Globetrotting chef Geeta Bansal of Irvine’s Clay Oven has just returned from last month’s MAD Conference, the annual food-world gathering organized by superstar chef Rene Redzepi in Copenhagen, but she won’t be home long. Bansal will be cooking at the James Beard House on Sept. 27, bringing her modern, highly personal Indian cuisine to New York City for “A Night of Spice.”
Bansal has previously pondered the possibility. “I think cooking at the Beard House is on every chef’s bucket list,” she says. Since learning of the invitation a couple of months ago, she’s been planning her menu and arranging for supplies. Some make-or-break items will be traveling with her on the plane from California. She’ll bring her own spices, for instance, and it would not be too surprising if she hand-carries chiles and herbs from her garden as well, since they’re integral to her restaurant cooking. Bansal will have access to the Beard House kitchen beginning at 8 a.m. on the day of the dinner, which actually suits her perfectly. “That’s just how I work in my own restaurant, starting in the morning for that evening” she says. “I don’t like things made ahead.”
There’ll even be some familiar Orange County faces at the Beard House—Bansal already knows of several Clay Oven regulars who plan to be there. If you’d like to lend support here at home, the chef will present a preview dinner, “Clay Oven Goes to the Beard House” on Sept. 15 at her restaurant. Both the Irvine preview and Beard House dinners feature rabbit, a meat that’s appearing more frequently on today’s menus. For Bansal, though, it’s not a trendy dish. “People don’t realize that in India we use a lot of game,” she says. While her food is modern, Bansal’s quick to emphasize that it’s 100 percent Indian. “I don’t make fusion food,” she says. “I always say fusion causes confusion.”
Keep up with Bansal’s travels and interviews with some of the biggest names in food in her Gastronome Geeta blog. And for those not making the journey to the Beard House later this month, her blog will offer a first-hand account of the experience.