Much of Cheetie Kumar’s life has felt like fate. She fell for Raleigh on an impromptu visit during college, thanks to its welcoming spirit and inherent diversity. It immediately felt like home. A couple decades later, she’d find out there was probably a reason for that: It turns out her hometown of Chandigarh, India, a modern city in the country’s northern reaches, was designed by a Raleigh-based architect. A professional musician—she plays guitar opposite her husband in rock band Birds of Avalon—she decided to open a restaurant when a new location for her husband’s music venue included space for one. At Garland, she serves the foods of her childhood, re-focused through a Southern lens.
“So many of the ingredients available in Raleigh are almost identical to what my mother would get in India.”
What drew you to Raleigh?
I loved the warmth of the people; there was a sense of community. I realized the State Farmers Market is a mile away, and it’s open everyday. I saw there were so many Asian and Indian grocery stores. It felt like a place where I could build my life and figure myself out without having the pressure of living in a big city. It was a place where I could be free.
How do you describe your food at Garland?
Locally sourced, Indo pan-Asian. India is the springboard, but we also explore the common uses of ingredients. So many of the ingredients available in Raleigh are almost identical to what my mother would get in India. We blur a lot of borders and boundaries. Sometimes we reinvent history. And it’s always about migration in a way.
Did the city embrace
I felt very embraced by the core creative class of Raleigh, by other chefs. I felt held up by them. But it did take a minute for us to reach a point where we had a sustainable business. I was struggling to find words to describe our cuisine, and that really was a conversation and a conflict that I had to resolve in myself.
Why was Raleigh a good place to open a restaurant?
The balance between the economics and creative impetus has been harmonious. The city didn’t grow in a super commercial way. It was the perfect storm of it being affordable enough for people without a lot of money or corporate investments. There was enough of a community to sustain things. It allowed people to be creative, to take a chance on a spot and make it happen.