No more naansense: Chef Niven’s bringing farm-to-table Indian food to Miami

Aside from Bombay Darbar and maybe a few spots up in Plantation (shout out to Woodlands), Miami’s Indian food game is seriously lacking. So when my friend Malik told me about an Indian chef who was opening a new restaurant, my initial reaction was *shrug*. I’ve had food at Indian restaurants, and honestly my mom’s food is way better than anything from a fancy kitchen.

But Malik knew better. He made the trek to the Downtown Dadeland farmer’s market, where this new guy was selling some of his dishes, and brought some of his food back to Little Haiti to prove it.

One taste of Chef Niven Patel’s raita and I was hooked. The papdi chaat, the dhokla, the dal — it tasted so much cleaner than any of the restaurants I’d been to. And (sorry mom) but it was way better than any homecooking I’d ever had.

I was convinced. No more naansense, Miami. Chef Niven Patel’s Ghee Indian Kitchen, a locally-sourced, vegetable-centric Indian restaurant in Downtown Dadeland is about to serve up the best Indian food Miami’s ever seen. The former chef for Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Patel is working on opening his new restaurant by the end of this year.

“Indian food has been a part of my life since I was a kid, but going to school and working at restaurants, it got pushed to the back burner. But when I got home after a long day of work, Indian food is what brought comfort to my stomach,” he said.

“But Indian restaurants aren’t anything like you can eat at home, so that’s how [my idea for] opening up a real Indian restaurant came about.”

“I’m bringing back … homestyle cooking to the restaurant environment and putting more of an ingredient focus, based on seasonality, but staying true to how we cook in Indian households,” he said.

Slated to open its doors sometime in late December or early January, Patel says his restaurant will be different from other Indian spots around Miami-Dade because he’s going to feature food from all over the Indian subcontinent.

“I think other restaurants stick to a real Northern Indian style cuisine, but in India, every region is very different … I don’t want to stick to one specific region,” he explained.

With roots in the western region of Gujarat, he admits that “There’s going to be a lot more Gujarati influences than most other restaurants.” In part, that means using things like yogurt, buttermilk, sesame seeds, beans, and certain vegetables native to the region.

Patel hopes to get at least some of those vegetables from his own backyard on his two-acre farm in Homestead, which he’s named Rancho Patel. The farm started because Patel wanted to give his cooks a better appreciation of how hard farmers work to get vegetables to a restaurant’s doorstep.

“I had my cooks help me build it, and we all found out how hard it is to grow a beautiful tomato or pepper,” Patel explained. “It helped us get a better appreciation of our industry,”

Now Patel and his father run the farm, where they’re growing patra, sweet potatoes, and turmeric. In about a week they’re going to start seeding for the winter, which means growing things like carrots, pigeon peas, and black eyed peas.

“I’m still a very novice farmer, so we’re going to use these plants in certain dishes at ghee, or to accent the dishes,” he explained. For the vegetables at ghee, he hopes to source as locally as possible — and that means in the summertime when produce yield is down in Florida, looking to other states, rather than other countries, for the ingredients he needs.

One of the dishes he’ll definitely include on the menu is Paatra, a fried Gujarati snack made with a Patra leaves, chickpea paste, lemon juice, sesame seeds, chili and other spices.

“Another dish that people always go crazy about is Pani Puri, but Indian restaurants never do Pani Puri. When I go to India, the best experience is standing at a puri stand,” he said. So he’s adding it to the menu, too. Pani Puri is a common street snack made of a round hollowed ball of crispy fried dough, filled with a variation of potatoes, onion, chickpeas and tamarind chutney.

But the menu will change each season, so the dishes don’t feel stale, Patel explained.

“There’s not a huge Indian population in Miami … but I feel great about the concept, it’s going to take a lot of education but I think there’s enough people that are passionate about Indian food,” Niven said. “Once the word gets out … and people get in the door, word will spread.”

Ghee Indian Kitchen isn’t open just yet, but you can get a taste of Chef Niven’s food at a Dadeland Farmer’s market sometime in November. Follow his instagram here for updates.