Top Chef Alumnus Suvir Saran Speaks About Street Food and (Apparently) Doesn't Hate Beef
Two facts you may not have known about Top Chef alumnus Suvir Saran: he loves street food, and he doesn't really hate meat.
"I'm far from a meat or beef basher," he says. "I'm more Buddhist vegetarian -- if you put it in front of me, I'll eat it."
In fact, he actually dislikes the militant vegans or vegetarians who shove their agendas in your face, as he was (seemingly falsely) accused of doing on Top Chef. "If you practice kosher, that's one thing, but if you're just a vegan about a particular agenda... I'm intolerant of people shoving it into your face -- you'll charm people by bringing them to a table and giving them wonderful legumes and beans and feeding it to them with beef they love," he says.
And beef is something that, on occasion, finds a spot in his heart, too.
"I often dream that the beef coming in front of me is a beautiful blue steak," he says, also confessing his love for Thai beef salad -- "one of my favorite indulgences."
Steak or no steak, street food is one of Saran's passions, a delight that he says food critics are only beginning to explore and enjoy. "They said it was a 'brain-fucking orgasm,'" he says of a recent New York street food review. "A lot of the highfalutin dining people have gotten crazy about it."
Street food is "all about lack of ego and a bunch of flavor," he says. With fine dining, "there has always been a preponderance of northern European cuisine," which can cause diners to come to the table with prejudices and biases.
Street food, on the other hand, "is a mosaic that has bits from everything. It's a quilt," he says. "Street food is more in sync with the world and the time we live in than perhaps old cuisine ever will be."
"To keep with the street food tradition, I'm making a version of chaat -- an Indian genre of dishes that represents the streets of India," Saran says, adding that he'll make his dish out of avocado, cabbage, and American peanuts ("I make a point of telling people I use American peanuts, not Chinese peanuts"). For a gluten-free option, he'll prepare fried shrimp with amaranth flour.
"In chaat dishes, we aim to have hot, sour, salty, sweet, and bitter represented in each bite," he says. "This dish will give you that."
After brunch, Saran will participate in a panel from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. about the merits of street food. As far as Sunday's panel goes, Saran is pleased to be having it our fair city.
"San Francisco is far more sophisticated than a lot of us living in America," he says, making us blush a little, "so there's no better place to have this conversation."