‘It was the pinnacle of my career to cook for PM Modi’ - Hindustan Times
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‘It was the pinnacle of my career to cook for PM Modi’

ByRuchika Garg, New Delhi
Jul 17, 2023 04:38 PM IST

Chef Nina Curtis tells us how she curated the first-ever plant-based White House State Dinner menu for the Indian Prime Minister, beautifully uniting American and Indian cuisines with millets as the hero.

The White House (USA) made history recently by curating its first-ever plant-based menu for a State Dinner to honour Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Plant-based chef Nina Curtis put together an eclectic spread along with the chefs at the White House for our vegetarian PM. Talking to HT City, Curtis, who draws from her black heritage to shape culinary excellence, says, “It was the pinnacle moment in my career to present an exquisite menu to the Indian Prime Minister. It was an honour to be invited as a guest chef by the First Lady of the US, Dr Jill Biden, to work with the White House Executive Culinary team.”

Chef Nina Curtis tells us how beautifully uniting American and Indian cuisines with millets as the hero. (Photo: Francisco Chavira)
Chef Nina Curtis tells us how beautifully uniting American and Indian cuisines with millets as the hero. (Photo: Francisco Chavira)

Showcasing the best in American cuisine, the menu heroed their seasonal produce and had elements inspired by Indian and American flags. “Dr Biden wanted to emphasise the deliciousness of plant-based cuisine. We also brought Indian flavours and elements to the dishes such as saffron-infused risotto to show the beautiful fusion both cuisines offer,” adds the chef.

The United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millets, and India is leading the way. The menu, too, incorporated the theme. “We showcased the versatility, deliciousness and ease of using millets. We did a lot of recipe testing and tastings, and Dr Biden and her team decided on the final menu. It included marinated millet with grilled corn, cherry tomatoes, English cucumber salad with tangy avocado sauce, and crispy baked millet and chickpea cakes with a lemon dill yoghurt sauce,” explains Curtis.

The chef worked closely with White House executive chef Cris Comerford and executive pastry chef Susie Morrison. She couldn’t meet PM Modi this time but was happy about the praise. “We received a warm round of applause for our presentation. We were later told that PM Modi truly enjoyed the dinner,” says Curtis, who is from Sacramento, California. Curtis has also been actively promoting veganism in the country, encouraging chefs and restaurants to make room for vegan dishes on their menus.

‘I really enjoy Indian food’

Curtis, who loves digging into Indian cuisine, says she even has a few favourite desi restaurants between Sacramento and Los Angeles. “I also shop at Indian stores to recreate many of my favourite dishes. During my culinary school, I had a wonderful professor who specialised in Indian cuisine, and we explored and cooked different dishes from many regions throughout India. Some of my personal favourites include Channa Masala, Bhindi Masala, Baingan Bhartha, Aloo Mattar, Aloo Gobhi, Samosa and pickles,” she shares. 

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