During school recess in India, Pushkar Marathe would press his face against the window of the cafeteria kitchen to watch the cooks make lunch. Later, he’d recite to his mom all that he saw.
“I would say, ‘Mom, they did it this way and that way.’ And she would say, ‘Pushkar, that’s a different way of cooking,’” Marathe, 33, recalled.
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Marathe’s father served in the Indian air force, and every few years his family moved to a new part of the country. They say every 200 miles in India an entirely new culture begins, so Marathe saw many of them through those school kitchen windows. “It helped me in the long run because it exposed me to different dishes and new techniques,” Marathe said.
And that is good news for Miami. Marathe is head chef at Ghee Indian Kitchen’s newest location, in the Design District. He has taken that range of Indian cooking styles he learned as a kid and merged it with very modern, very tasty preparations at Ghee.
Niven Patel and Pushkar Marathe: Friends with a Dream
That idea got its start back when Marathe was a line cook at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, working for innovative chef Dean James Max. Chopping herbs and breaking down proteins with Marathe back then was fellow young cook Niven Patel.
“People used to make fun of us, saying, ‘You two are going to open up a curry house one day,’” Marathe laughed. “But we were dreaming of something bigger. We imagined what we could do if we combined Dean James Max’s style of farm-to-table cooking with Indian cuisine.”
Max later promoted Patel to be head chef of his restaurant in Grand Cayman, and Patel brought Marathe with him. They continued to talk about their dream of a locally sourced Indian restaurant in Miami. Patel made it a reality last May when he opened Ghee’s first location, in Downtown Dadeland. Much of the restaurant’s produce is grown on Patel’s farm in south Miami-Dade, and most everything else is locally sourced.
‘This is a Dish That’s Always Perfect’
When Patel — a semifinalist for Best Chef: South in this year’s James Beard Awards — planned to open Ghee’s second location last fall, he called up his old friend. Marathe, who had been cooking in Palm Beach, jumped at the chance. “I said, ‘Yes, of course, let’s get started.’” He and Patel are already dreaming of what’s next, which might soon include a restaurant in Palm Beach County.
Ghee’s cooking style is based on fresh ingredients that don’t need much coaxing. That’s exemplified in the dish Marathe chose to highlight here: flaky fish made brighter and richer with a coconut chutney. At the restaurant, it’s served whole and deboned, but you can buy filets to keep things simple. Marathe recommends snapper, because it’s easy to find locally, but he says any light white fish will do.
“This is the perfect dish for entertaining,” Marathe said. “Even if your guests arrive and you get distracted and let it cook five minutes extra, it will still be great. The coconut chutney will work as a baste to make it that much richer. No matter what you do, this is a dish that’s always perfect.”
Ghee Indian Kitchen at Miami Design District, 3620 Northeast Second Avenue, Miami; 786-636-6122; gheemiami.com.
Recipe: Patra Ni Macchi (Snapper with Coconut Chutney)
Makes 4 servings
4 snapper filets, 4-5 ounces each
2 limes, juiced
4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled
1 serrano pepper
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut
2 lemons, juiced
4-5 ice cubes
4 banana or plantain leaves
1. Prepare and heat a steamer. Meanwhile, marinate the fish with the lime juice and 2 teaspoons of salt, refrigerated, for 10 minutes.
2. Blend the cilantro, mint, ginger, serrano pepper, sugar, grated coconut, lemon juice, ice cubes and remaining salt until a paste is formed.
3. Coat the filets all over with the chutney.
4. Toast banana or plantain leaves over a flame for a few seconds, until pliable. Wrap the fish in the leaves, securing each package with kitchen twine.
5. Steam the packages for about 10 minutes, longer for thicker filets. Serve with lime wedges and rice.