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Chef Chat, Part 1: Anita Jaisinghani of Indika

Eating Our Words recently had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the most innovative chefs in the city, Anita Jaisinghani. She gave us the back story on Houston hotspot Indika (516 Westheimer) and opened up about her life outside of work.

Eating Our Words: Let's start off by learning some about your culinary background.

Anita Jaisinghai: I was born and raised in India, so I grew up around food. I was not trained as a chef. I actually have a degree in microbiology. Then I worked at Café Annie for two years, from 1999 to 2000, so I really just jumped into the restaurant business.

EOW: Well that clearly worked for you, as Indika is a smash success with both critical and popular backing. Tell us about how Indika came about.

AJ: Indika started in 2001 in its original location in Memorial. We moved to this location in 2006. We're coming up on our 10th anniversary. In Memorial, we rented, but here we own the place, and I love this location.

EOW: You and your husband are co-owners?

AJ: My ex-husband actually. It works out wonderfully. We were married over 20 years and raised children together, so we know how to get along. He does the books and a lot of other things. He does more than we give him credit for, actually. But the concept and the food are mine. It works because we have a common goal, and we don't lose sight of that. It's a very nice arrangement, actually.

EOW: We certainly give you big props for making it work. Now we heard that you describe the cuisine at Indika as "progressive Indian using local ingredients." Explain this to us, please.

AJ: I adore Indian food, but I did not want a restaurant to be boxed into the cuisine of "Indian food." I wanted a mainstream restaurant that would appeal to the American population but keep the authenticity of Indian food. People don't always understand when I say my food is not traditional, but it is authentic.

EOW: Tell us what you mean by that.

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AJ: I never wanted to be in the category of "Indian Food." I just wanted to make great food. The way I serve my food is completely unique. It is mostly traditional ingredients, dishes, and flavors, but I prepare it in a completely original way. It could have been a complete bomb, but somehow it all worked. I am very grateful to the people of this town who have supported it. Some culinary rules I break, and some I never will.

EOW: Give us an example.

AJ: Well...I almost never add cream to a curry. A lot of restaurants will add a lot of cream to their curries, but I won't. Maybe some yogurt, but that's all. However, street food is altered to my way of preparation. I have a lot of fun doing what I do and I enjoy not having to explain myself.

Join us tomorrow when we find out more about what Anita does with her limited time off, and what really gets her passionate.

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