Orlando may seem the least likely port of entry for a pioneering Indian chef in America. Yet, that’s where Bombay-born Peter Beck—already well traveled through stints in England and Singapore—decided the USA was the place to test his talents. After a few years in Central Florida and a brief stopver in Miami, Beck landed in NYC. Starting first at Chola, he really made his mark at Tamarind, where his creative twist on Indian flavors was awarded with a Michelin star.
Beck’s cooking has lifted New York’s subcontinental dining away from the singular saucy-ness of Curry Hill and out of cheap eats category. His cuisine—which at his latest venture, Benares, ties together spicy seafood from South India and vegetarian dishes from its namesake city—tiptoes brilliantly on the line between the familiar and unexpected. He flips saag paneer with broccoli rabe, for example, playing with common perceptions of Indian cooking.
His genius pairs a passion for the breadth of Indian styles and an acute sense of what his local audience desires. If he sees a rising interest in sea bass, Beck translates the sweet fish to a Bengali dish. Noticing that customers want healthy proteins, he celebrates the grilled meats of the Mughals, which he hopes to one day elevate to the iconic level of the American steakhouse.
In short, Beck doesn’t shy away from invention. Fusion for him is about the meeting of authentic dishes and trends in consumption. Here, he guides us through 10 key dishes at Benares that reflect a broader, decades-long quest to help Americans love and appreciate the diversity of Indian cuisine.
Benares, 45 Murray St (212-766-4900, benaresnyc.com); 240 W 56th St (212-397-0707)