In 2008, when the economy crashed, so did Asha Gomez's luxury spa business. Gomez, an Indian-American mother, wasn't sure what to do next. But when former clients began calling her in the hopes of attaining a hot meal, she started considering the food industry.
"I used to cook a meal at the end of every treatment for all my guests and I was kind of the undiscovered Indian restaurant where you had to get a facial or massage to eat my food," says Gomez, who hails from the Kerala region of southern India, though she's resided in Atlanta for more than a decade.
Her debut cookbook, My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India Into A Southern Kitchen — co-authored with Martha Hall Foose — captures the essence of growing up in these two contrasting Souths.
"I discovered there was a tremendous energy between these two places and the book was just a natural progression of my love of the cuisine of these two places," says Gomez.
Prior to compiling her recipes and sharing her story with Foose, a seasoned writer, Gomez opened the now-defunct Cardamom Hill, a fine dining restaurant, and later the thriving Spice to Table, a lunch eatery where she's known for her Kerala fried chicken, and The Third Spice, a dinner/cooking class space, all based in Atlanta.
"I never thought this would end up becoming a career for me and I'm actually blissful that it is now and I love it," says Gomez. "It doesn't feel like work."
Creative Loafing: For folks unfamiliar with cooking Indian food or even using spices, what are your hopes for them if they use this cookbook?
Asha Gomez: I think when you decide to tell someone to make Indian food, it can be very intimidating. There are a few recipes in the cookbook that are very much from my mother's kitchen but for the most part the recipes are from my kitchen and I've called the U.S. home for 30 years. I wake up in the morning and I'm not thinking of curry chicken. I want a buttermilk biscuit with sausage gravy. So, my sensibility is very American. I'm taking these classic Southern dishes and introducing spice to them. I think the familiarity of the dishes makes it less intimidating for people to get comfortable with spices. I hope this book allows people to to understand spices on a close and personal level with dishes they are familiar with.
I've read that you don't like when people call your food "fusion." Can you tell me why? And, how would you describe your cooking?
I really don't like the word fusion. It's like the other F-word for me. It feels a little unnatural to me. It's like chemistry and two things colliding and an explosion happening. For me, my food and what I put on a place, is the subtotal of my life experiences. I call it an evolution of me as a person, a home cook, as a chef, as a mother and a caretaker. It's really just an evolution of who I am as a person and these beautiful places that I've been able to call home.
In what ways did the South by South Dinner Club you started doing post-spa sort of pave the way to having your own restaurant?
I had no intention of being in the food industry. That was not what I had planned for my career trajectory. I think because the demand was so high I was going to do one or two supper clubs and then call it a day and move on. I ended up doing this supper club every single weekend for an entire year to the point where I would have to rent places that could accommodate 200 guests, that's how big my supper clubs grew. So the natural progression was a brick and mortar restaurant.