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Tyler Williams on Southern, Spice, and Asha Gomez.

Tyler Williams, executive chef at Woodfire Grill on Cheshire Bridge Road is an artist. In a culinary career that’s taken him from his family home in Michigan to Portland, Vegas, Chicago, and Atlanta, Williams has embraced flavor wherever he cooked.

We talk about Cardamom Hill, and how Chef Asha Gomez has re-imagined a Southern staple (chicken and waffles) by giving it a distinctly Indian twist.

“Shrimp and grits is a good example,” he says. “You take the smoked tomato gravy that’s usually served with shrimp and grits and swap it out for tikka masala; I think a lot of the local ingredients like Okra play well to that palate — eggplant, too.”

If you haven’t had the opportunity to try Asha’s food, it’s worth the trip to Northside and I-75. And if you get a chance to talk to her about the food, it’s something you shouldn’t pass up. Tyler talks about a recent visit to Cardamom Hill. “I’m in love with her cooking — then she came out and started laying the knowledge on me and my wife, and I was like ‘How much does it cost to just listen to you talk?'”

Tyler and his wife, Julie, who is GM at 4th and Swift, were enjoying their meal, “but when Asha came in and started telling us about the food, the meal just became out of this world awesome. Her level of knowledge is sick, and it’s so interesting to me. She should have a show on TV.”

Gomez cooks subtly spiced Kerala cuisine, which is from the south-west coast of India. With restaurants like Cardamom Hill, and Decatur’s Chai Pani, Atlanta might be opening the door to some more adventurously spiced cooking from places like India by integrating it with more familiar dishes. “I think Asha’s on the right path. We came to the same place separately that we can use these local ingredients and tweak them slightly,” says Tyler. He talks of a dish that he had on the menu at Abattoir. “I did a fried okra, and the menu just said ‘okra, slivered onion, heirloom tomato, and cilantro.’ That’s all the menu said, and you may not know it’s an Indian dish when you get it, you may not even know when you’re eating it, but it is. It was a wonderful dish, and I don’t think that 95% of the people that ate it knew it was Indian, they just knew it was delicious.”

I ask Tyler whether we’re going to see more chefs using bolder spices in their dishes, and whether it will feature in Woodfire’s evolving menu.

“I just put all that in the repertoire, like the molecular [gastronomy] stuff – being able to use spices and spice blends, which is a skill you build over time, to use in any capacity you want. It gives you more options when you’re creating a dish.”

Follow Tyler and Asha on Instagram and Twitter for pictures and updates.
Tyler’s Twitter handle is @tylerjamie79 and that’s his Instagram, too. Asha can be found at @ashagomez on Twitter and also her Instagram.