Get your seat at the table for Mountain Masala Appalachian Curry Dinner

Tony Casey • Oct 23, 2016 at 4:40 PM

International Storytelling Center President Kiran Sirah grew up in the kitchen, cooking Punjabi (northern Indian) food with his family, but he didn’t have the hands-on experience of growing his own food until he moved to East Tennessee.

Taught by the right people, including Emily Bidgood of the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council, Sirah began growing his own tomatoes in his backyard. After using the literal fruits of his labor, he made almost two dozen jars of tomato-based curry. Putting them on his front porch, Sirah generously went to social media to advertise that he was giving away the jars to any and all friends.

The jars immediately disappeared.

Now, Sirah and Bidgood, among others, have schemed up a larger scale curry feed for the public. Chef Sirah will be cooking up food for what’s being billed as a “one-night curry stand” on the evening of Nov. 5, from 4-8 at 232 Commerce St. in downtown Johnson City. The event is called “Mountain Masala Appalachian Curry Dinner,” and the beneficiaries, aside from those ticketholders who get their fill, will be local nonprofits that teach farming and business skills to youths and beginning farmers in the region.

This list includes the organization, over which Bidgood is the executive director, and groups like Build It Up and Foodtopia. The menu consists of the main curry dish, naan bread, Yee-Haw Brewing Company craft beer and more — all for $20.

“We wanted to do something a little different, a little outside the box,” Bidgood said. “We think in doing something different, we’ll attract different people.”

Because the event is being put on by growers and lovers of locally-sourced food, much of the ingredients will come from gardens and farms here in East Tennessee.

Jamie Dove, who helps head the CityFarm location where the dinner is being hosted, said the space can hold about 100 diners. This is location from which Dove’s River Creek Farm Community Supported Agriculture pickups occur. For those who don’t land tickets, there will be an a la carte menu, but the pieced-together meals will most likely exceed that $20 ticket price.

Bidgood said tickets have already started to move, and on a first-come, first-serve basis, seats at the meal are going quickly. Tickets are available through www.arcd.org, which is where seat reservations can be made.

Both Dove and Bidgood are proponents of the local food movement that encourages people to cultivate and enjoy their own vegetables. While the Science Hill Alternative High School is one of those places, with students growing items that are distributed through the River Creek Farm CSA, these students are also going to be a part of putting on the Mountain Masala event.

“We’re going to be paying some of the teens to help with the event,” Bidgood said.

Under teacher Sheri Cooper, Bidgood said the students get the best kind of education — hands-on education that results in them being able to eat what they produce. This is exactly what the locally-sourced food movement is about. But it always needs help, and with event’s like this curry dinner, more funds equate to more hands-on experiences and learning opportunities.

Sirah sees the process of making a meal much like the process of storytelling — with which he’s very familiar.

“There’s a beginning, middle and end,” he said, referencing the growing and cultivating of food, preparing it and then sharing it with friends.

He’s traveled the world and seen curry at nearly every stop along the way. He describes it as an “infusion” food. That’s why it’s the perfect choice for the menu of Mountain Masala, as it can be prepared with an Appalachian twist. With a Sikh family tradition, Sirah talked about what it means to share food with others, from a spiritual perspective.

“In my tradition, when you share food with each other, you’re in prayer,” he said. “That’s the highest former of prayer, and that’s why every Sikh temple has a kitchen.

“The sense of community is where it comes from. It’s like the Christian tradition of breaking bread with one another.”

Sirah will be breaking bread with many on Nov. 5, and he hopes the community will come out and join him. Local tomatoes, okra, collared greens and more will be a part of the meal, tying in those Appalachian staples.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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