As a boy growing up in India, Kirti Pant, executive chef at Palo Alto’s Junoon, moved around a lot. His father was in the air force, and every couple of years his family would pack up and relocate to another part of the country. While all that moving was undoubtedly hard on his friendships, it offered him a great education in the regional cuisines of India.

With each move, his mother immersed herself in cooking regional food. Because his family had lots of dinner parties, Pant got to eat a wide variety of food from his culinarily diverse homeland.

“That’s where my passion for Indian food started,” Pant says. “I knew right at the beginning I wanted to be a chef.”
That’s why he ditched plans to go to medical school and went for a degree in hotel and restaurant management instead. He would rather work in a kitchen than a hospital.

Pant’s cooking has taken him all over the world. He was sous-chef at London’s groundbreaking Cinnamon Club, one of the first restaurants to elevate Indian cooking to fine dining with its contemporary take on the cuisine. Then he went to New York City to work at Tamarind, another restaurant that helped establish modern Indian cooking.

In 2006, Pant helped open Junnoon in Palo Alto. The restaurant doesn’t so much reinvent Indian cuisine as give it a modern spin. Pant starts with the fundamentals of classic Indian cuisine and adds an updated presentation and style. The tandoor-grilled halibut with coconut-ginger sauce and smoky “Old Delhi”-style chicken are delicious examples of his approach.

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