europe,” according to her profile on the restaurant website. Upon their return, she and Strathmann moved to Colorado in search of their next project. In 2014, six months after Strathmann took over the bar program at Spuntino, Reddy joined the team as chef de cuisine, working under ChefOwners John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom and earning a spot on Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list. The next year, they took over the restaurant, and made it their own with Strathmann’s robust house amari program and Reddy’s brand of Italian cuisine accented with Indian touches and global influences,” the profile says. 

Sahar Siddiqi became the Chef de Cuisine at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia in 2021. Before serving in that role, she was the restaurant’s assistant kitchen manager. A first-generation Pakistani American, she spent her formative years in suburban New York. “She was initially drawn to kitchens by passion, but the community and connection she found kept her on a culinary career path – in New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta,” according to a Facebook post by Chai Paani. Last year, the restaurant’s Asheville, North Carolina location, owned by Meherwan Irani, won the James Beard award for Best Restaurant in the U.S.

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Irani told the Atlanta Constitution Journal that Siddiqi has been “running the kitchen, and has been charged with maintaining the fun, casual nature of Chai Pani,” but also” charged with helping to tell a little bit more of a story with style and plating.”

Preeti Waas opened Cheeni Indian Food Emporium in Raleigh in April 2022. “I’m thrilled that my team and I have a place that once seemed beyond imagination for a home cook,” Waas told INDY Week. “Especially in an area that is teeming with culinary talent.” According to Axios, “the seasoned restaurateur’s whimsical concept quickly soared in popularity, thanks to its unique food offerings, colorful bazaar and vibrant interior.”The restaurant offers great Indian dishes as well as coffee, a retail selection of Indian artisans and a teaching kitchen where Waas and other chefs hold classes.

Nagpur-born Pushkar Marathe “began his culinary training in Switzerland before embarking on a decades-long exploration of international cuisine,” his profile on Ella Curry Kitchen website says. In addition to cooking at restaurants led by his mentor Dean Max, he has held cooking positions at restaurants in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands, the U.S., and the Middle East. In 2017, in collaboration with Niven Patel, Marathe “pushed the boundaries of Indian cuisine with Ghee Indian Restaurant, celebrating its fragrant delicacies alongside bold flavors<‘ the profile adds. In 2020, Marathe and partner Andy Dugard, opened Stage Kitchen & Bar in Palm Beach Gardens, “bringing all of Marathe’s culinary experiences and explorations together in a vital cuisine born of interwoven traditions.” The duo then opened Ela Curry Kitchen in 2022, which “showcases refined and culturally-focused cuisine from across India in a dynamic selection of street food and fresh, daring thali-style dishes.”

Kiran Verma, considered the “godmother of Indian fine dining,” has created world-class Indian cuisine at her eponymous restaurant,” her website says. A self-taught chef who has “been guided by her Indian upbringing and a love of fine cuisine, she defines her cuisine as a combination of cultures, philosophies and cooking techniques,” the website adds. The restaurant is known for serving up Indian hospitality, with French sophistication and American informality. Kiran’s award-winning wine list of over 300 labels, along with monthly wine dinners, complements the delicate flavors of the food. Guests can also enjoy an Afternoon Tea service every Saturday at Kiran’s.

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