Chef Hemant Mathur of Devi
Hemant Mathur is the executive chef at Devi (8 East 18th Street), an establishment we recently included in our 10 Best Indian restaurants list. This Saturday, Mathur and his fellow Devi executive chef, Suvir Saran, will be cooking a special Diwali meal at the James Beard House. The menu includes spicy tapioca and peanut croquettes, masala-fried quail, and lotus seed pudding; reservations for the dinner are still available.
We caught up with Mathur about his childhood memories of Diwali celebrations, must-have foods for the holiday, and goings-on at Devi.
What are your childhood memories of celebrating Diwali?
My earliest memories are of lighting lamps all over my family’s house and burning firecrackers with my friends in the neighborhood.
What foods do you remember in particular?
Since I am from Rajasthan, for Diwali we made vegetarian Rajasthani dishes like ghatay ke subjee, steamed chickpea flour dumplings in spiced tomato sauce, and dal bhatti churma–lentils with homemade Rajasthani bread and sweet wheat cereal.
Are there dishes or sweets that you feel you must have for Diwali?
I am fond of a sweet called moti chur ladoos that are made with chickpea flour and are a specialty in northern India. They are also my daughter’s favorite sweet.
How did you and Suvir Saran come up with the Beard House menu?
We wanted to be sure to incorporate items like semolina crackers, tapioca croquettes, and mushroom tikki that are reminiscent of Diwali celebrations in India, and offer new favorites that we love to share with family and friends here in the U.S.
Do you have a favorite mitai shop in the New York area?
Maharaja Sweets & Snacks in Jackson Heights (7310 37th Avenue, Queens).
How are things going at Devi? Any news/new dishes added to the
menu that readers should know about?
We’re working on changing our menus for the fall/winter season. With everyone crazy for fried chicken these days, our Masala Fried Quail has been a popular item lately.
What’s in your refrigerator at home?
Right now we have tons of sweets and ingredients to prepare our favorite Rajasthani dishes, like ghatay ke subjee, for our family and friends coming to visit for Diwali.
What book did you read most recently, and did you enjoy it?
I am more of a newspaper reader and need my New York Times every morning to start my day.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 15, 2009