It’s with some amusement that Priya Kapoor-Salian considers the current popularity of Indian cuisine in America.
“It’s everywhere,” said the 34-year-old owner of RaaSa, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Elmsford.
From a new crop of restaurants boasting regional Indian specialties to the ubiquitous displays of ready-to-eat saag paneer and chicken tikka masala on grocery store shelves to the hot bar at Whole Foods featuring a variety of Indian dishes, the mainstreaming of food from her motherland was not something she’d predicted as a school girl in the 90’s in Chappaqua.
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Kapoor-Salian, who graduated Horace Greeley High School in 2002, distinctly remembers her friends being “grossed out” by her lunch when she brought Indian food to school.
“They’d say, ‘you smell of curry,’” she said, laughing.
Today, her curry, among other dishes, has gained a legion of fans and a “Very Good” rating for RaaSa from the New York Times.
“Whenever we go there, it’s exciting” said RaaSa regular Jim Foy, former CEO of St. John’s Riverside Hospital, St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Community Hospital at Dobbs Ferry and Yonkers General Hospital and a Dobbs Ferry resident.
Priya Kapoor-Salian, owner of RaaSa, an Indian restaurantBuy Photo
Priya Kapoor-Salian, owner of RaaSa, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, photographed July 12, 2018. Kapoor-Salian, who grew up in Chappaqua, opened the restaurant three years ago. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
The initial lack of enthusiasm from her high school friends didn’t put a damper on Kapoor-Salian’s spirits as she pursued her interest in cooking.
She’d learn from her mom and cook one family meal a week in their Pleasantville home – but it would have a unique twist.
“We ate Indian food that my mom cooked every day,” said Kapoor-Salian. “So I’d try to mix it up by incorporating different spices.”
She remembers a recipe she concocted using Cajun spices with garam masala being a bit hit.
Samunder Se, which is lobster, scallops, and shrimpBuy Photo
Samunder Se, which is lobster, scallops, and shrimp in a coconut milk sauce with indian spices, is one of the items on the menu at RaaSa, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, photographed July 12, 2018. Priya Kapoor-Salian, who grew up in Chappaqua, opened the restaurant three years ago. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
No one in her family was in the restaurant business (her mom works as a substitute teacher in the Chappaqua school district and her dad owns a printing press business), so she said pursuing a career as an restaurateur had never crossed her mind.
Instead, enrolled in college for a degree in education. But a year into the program, she dropped out. Her heart was not in it.
Throughout school, Kapoor-Salian said she’d always been “just an average” student. That changed when she enrolled at a culinary school in Manhattan (the now-defunct Katherine Gibbs College).
“I was passionate about it and I started doing very well,” she said. “I made the Dean’s list.”
After spending a year working at small restaurants learning the ropes, from bussing and dishwashing to serving as a hostess, she moved to Phoenix to work at the J. W. Marriott hotel.
She rose through the ranks to a supervisory role. It was there that she met her future husband, Ashok Salian, who had been transferred from the J.W. Marriott in Mumbai, India.
When an opportunity to work at Tamarind, a Micheline starred Indian restaurant in the Flatiron district came up, she moved back to New York.
There, under the tutelage of owner Avtar Walia, Kapoor-Salian said she learned the ins and outs of running restaurants.
Awadhi Dum, a roasted lamb shank, is one of the itemsBuy Photo
Awadhi Dum, a roasted lamb shank, is one of the items on the menu at RaaSa, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, photographed July 12, 2018. Priya Kapoor-Salian, who grew up in Chappaqua, opened the restaurant three years ago. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
“Mr. Walia knew my goal was to open up my own place one day, and so he would find opportunities for me to train in all the different areas of the business,” she said. “He was a perfectionist and I learned a lot from him.”
She continued with the restaurant at their current location in Tribecca, serving as a hostess and supervisor.
By now, her husband also had started working at Tamarind Tribecca. Soon the two were scouting locations for their own place.