“Cheetie Kumar is a literal rock star. Recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard award as best chef in the Southeast, Cheetie has a trio of hotspots in downtown Raleigh co-owned with her husband and bandmate, Paul Siler.
Her magnetic, energetic personality and creative touch allows her to navigate between her Pan-Asian restaurant, Garland and her downstairs bar, Neptune’s Parlous and the upstairs music venue, Kings.
She also just finished a new record “Operator’s Midnight” with her longtime band, Birds of Avalon!
She was an absolute joy to interview– totally open, funny, spontaneous and completely passionate about her life, her family and her twins – cooking and music. Oh, and that laugh…. ” ~ Kitty
“When opening Garland became a reality that was staring me in the face, I started the menu writing process with my roots – the basic family favorites I could count on pulling off without much thought. Yogurt was a staple in our house growing up – my mom always had a metal bowlful of homemade in the refrigerator and replenished it weekly. Yogurt was on the table every night and used in a host of recipes in Mom’s repertoire. The Tandoori marinade was lifted from her and modified somewhat for the restaurant. This dish reminds me of the early days of Garland 4 years ago when we had a small menu that we served out of our walk-up window – and of the many dinner parties my parents hosted throughout the years,” shares Cheetie.
“This song always hits me hard – and features maybe some of the greatest guitar playing ever (thank you Robert Fripp). It reminds me to keep doing the things I love with people I want to spend time with.” Cheetie says of her song pairing, Brian Eno’s “St. Elmo’s Fire”.
Yogurt Marinated Grilled Chicken (Serves 6-8)
YOGURT CHICKEN MARINADE yield: ~ 1 quart
- 1 cup cilantro tops roughly chopped (some tender stem ok) (gently packed)
- 1 cup yellow onion peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/4 C fresh ginger roughly chopped (unpeeled is OK if skin is shiny and smooth- wash thoroughly)
- 2 T peeled, roughly chopped garlic
- ½ c garam masala (recipe follows)- if you use store bought, add extra freshly ground toasted cumin seeds and coriander. Most commercial garam masalas are heavy on the stale cinnamon.
- 1 T toasted and ground coriander seed
- 2 tsp ground ginger powder (optional)
- Pinch of cayenne or chili powder (optional)
- 3 cups good quality plain, whole fat yogurt (I like the Indian “Desi” brand or homemade)
Puree all the ingredients EXCEPT YOGURT together in a food processor or powerful blender till a smooth paste forms. Remove to a bowl and fold in yogurt and combine well.
For the chicken:
- 4-5 pounds of chicken- whatever parts you favor- boneless makes for quick cooking time
- ¼ cup canola oil
- salt to taste
Set ½ cup of marinade aside.
Pour marinade over chicken till well coated. Marinate for at least 2 hours- 6-8 hours is best.
Remove chicken from marinade and spread onto a cookie sheet
Season all sides with salt and drizzle canola oil all over.
You can cook this chicken on a sheet pan under the broiler, turning once and basting with reserved marinade- or preferably grilled outdoors.
GARAM MASALA (yield~ 1 cup)
*measure spices after grinding
- 1/4 c cumin seed, toasted and ground
- 1/2 c. coriander seed, toasted and ground
- 2 T freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T cloves, ground
- 1 T green cardamom seeds, ground
- 1 large or 2 small pods black cardamom- grind whole including pod
- 1 stick medium sized cinnamon
- 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg.
Grind spices separately in a spice dedicated coffee grinder or blender. Measure each one and mix in a small bowl. Will keep for 2-3 weeks in a tightly sealed container away from direct heat
About Cheetie Kumar
As a child in India, Cheetie could often be found in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother watching and learning as they prepared daily meals. Her family held strongly to their culinary heritage, thoughtfully passing on generations old technique and authentic preparation. At the age of 8 she arrived in the US and settled in the Bronx, NY. Immersed in a world of various ethnicities, Cheetie was exposed to new cultures, flavors and food. Daily lunches at friend’s houses opened her eyes to a blending of culinary ideas inspired by Korean, Chinese, Thai, Eastern European and South American dishes.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a degree in psychology, her background is almost as diverse as her food. Cheetie is a self-taught cook who studied recipes while pursuing a career as a guitarist in The Cherry Valence and more recently Birds of Avalon, alongside her husband and business partner, Paul Siler. Time on tour and as the owner of the music venue Kings and adjoining cocktail bar, Neptunes Parlour, taught her the value of the independent, artistic spirit that is the backbone of the downtown Raleigh community which she considers home.
Upon moving to North Carolina, she embraced the area’s culture of readily available, nationally renowned agriculture, and incorporated these seasonally evolving foods to fit her multi-cultural menus at Garland. Cheetie’s cooking is created in a refined and thoughtful way, filled with imagination and rebellion. It is unassumingly delicious. Her food may seem “foreign” but is rather an interpretation of local ingredients made through the eyes of someone who grew up in India, New York City and the South.
An active supporter of various charities such as No Kid Hungry, ACLU, Share our Strength, Frankie Lemmon Foundation, InterAct and many more, Cheetie is highly devoted to contributing to the community that has given her so much. Recently she has cooked at the prestigious Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, Terra Vita Festival, Farm to Fork, Atlanta Food & Wine just to name a few.
In 2017, Cheetie became a semifinalist for James Beard Award’s “Best Chef: Southeast”.
Garland is the passion project of chef and rock guitarist, Cheetie Kumar. The seasonally driven menu is influenced by the flavors of India and Asia, with locally sourced ingredients reinvented with a distinctly Southern flare. It’s extensive menu of approachable creations features innovative and delicately prepared dishes that are truly unique. Garland continues to wow the culinary scene in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina offering a casual dining experience in a comfortable yet funky space, with great food, delicious seasonal cocktails and an adventurous wine menu.