Forged in Fire

SAVEUR - - Eat The World -

A de­ter­mined cook brings In­dia’s ancient culi­nary tech­niques into her kitchen BY LAURA KINIRY WHILE TRAV­EL­ING THROUGH THE

wet­lands of north­east In­dia’s Ma­juli is­land, chef Amnin­der Sandhu and the team from Arth, her Mum­bai restau­rant, sat down for a meal with mem­bers of the lo­cal Mish­ing tribe. They were pre­sented with a a tra­di­tional round plat­ter, loaded with lo­cal del­i­ca­cies: ba­nana flow­ers, fish curry, fid­dle­head ferns. “There were also th­ese re­ally tiny pota­toes,” Sandhu re­calls. “We thought they were chick­peas at first, be­cause they were that small. But I put one in my mouth and re­al­ized, th­ese are the pota­toes I grew up eat­ing as a child!” The

guti aloo, or “pearl pota­toes,” as Sandhu calls them, are na­tive to In­dia’s As­sam state, and are just one of dozens of re­gional in­gre­di­ents she has brought back to her kitchen in Mum­bai.

Sandhu spent 15 years trav­el­ing the coun­try col­lect­ing in­gre­di­ents, while also adopt­ing the tra­di­tional cook­ing meth­ods of the peo­ple she met. She was so taken with th­ese ancient prac­tices that when she opened Arth in 2017— an oth­er­wise posh and el­e­gantly styled restau­rant—she was de­ter­mined to ad­here to slow cook­ing on ei­ther char­coal or wood, a stripped-down way of max­i­miz­ing fla­vors and cel­e­brat­ing In­dia’s di­verse culi­nary her­itage. It’s now home to the city’s first and only mod­ern gas-free kitchen.

Sandhu and her staff taught them­selves to cook us­ing a cus­tom sand­pit and sigri and angeethi ovens, ancient In­dian stoves that em­ploy smol­der­ing char­coal—all tucked into their kitchen’s stain­less-steel coun­ters.

“The com­pany fab­ri­cat­ing our kitchen had never de­signed any­thing like this be­fore,” Sandhu says. It took the team a few weeks to fig­ure out how to gauge the right cook­ing tem­per­a­tures and times—“there was noth­ing as chal­leng­ing as learn­ing to cook a whole goat to per­fec­tion in a sand­pit!”—but Arth’s menu of re­gional dishes adapted from across the coun­try is now a fa­vorite among vis­i­tors, from Bol­ly­wood stars to in­ter­na­tional epi­cure­ans. De­spite the in­tense learn­ing curve, Sandhu is thrilled with her lat­est en­deavor. “If I were to cook with just gas,” she says, “it would be a re­ally bor­ing kitchen.”

From top: In Arth’s gas-free kitchen, spices might be ground on a stone sil­batta, meat grilled over a char­coal­fired sigri, or a whole goat baked un­der a layer of sand be­fore a dish ar­rives at the ta­ble.

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