Kunal Lamba: A foodie’s adventure through desi America
Kunal Lamba was born to work in food and hospitality, and his booming career is living proof of his natural ability to create memorable culinary moments. As the General Manager of Devi, the first Indian restaurant to ever earn a Michelin Star, Lamba has been responsible for facilitating exceptional dining room experiences every day. On the inaugural season of the StarPlus Channel’s Kawan Kitchen Mate, he now brings his expertise and friendly charisma to the homes of Indian families across America as he helps them make the most of what they already have in their kitchen.
What originally inspired you to get involved in the food business?
Food and hospitality was kind of in my DNA as I come from a family of restaurant professionals. My father was in this business and I grew up with it. I graduated as a bachelor in hotel management from welcomgroup school in India and started working in hotels and restaurants from day 1 in my career. It was just a natural course of life.
Since you first moved to New York, what changes have you seen in the Indian restaurant landscape?
I moved to NYC from London in 2008 and by that time Devi had created a revolution with Indian food already by getting a Michelin star and creating cuisine beyond chicken tikka masala and dal makhani. I remember these two dishes (how much ever I love them) were not put on the menu at Devi. In the last 6 years I have seen Indian food taking a centre stage in global cuisine day by day. More and more people are getting to know about India and more and more are getting to know about Indian food and experimenting with its many manifestations involving fusion Indian food.
As the foodie on this season’s Kawan Kitchen Mate, what have been a few of the highlights?
In the show, the creators wanted to try and answer the question: what’s for dinner? Thus KKM is not just about a celebrity chef demonstrating a recipe in a studio. It’s about a “foodie” (myself) taking the existing ingredients and leftovers in the fridge and coming up with new and innovative meal solutions on the spot. While doing that I’m also getting into the lives of desi people in America. Every episode takes place in a different part of the country, in a different home, with a different family! And what better way to bond with them than over Food!
What was the most creative dish that you and a family put together on the show?
The most creative from my perspective was making an American chopsuey. Guess what was it made with? Besan Bhajia as crispy noodles and Gujarati dal as the sauce and a lot of innovation put In it to make it feel like a chopsuey. You gotta watch that episode to really understand! It’s reality TV after all. Nothing is staged.
What kind of impact do you hope the show has on the families involved? On the audience?
I feel all Indian families in the US are naturally inquisitive to know how their peers are doing and living here. This program gets them to experience other Indians’ lives, their families, their food, their stories of triumphs and challenges. They relate every program, every story and every family to their own.
How do you think the experiences of Desi families in the U.S. differ from those of families in India?
I was born and grew up in India so I can easily gauge the difference. The young generation here is totally different and more forward from their counterparts in India. The older generation is the same in both places. But I was really impressed my how in some families the Indian cultural values have been kept intact in spite of the migration to the US. In one particular episode I asked this 4 year old kid about the names of 5 Indian gods and he gave me 7.
How have your previous studies at the Welcomgroup School influenced your role as General manager of Devi?
With my professional education and past experience I got a solid hospitality knowledge platform to Devi which is not a corporate but a family owned business. Welcomgroup School gave me a great hospitality and culinary foundation and whatever I have done in my life whether it’s Devi or KKM, had only benefited from it.
When you have time off from your busy schedule, what do you most enjoy doing in NYC?
I am quite a social person so I go out for dinners and drinks. I do travel a lot when I get a chance. I also just put on my karaoke system and sing old Hindi songs at the top of my voice but that’s when I am by myself.