In just a few short years, Asha Gomez has become a powerhouse chef and restaurant developer. It all started with Spice Route Supper Club, the intimate supper club she hosted in her home for a small groups of people. Word of her delicious offerings and flavor combinations of Indian, Southern and Italian dishes soon spread and led to the opening of her landmark restaurant, Cardamom Hill. With two more restaurants opening in the next few months, we are sure this successful chef’s star is well on its way to the top.
Your journey began in Kerala, India. How did you make your way to Atlanta?
I emigrated with my family when I was 16 years old to the States. I grew into adulthood primarily in New York and moved down South after a visit here 12 years ago — I became enthralled with the people, food and climate here in Georgia. I felt a kinship with Southern hospitality because of the Southern Indian hospitality I grew up with.
How did growing up in India affect your connection to food and community?
Food, culture and community are so interconnected. In India it was natural to feel an affinity toward food as more than just sustenance. Sharing food and community was part of my cultural DNA.
What was the feeling of the Spice Route Supper Club?
Spice Route Supper Club was my first foray into the culinary world of Atlanta. It was an alternative to the traditional restaurant experience. Fifteen to 20 guests, often strangers when first meeting, go on a shared adventure of new cuisine in a warm, intimate space. They leave nourished in more ways than one; it’s a beautiful thing that happens. It was also a way for guests to shed their perceptions of Indian cuisine.
When you were a young girl, what did you imagine you would be when you grew up?
Life rarely reveals a clear career trajectory for most of us. I planned to join the Peace Corps when I grew up. I ended up following a career in the spa industry and owning my own spa here in Atlanta. Then, the culinary world called me. I also feel the work that I’ve begun to do with CARE is close to what I envisioned doing as a young girl.
Can you share a bit about your recent trip to Peru with CARE?
CARE cuts poverty at its roots. The organization provides tools for sustainable change to the people who are most vulnerable to hunger, violence and disease. I got to see firsthand the programs that CARE had put into place to cut malnutrition in some of the poorest places in Peru. I returned inspired, because I saw tangible change and empowered communities.
It’s shocking to learn just how widespread the problem is. Hunger and malnutrition remain the number one risk to global health, killing more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Who was an early mentor to you?
Ammini Ramachandran, the Kerala cookbook author and Kerala cuisine historian, preserver of ancient Kerala recipes and food culture. I learned the recipes handed down to me in my family from generation to generation, but I’ve learned so much about the history of Kerala cuisine and the various culinary and historical influences over the centuries through Ammini Ramachandran’s prolific and expansive knowledge.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given?
I’m paraphrasing, and I’m not sure who this is attributed to, but I love this one: “There’s no such thing as luck. When opportunity meets preparedness, that’s when things happen.”
Your Kerala fried chicken is famous throughout Atlanta. What other Southern staples tempt you to add your own twist?
At Cardamom Hill, I pay tribute to some Southern staples that I love: shrimp and grits, shrimp étouffée, country captain chicken and smothered pork.
What meal at a local restaurant has wowed you?
Every single meal I’ve had at Bacchanalia has been spectacular. I took my nephew to dinner there to celebrate his embarking on his college journey, and I was blown away by the food, the ambience, the incredible service, the attention to detail and the care that was taken to ensure we had an amazing experience. I’m inspired by all things Anne Quatrano.
You recently announced the opening of your third restaurant, Spice Road Chicken, in the Krog Street Market. What excites you about it?
What excites me most is to be part of all the things happening around the BeltLine project. I believe it’s going to be great for the city as a whole. Additionally, I’m excited to be working with George Banks of Paces Properties. He’s not a typical real estate developer; George and his team have been a joy to work with, and they really have been supportive and enthusiastic about building an incredible roster of chef-driven restaurants and concepts at Krog Street Market.
If you could have four people over for dinner, living or dead, who would you invite and what would you serve?
My father, because I would love to have him back for a just a moment in time. K.D. Lang, because she soothes my soul with her music. Julia Child, because she was Julia Child. And my son Ethan. I would cook a large bowl of pasta and a perfect bolognese, bake some warm crusty bread, toss a fresh salad and serve up a beautiful artisan cheese plate alongside some local preserves and honey. I swear I was Italian in a past life.
What piece of clothing makes you feel confident and beautiful?
My favorite pair of jeans. Jeans move with me no matter what I’m doing, can be dressed up or dressed down and are forgiving and flattering all at the same time.
What do you love about Atlanta?
The weather, the people, the tree-lined streets, the restaurant scene, the farmers’ market and my friends who have become my community. All that combined makes this place home.
What are you looking forward to this summer?
I’m looking forward to opening my new breakfast/lunch spot, Spice to Table. I’m excited about letting my creativity flow and exploring new culinary ideas.
How do you begin your morning?
With a cup of coffee and lots of hugs and kisses from my son.
What is on your bedside table?
Books that I’m reading. At the moment, one that stands out is The Southerner’s Handbook. A bottle of water and a handmade collage that my son made me.
When you have a free moment, what do you love to do?
Be still and spend a moment with myself — be it in the serenity of my home or on a long drive by myself listening to music that I love.
Name three things you cannot live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Bourbon, mangoes and travel.
Thanks so much Asha! And thank you, Cat Maxwell, for today’s gorgeous photographs!