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Beet Jam Pani Puri: Cheetie Kumar’s Indian-Asian with a Southern Twist

Beet Jam Pani Puri: Cheetie Kumar’s Indian-Asian with a Southern Twist

Beet Jam Pani Puri: Cheetie Kumar’s Indian-Asian with a Southern Twist
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By Lavina Melwani  Oct 5, 2018 8:22:09 PM IST (Updated)

Cheetie Kumar’s Pan-Asian restaurant Garland in North Carolina was voted amongst the 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies in America.

Have you ever tried Beet Jam Pani Puri? Or perhaps North Carolina Seafood Coconut Masala, which has creamed corn-basmati upma, tamato broth, okra and field pea tangle? These were some of the innovative creations of Chef Cheetie Kumar at a five-course dinner that she cooked at the prestigious James Beard House. Her Pan-Asian restaurant Garland in North Carolina was voted amongst the 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies in America by Opentable, and she was named a finalist by the James Beard Foundation as best chef from the South.

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Cheetie Kumar with her staff from Garland Restaurant. Cheetie Kumar with her staff from Garland Restaurant. Photo credit: Clay Williams / James Beard Foundation. 
“We invited Cheetie Kumar to the Beard House on the strength of her culinary reputation at Garland,” says Izabela Wojcik, James Beard Foundation executive, “She has a unique perspective of cooking in the American South, in Raleigh, NC, which has a growing national reputation for its food and cultural scene, but through her particular lens of Indian heritage presented with southeast Asian flavors.”
Kumar, who came to the US at the age of eight, was always passionate about food and music. She is a self-taught cook, inspired by her grandmother and mother, and has always improvised and created her own recipes and music. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts in psychology, she followed the independent music trail to Raleigh where she is guitarist with the rock band Birds of Avalon along with her husband musician Paul Siler with whom she owns Garland and two music venues, Kings and Neptune’s Parlor.
Her Indian roots are very dear to her but so are her beloved hometown of Raleigh and the spirit of the South. As the Local palate described it, she uses “the corn roti with long-stewed mustard greens of her Chandigarh youth to create a decidedly Southern corn and sweet potato fritter atop bright winter greens seasoned with ginger and garlic.” Punjab and the American South certainly meet in her cuisine!
Senator Kamala Harris comes to Pratham
These are extraordinary times when most people in the US and around the world have sat transfixed by the riveting testimony of Dr Christine Ford in the Kavanaugh hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee. There was sharp questioning by Kamala Harris, the first South Asian-American Senator in the US. Harris, who was previously the district attorney of San Francisco and then became the attorney general of California, had come directly from these hearings in Washington to her commitment in New York, as the keynote speaker for the Pratham Gala. She got a standing ovation from the 600 plus guests gathered at Cipriani Wall Street for the Pratham fundraiser.
Senator Kamala Harris at the Pratham gala. Senator Kamala Harris at the Pratham gala.
There was a great sense of pride in the audience because she is a voice for justice and a more equal America, and for many, the hope in 2020. She spoke about the roots of her family in India and how her mother started fresh in America.
She spoke of the rights being fought for in America, and indeed those are not just women’s rights but human rights and she turned the spotlight on to Pratham where children who are marginalised by society get to fight back with the weapon of education. She said: “All children around the world deserve access to a great education. In fact, I would not be where I am today without the education I received.”
A virtual who’s who of Indian-American society was at the elegant gala along with the CEOs of major corporations were there to support Pratham which is now one of India’s largest non-governmental educational organizations.  Its CEO Dr. Rukmini Banerji described Pratham’s plans to bring communities across India together through its Hamara Gaon initiative. The gala raised over $3.6 million for Pratham’s educational programs. In the pledge drive, the first two pledges  were for a whopping $100,000 each, which shows its donors certainly believe in the power of education to bring a real future to the most vulnerable children in India.
Sunny Varkey’s vision awards $1 million to one teacher who’s made a difference
Sunny Varkey grew up as the son of hard-working teachers in Dubai and was convinced that teachers were the answers to the problems of the world.
“We were immigrants to a new country, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates,” explains Sunny Varkey on the foundation’s website.  “Even when my father earned a small amount, a large percentage was shared with the community we lived in, sometimes at the cost of our own comfort. To this day, our underlying philosophy remains that good giving ‘pinches’, meaning that the sacrifice you make, has to be felt, else, the act remains just another financial transaction in our lives.”
When he made his fortune, he founded the Varkey Foundation – to do just that, honour teachers and help them to be game-changers. The Varkey Foundation is an international organisation headquartered in the UK, with offices in Dubai, Ghana, Uganda, and Argentina and estimates that it has funded training for 46,000 teachers and improved the lives of 1.6 million students. The foundation has also created The Atlantis Group, an invitation-only body which brings together former ministers of education and heads of government from 25 countries around the world.
Sunny Varkey always felt that teachers were not getting the credit they deserved and so he created The Global Teacher Prize to give value and respect to the teaching profession which transforms the lives of children everywhere. The Global Teacher is shortlisted from over 30,000 applicants. The winner is paid $ 1 million in equal installments over ten years, and a condition of winning the prize is that the winner remains as a classroom teacher for at least five years. Varkey says, “I believe everyone deserves a great teacher.”
Andria Zafirakou, the 2018 Global Teacher, with Vikas Pota, chairman, board of Trustees of Varkey Foundation. Andria Zafirakou, the 2018 Global Teacher, with Vikas Pota, chairman, board of Trustees of Varkey Foundation.
Andria Zafirakou, the global teacher of 2018, was in New York recently and was felicitated at a reception at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Her hard work at Alperton Community School, an inner-city school in Brent, UK, transformed the lives of the children and brought the school  in the top 1 to 5 % of schools and won it the Institute of Education (IOE) Professional Development Quality Mark Award (PDQM) Platinum, given to fewer than 10 schools across the UK.  Zafirakou plans to use her prize to help improve arts education for children, and she will also be a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation to help enhance the prestige of the teaching profession.  More power to teachers!
Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.
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