Simran Kochar Singh is the host of the popular food and travel television program, Dine With Colors. She is also our May interviewee! Her addictive show celebrating the most amazing eats, drinks, recipes, and more around the U.S. airs Sundays on Viacom 18. It is best described as a culinary adventure around North America, as the series tours the country, highlighting the best restaurants, chefs, international cuisine, and famous regional landmarks. Simran took a break from her busy schedule (filming the program’s anticipated second season!) to answer questions on topics ranging from what goes into making a television program to what regional cuisine can teach us about the people and places that birthed them.
Flavorful World: What criteria do you use when selecting which establishments to visit on your program?
Simran Kochar Singh: We have a small team that picks out the restaurants. First we select the location (state/city) that we want to cover. Then, because the show has an Indian American audience, we look at one Indian and one non-Indian restaurant to cover. The Indian restaurants normally should have some sort of interesting angle, story, and a solid take on cuisine—say if its authentic traditional then it should go all the way, if its innovative it should have its own unique appeal, if its chef centered then its all about the chef’s personal story etc. We look at reviews as well, though that is never the only factor, because there may be some really new, unknown small interesting restaurants as well—where the locals say the food is really good. So we take all those factors into consideration. For the non-Indian restaurants, the criteria are pretty much the same—but there is the additional factor of learning about a whole new culture and bringing that back to the Indian audience and for that I prefer having chefs that enjoy conversation and storytelling so that it adds a unique wonderful regional context to the dishes that we showcase.
FW: Tell us one restaurant in North America that you would love to showcase in the future, and what aspect(s) of it you find most appealing.
SKS: Well, there are so many but two that immediately come to mind in New York are: I recently had the pleasure of eating at Tavern 62, David Burke’s new restaurant on the Upper East side. And I really want to feature his dish made with Ostrich eggs on the show. I think David is just so warm and affable in person—in the way that he meets and mingles with everyone in the restaurant and makes them feel at home. It would be wonderful to feature his story and recipes on the show. There is another other place—the Dosa Man—Thiru, in Washington Square Park that is totally fabulous. I tried to get him on the show last season unsuccessfully! That is one interesting chef story, I really want to cover. In all of North America, phew! The list is too long to mention. But the Miami Edition is definitely on my list!
FW: As a native Bronx boy, I appreciate the focus you’ve devoted to specific areas of New York City (ex: The Meatpacking District, the Upper West Side, the West Village). What NYC neighborhood(s) would you say has the most exciting things happening right now as far as the restaurant scene, and why?
SKS: Firstly, I absolutely love New York, because I think it exemplifies the best in world cuisine and I had a lot of fun showcasing different areas, specifically because there is so much distinctive history behind how each area came to be what it is today. That little story of evolution is often forgotten and needs to be preserved for future generations. From the names of lions outside the New York Public Library to the story of the lower east side tenement buildings, I like to weave in little tourist trivia around the restaurant locations so I can add a personal feel for the area to the audience watching the show. They can experience a day in the area vicariously through me.
In that context, the way Nomad and Hudson Yards are now taking shape is very interesting. Nomad used to be the wholesale district and many of these stores are closing down and giving way to a slew of new restaurants and hotels like Virgin and the Ritz. And Hudson Yards, is going through major construction as well, with over 25 new dining upscale destinations and a food hall coming up there by 2018. Though I love supporting the smaller boutique ventures because they are often created with the most passion and creativity.
FW: What is a dish from your childhood that you could eat every day without ever growing tired of it, and why?
SKS: I think on an introspective note, food has a lot to do with memories, emotions and your state of mind. I grew up in India in a nuclear family where both my parents being doctors, were away at work all day. So I stayed alone a lot and lived very happily in a world of books to pass my time. Heidi was one of my absolute favorites. She lived with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps – and whenever I came to the parts of the book where her grandfather gave her fresh goat milk and warm browned goat cheese, well I just had to do the same – but with Indian adjustments of course! So the Indian brand of Amul cheese it was, on top of a warm slice of bread and a glass of milk and I was transported right to Switzerland! And ever since I moved to America, which was about fifteen years ago, warm goat cheese on toast—in fact anything with goat cheese—is my go to appetizer!
