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Garland’s chef made the meal of a lifetime at the Beard House. Now she’s cooking it in Raleigh.

Garland is one of Raleigh’s most inventive kitchens, run by James Beard-nominated Cheetie Kumar. It’s often grounded in Indian flavors but with influences from around Asia and the Middle East.
Garland is one of Raleigh’s most inventive kitchens, run by James Beard-nominated Cheetie Kumar. It’s often grounded in Indian flavors but with influences from around Asia and the Middle East. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Encores are a part of Cheetie Kumar’s life as a member of Raleigh band Birds of Avalon. In the case of the upcoming multi-course meal at her Garland restaurant, they’re a part of her chef life, too.

In September, Kumar cooked in one of the country’s most famous kitchens, the James Beard House in New York. Her one-night only menu helped tell the story of her global journey, around the feelings of home and memory. Kumar was born in Chandigrah, India, grew up in the Bronx and has been in Raleigh for three decades.

Kumar, a two-time James Beard Award semifinalist, is bringing that special menu back to Raleigh for an encore dinner Monday, Nov. 12. Seats are $150 and include cocktails.

Like the nightly offerings at Garland, the menu moves through the flavors of Northern India using the products of North Carolina. Kumar said she was offered a chance to cook at the Beard House in March. She asked for a date late in the summer, when the state’s bounty peaks.

“It’s such a cool time here, I wanted to take advantage of everything still at its best, tomatoes and okra still around,” Kumar said in an interview. “I wanted to showcase the South through my perspective, using these amazing things we have in this state, blending what happens in North Carolina with the flavors of Northern India.”

Cheetie Kumar
Cheetie Kumar, owner of Garland restaurant in downtown Raleigh. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

The meal’s courses are steak tartare, crispy fairytale eggplant, North Carolina seafood coconut masala, braised lamb neck and chilled yogurt custard.

It’s been quite a year for Kumar, who co-owns Garland on West Martin Street and the adjacent music venues King’s and Neptune’s with her husband, Paul Siler.

In February, she whipped up snacks for rocker Robert Plant and his band after they played a concert at Memorial Auditorium. She collected her second James Beard nomination for Oustanding Chef: Southeast this spring and was profiled by The New York Times last week.

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A Beard dinner, she said, wasn’t on her radar.

“I had never aspired to it; I wouldn’t have dared,” Kumar said. “I don’t think of it so much in terms of a milestone for my career, it’s a milestone for our staff and restaurant.”

Garland was closed Sept. 25 while most of the kitchen staff made the trip to New York to cook for the dinner.

The James Beard Foundation is best known for its annual awards, often compared to the Oscars, that honor the nation’s best chefs and restaurants.

The Beard House regularly hosts chefs making a name for themselves, offering the platform of a dinner to tell their food story. A few Triangle chefs have cooked there before, including Ashley Christensen, of Poole’s Diner, Death and Taxes and several other Raleigh restaurants, and Teddy Diggs, the former Il Palio chef who is opening Coronato Pizza in Carrboro.

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Kumar said her mind went first to North Carolina’s meat and produce, its shrimp, beef and vegetables. The stage felt larger than a meal for a few dozen diners in a room in Manhattan — where Beard himself lived until his 1985 death — placing Kumar in a continuum of cooks redefining food in America.

“There’s a huge legacy in that kitchen and in that house, and you feel when you’re in there,” Kumar said. “I was so freaked out. It was transformative for us.”

The dinner in Raleigh will feature five courses with beverage pairings, preceded by snacks and cocktails. Seats include drinks and service. The meal is at 6:30 p.m. Garland is at 14 W. Martin St. For tickets, go to https://m.bpt.me/event/3820472. Call 919-833-6886 with questions.

Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson
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