Story of My Kitchen: Asha Gomez
To us, the kitchen is sacred space. It holds spirited conversations, shared meals, work-from-home sessions, and homework moments. Every kitchen and its essence is unique to those that occupy it. Introducing The Story of My Kitchen, a new series where we pull up a (virtual) chair and hear about what makes one's kitchen theirs.
Asha Gomez’s first cookbook, the James Beard Award-nominated My Two Souths, married the culinary traditions of the American south, where she lives, and Kerala, the southern Indian state where she lived as a child. But her second book, I Cook in Color, feels even more personal to her. The book “is really truly the way I cook in my kitchen today,” Gomez says. “I bring the global world into my kitchen. On any given night I could be in Thailand making a papaya salad, in Rome making ragu, or in my mother’s kitchen making fish curry.”
It’s also a way for her to break out of some of the boxes she’s been put in during her cooking career, during which she has run supper clubs and two restaurants in Atlanta; now, she runs The Third Space, where she hosts private events and a growing market. “Being in the food world for the last decade, I felt very restricted. As a first-generation immigrant chef, my mothers’ recipes are the only recipes that people have asked me about,” she says. “I’ve traveled the world over, and yet I'm confined to only my mothers’ kitchen. You’ll ask Nigella Lawson for a curry chicken recipe, but you’ll never ask me for marinara.” I Cook in Color celebrates her roving culinary eye, with a vibrancy that sings through each dish thanks to colorful produce, abundant spices, and a deep curiosity.
To kick off our The Story of My Kitchen series, we asked Asha about the best-loved pieces in her kitchen, and the rituals that make it a home base for community and creation.
I don’t spend very much time in my home kitchen, so I would call The Third Space my home kitchen too. It is built to look like a home; there's no commercial equipment in there. And it’s very green, I have greenery everywhere. I’m a huge plant mom.
My kitchen is a space where I'm able to have conversations and tell stories. It's an open kitchen, because I love interacting with my guests. My dog is running around, my kid is running around, and my guests are part of it all. I don't understand the concept of being behind a wall when I'm cooking and my guests don't get to see what I'm actually doing.
The oldest thing I have is the spice tin my mom was given when she got married, so it’s over 60 years old. That’s a tradition: when a girl gets married, the family gives her a spice tin with her and her husbands’ names engraved on the outside. I refill it probably every week, just with the volume of spices that I use.
I also have clay pots that she used to make her fish curry in. I grew up on a beach in a fishing community, and my mother and all her sisters all have homes in a compound. Everybody’s homes had a modern kitchen, but there was an ancestral kitchen on the property where you cooked over wood fire and coal. So if my mom was making a fish curry, you better believe she was making it over coal in a clay pot. And those are some of my earliest kitchen memories.
My kitchen is a space where I'm able to have conversations and tell stories. It's an open kitchen, because I love interacting with my guests. My dog is running around, my kid is running around, and my guests are part of it all.
My Most-Used Piece
I also have a mortar and pestle from my mom; she probably used it for 30 to 40 years. I grind every spice from scratch, and I can’t grind cardamom pods without that mortar and pestle. I’m a huge spice buyer: I love Diaspora spices, and there’s also a local Indian store here called Cherians, which is a regional supermarket for where I'm from in India. It has everything I need.
I am a huge tea drinker, so for the longest time, I collected tea pots. I had a collection of 60 or 75 teapots that we used to serve tea for our guests. And it sat on a very special table. Not too long ago, someone accidentally did something that broke 80% of them. I remember walking in and just having this moment of, whoah. And everyone was so nervous, because these were like my prized possessions. But I was really surprised at my reaction. It was very therapeutic and cathartic for me: I picked up all the pieces, I walked to my garden with them, and I made a garden patch with all my broken teapots, and planted herbs in between them. We made something out of it.
My Daily Ritual
My chai making is a huge ritual for me; it happens every day. It could be me just having a moment myself; it could be my son, who is 15 now and loves chai and has learned how to make it; or it could be friends, family and community that gather around that pot of tea. It’s an essential part of my every day, and a very therapeutic time for me.
For me, my kitchen is a place of bringing community in. It's an open door policy. If I’m at home, my neighbors know that at 3 o’clock, a pot of chai is gonna be brewing.
My chai making is a huge ritual for me. It could be me just having a moment myself; it could be my son, who is 15 now and loves chai and has learned how to make it; or it could be friends, family and community... It’s an essential part of my every day, and a very therapeutic time for me.
My Best-Loved Weeknight Dinner
I return to my mom’s fish curry all the time. It’s my place of comfort, it reminds me of home, it’s the beach I grew up on. If you follow my Instagram you’ll notice, every three weeks you’ll see a fish curry photograph.
But roasting vegetables is probably my favorite thing to do. Two or three nights a week, there’s a pan of roasted vegetables in my oven. I have one pan, but each vegetable will get a different spice. And I’ll roast anything. I will literally roast any vegetable! If I can get my hands on it and put it on a pan, it’s getting roasted.