US-India Global Review

47 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JANUARY-MARCH 2018 A sk Preeti Mistry why she cooks Indian food and you can almost hear the frustration in her voice. "Well," she explains without hesitation, "it all goes back to chai." Chai? "This is a drink my family, and my grandparents, have been drinking every morning and every afternoon their entire lives," says the mohawked chef of Oakland's Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen in Emeryville, California. And one day, mysteriously, the ur- beverage of South Asia began turning up at every coffee shop she encountered. We weren't yet using terms like cultural appropriation, but "chai tea" marked something of a politi- cal awakening. Why, she won- dered, are all these white people making money off it? "You get made fun of in school for being weird, for being different, for having weird smells coming out of your house," says Mistry, who was born in London and raised in the United States. She kept the faith. "I knew I would get to the place where I can cook Indian food like the Indian food I love, and people will see there's more." She was correct that there would be a new generation of din- ers - foodies - eager to dig their forks into the unfamiliar. There is also a new generation of chefs like Mistry: born or raised state- side, rewriting the script on what that cuisine should look and taste like. Starting Thursday, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History hosts its annual Food History Weekend, which this year focuses on food's relation- ship with migration and cultural exchange. To mark the occasion, we spoke with several rising restaurateurs about how their experiences growing up in two cultures have affected their cook- ing and are redefining American food. For the chefs, their love affair with food began, as it does for most, at home. One pinched dumplings alongside his mother; another learned to eat adventur- ously from his father. Their fami- lies turned to newspaper clippings and well-worn yard sale cook- books to make their children lasagna and hamburgers on the nights they didn't serve japchae or roti. Some of these chefs went to culinary school, some went to business school. And when they finally decided to open their own restaurants, the cuisine they chose to make surprised even them: It was the one they had grown up with. "I don't think these folks set out to do this thing; it's just who they are," says former LA Weekly restaurant critic Besha Rodell, who began to notice the swell of young bicultural chefs a few years ago. "That's what makes it differ- ent from fusion. Fusion is taking one thing and banging it into another - like, wasabi in the mashed potatoes. This is authen- tic in the very real sense of the word, because it is their authentic, lived reality." Now 41, Mistry is the one mak- ing money off her chai, which she serves at Navi Kitchen, with fresh- ly roasted spices, sugar and milk, all boiled, the way it is in Mumbai. You can, if you must, get it with a shot of espresso. Hannah and Marian Cheng Mimi Cheng's, New York The newest location of Mimi Cheng's dumpling shop is in Nolita, on the edge of New York's Chinatown, where dumpling shops Lavanya Ramanathan CUISINE The future of American food is here, and it's chicken tikka poutine and meatball dumplings