Another meal that I will never get sick of, and is a favorite, is eggs scrambled with onions and tomatoes in an Indian style called bhurjee, eaten with an Indian bread called paratha. It’s the perfect breakfast and fried eggs are the perfect midnight snack, that remind me of sleepovers with all my cousins and extended family, where we have feasted and bonded over almost any form of eggs ever since I can remember. So eggs will always be my go to comfort food.
FW: What can experiencing different regional and cultural cuisines tell us about the places and people that spawned them?
SKS: Oh so much! And this is a great question. I feel that being born and brought up in India adds a wonderful dimension to this experience as India being a secular country, houses multiple different languages and cuisines. In fact almost each of its 29 states has a different food, language and culture altogether. So an acceptance of all cultures and a curiosity to try new flavors is inherent. Now through the show, experiencing this on a more macro level with different world cuisines is a whole new high for me, just because of the immense insight it provides into so many cultures.
I love to see how beautifully geography, climate, religious beliefs and trade history have influenced the choice of vegetables and spices in different lands, how changing infrastructures have increased access to newer ingredients for chefs across the world and how the internet and worldwide online deliveries have spawned more creativity in meals. Food is by itself a cultural identity and I love to appreciate and thoroughly enjoy the differences instead of expecting a melting pot so to speak. From the wonderful humbling experience of sharing the Ethiopian Injera with a glamorous restaurant owner who taught me how to respect food down to the last morsel as people do in Ethiopia because of abject poverty, to learning from a barbecue pit master in Charleston how wood from different trees affects the flavor of his chicken wings, to learning how to wait patiently with the Vietnamese chef for the special coffee with condensed milk to brew, I just love seeing the pride and joy people take in giving you a glimpse into themselves and their culture through their passion for food. The more authentic and traditional, the better!
FW: Of the many recipes you’ve observed as you’ve brought viewers into restaurant kitchens across the country, tell us about one standout recipe that you’ve since revisited in your own kitchen, and what made that one special enough to warrant learning to make it at home.
SKS: Well, I wont say eggs this time! Haha! But I will say avocados! I was in Baltimore at this restaurant called Indigma and the Chef Tony Chemmanoor showed me how to make avocado vindaloo! What a treat that was! I have tried that recipe at home several times because its easy and different and non spicy. And I have also tried making the lobster rolls, from scratch, at home that I learned from celebrity chef Ron Duprat, who is the Executive Chef at Montauk Yacht Club. I got the lobster from Chelsea market and was absolutely terrified at first. I got the hang of it after a few attempts and the rolls made an impressive summer snack with chilled beer.
FW: What knowledge have you gained about the process of making a television program from having completed a full season of “Dine With Colors” that is serving you well as you film season two?
SKS: I have learned about respect. Respect for the stories of the restaurant owners and the chefs with regards to their often rather tough and inspiring career journeys in America (which is always fascinating), respect for the staff that work day and night to feed our bellies, respect for the time that people give us on a busy day in their restaurants, respect for different cultures and traditions, respect for my crew that travels with me and makes the show happen. It’s truly one of the most humbling and enlightening experiences I have ever had and I am ever so thankful for having a chance to do the show.
FW: Excluding the name of your television program or any of your online presences/properties, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
SKS: I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I was going to call it, “The Love in Everything” – A book that would converge my love for philosophy, poetry, photography, physics, travels and food. A perceptive book that connects childhood memories and adult emotional states of mind with the perfect recipe. Like, a heartbreak recipe would evoke the feeling of a warm, “everything is going to be fine” bear hug…For what is the perfect recipe without a story behind it…and what is the perfect recipe without a dash of love?…In the end it is always about the love in everything.
FW: When you aren’t eating cooking/delicious things, how do you most enjoy spending your time? –
SKS: I thoroughly enjoy spending my free time in solitude – finding joy and love in the simplest things. A walk along the Hudson at sunset, enjoying the perfect cup of coffee at dawn, reading Ekhart Tolle in Central park, writing poems in the moonlight, indulging my introspection and meditation of course. And I love picnics – but don’t get me started on the food in my picnic basket!
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*Note to readers: You can follow Simran’s wanderings by tuning in to Dine With Colors on Dish Network: Channel 697 (SD), Verizon Fios: Channel 1750, AT&T U-Verse: Channel 3712, RCN: Channel 479, or DISH WORLD: Channel 6. You never know when the show’s next stop could be right in your own backyard.
This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.