Articles / Food with Mark Bittman: Vishwesh Bhatt

Food with Mark Bittman: Vishwesh Bhatt

Published February 15, 2023

How fusion became a dirty word, “true authenticity,” and grocery store birthday cake

It’s time for another episode of Food with Mark Bittman, and this week we’ve got the wonderful chef and James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: South Vishwesh Bhatt.

Vish, as he’s called by many, has a book out now that I just fell for. The book is called I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef — best title ever? — and as soon as I saw it, I was just grabbed. And then once you hear his story, and talk with him — well, you’ll see.

“Just because we like something else or we take something else, or somebody else brings in other influences, doesn’t necessarily mean we are giving away or losing what we have. We’re just adding. Think of it as a quilt that somebody’s adding another patch to.” — Vishwesh Bhatt

Vish grew up in India, in Gujarat, and moved to the States around 30 years ago, when he was 18, where he majored in political science at college for a brief moment before realizing he wanted to cook.

In grad school, Vish met John Currence, a celebrated Southern chef and restaurateur who is now Vish’s mentor and, also, boss at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, where Vish cooks using traditional Southern ingredients — but often paired with the flavors and techniques of India. (Think daal hush puppies and collard greens saag.)

(Currence has said that Vish’s stock reply, when someone used to suggest that Vish open an Indian restaurant, was “I don’t want to be the cliché Indian guy in a small Southern town hawking curry and tikka masala.”)

It’s really fun to listen to Vish talk about traditions and authenticity; that’s a lot of what our conversation is about, and his take is really interesting, and just the right amount of sentimental. Hope you enjoy.

Please listen and subscribe, and please review on Apple — it helps us a lot! Vish’s recipe for Mom’s Rice “Pudding,” which was featured on the podcast, is below.

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Vishwesh Bhatt’s Mom’s Rice “Pudding”