Chef News

Rana Singh Sodhi and Surinder Singh of Guru Palace, Part Two

Yesterday we heard from Rana Singh Sodhi and Surinder Singh of Guru Palace. Today, the conversation continues.

Rana Singh Sodhi, above left, and Surinder Singh (no relation) of Guru Palace are ready to make a bet: Try Indian food once, and you'll be hooked.

"About 90 percent of the people who try it like it," Sodhi says. "But probably about 60 percent, still haven't even tried it. They're scared. They think it's too hot, it's too spicy. They need to come out of their cage and try it with courage."

Sodhi and Singh are on a mission to serve up fresh Indian food in Mesa, bringing their Punjabi roots to the West to solve an age-old dilemma.

"How did we discover America?" Sodhi asks, "Because Columbus wanted to go to buy some spices from India, right? That's how he discovered America. He wanted to go for spices, and we are the same business that he wanted at that time: cooking and serving spices to our community."

Today, Sodhi and Singh break down for us all the spices that make up curry, build a case for why their naan is better than the White House's.

PLUS: Click through to find out whether he met the infamous party crashers, the Salahis (now of Bravo's "Real Housewives" fame, too), at the State Dinner.

Sodhi, who works the front of the house, takes the lead, while Singh, who runs the kitchen, keeps a little more quiet, but we manage to get them both talking... Sodhi's replies are in normal text, and Singh's are italicized.

What's always in the kitchen at home? We have all the spices at our homes. Not just us, but all Indian people. About 99 percent of Indian people keep their spices in their homes. And all the lentil beans.

What's the one flavor combination you couldn't live without? Curry. The majority of cooking in Indian cooking is curry.

How many spices go into a curry? Ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, black pepper, red chili, salt, black and green cardamoms, tamarind, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. [A dozen.] And the trick to getting the best flavor from the spices is to grind them fresh in-house. The flavor is so fresh. Everybody should do that if they can.

Any foods in India you miss? I miss only the juice, which is fresh from sugar cane.

What dishes your kids want you to make for them? We have kids of similar ages, and they all get together once a week. They always want chicken tikka masala, lamb boti kebab, and goat curry. Last Thanksgiving, our kids treated us - all our staff - to a wonderful dinner. They made place cards and menus. And they served us an entire American Thanksgiving dinner: mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey. They copied the table setting from everything I told them about my experience as an honorary guest to the State Dinner at the White House with President Obama and the Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh.

[Sodhi says First Lady Michelle Obama invited him as an honorary guest after seeing the 2008 PBS documentary "A Dream in Doubt," which features Sodhi who lost two of his brothers to hate crimes. Read more, here.]

Was the food at the State Dinner any good? Very good. They served Indian food: Naan, shrimp, eggplant. I have to say, though, our naan is better than theirs. It was a big party, and naan always tastes better when you cook it fresh like we do.

And the question on everyone's mind... did you meet the infamous party crashers? Yeah, when I entered, these people cut ahead of me in line. You rarely see American women in Indian saris, so I took notice. I though maybe they were some special people, because they cut the line in which representatives, congressmen, and governors were waiting. I never knew they were party crashers until the news broke in the media. But I still don't think they could have crashed, we went through three security checks. It was not possible to crash! I think they had to know somebody who let them in.

(This is our second installment of Chef Chat with Sodhi and Singh. Check out part one to find out how to eat Indian food like an Indian, and check back for the chicken tikka masala recipe that made the list of our "100 Favorite Dishes.")