A visit to NYC’s famous American Museum of Natural History doesn’t have to mean a boring museum lunch again. Just a few blocks north, between 83rd Street and Columbus Avenue, Lala Sharma prepares traditional Indian fare at Savoury. You’ll find regular staples like Chana Masala and Mutter Paneer, but oh, wait! How about Indian pickles, Mint Chutney crabcakes and a slice o’ New York Cheesecake?
What is your recommended menu dish for people new to Indian food, and which dish is great for the hard to please “nothing is authentic anymore!” Indians now living in America?
One of the dishes that I would recommend to people that are new to Indian food would be the Chicken Tikka Masala. This dish is known throughout the world and is a very popular dish in every Indian restaurant. An authentic chicken tikka masala takes a lot of dedication to prepare. First, the chicken is marinated and cooked in our tandoor oven, then it is put into a creamy tomato sauce with Indian spices.
Also, at Savoury, we have a baby lamb chop appetizer, which is great for the hard to please crowd. If you love meat, this is the appetizer for you! Usually, people feel that lamb is very chewy, but at Savoury, our baby lamb chops are very soft and tender and melt right in your mouth. They are served with my special sauce.
Every Indian restaurant asks me specific details about my orders. How should people order their meals with specific words so they are happy? I like spicier food, for example. How do I dictate that I am OK with more flavorful eggplant?
Indian food is very flavorful, and we use a lot of different spices in our meal. It is highly recommended you let your server know you would like your meal (mild, med, spicy, or extra spicy). If you like to your eggplant to bit more flavorful, you would ask your server “Can I have my eggplant medium to spicy?” In Indian restaurants, the food is usually medium, if not specified.
Do you have tips for new ways to enjoy naan at dinner?
The standard way to eat a naan is by dipping it in your curry. The way I like to eat naan is by dipping it into hummus. Another way I like to eat naan is by creating a sandwich with it. I take a piece of chicken kebab and put some salad in the middle of it and eat it as an sandwich.
What do you love most to eat from your own restaurant?
I love to eat a home-style chicken curry, because working in a restaurant and being surrounded by so much food, at the end of the night I just want to eat a simple chicken curry. I also love to eat tarka daal (yellow lentils). I like to eat dishes that do not have any cream.
How can I convince people I know how Indian food is incredibly good if they are afraid to try it? I have this problem all the time when I invite people to dine at Indian restaurants!
We just held a graduation party for a Jewish family that had never tried Indian food in their life, and they all loved it. People have a perception that Indian food is always spicy, but it is not.
We have so many mild dishes such as the Chicken Korma, or the Vegetable Korma. You just have to explain to your friends that Indian food is not always spicy. At Savoury, we also try to stay away from greasy food as well.
What is your advice for people in India who want to start a new career abroad…and eventually create a business?
All dreams can become a reality, if you put your mind and dedication into it!
What were you afraid of when you began as a chef? How did that change?
As a chef, there is always a fear that people would not like your food. But learning from the best chefs of India has changed that perception. As a chef, you need to have the ability to cook food according the standard of the customer. By that, I mean you have to create the food to be mild, medium, or spicy according to the customer’s preference.