The law world’s loss is the food an beverage world’s gain. Cleveland native Cindhura Reddy was on her way to becoming a lawyer when her Oberlin College classmate (and future husband) Elliot Strathmann convinced her to follow her passion for food and beverage.
The rest is more or less history. After graduating in 2008, Reddy attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and joined the opening team of Mike Solomonov’s Zahav where she worked for four years.
After she and Strathmann married, the two took their love for the food industry on the road – on what she describes as a nine-month epic eating adventure through Southeast Asia and Europe -- where she reveled in discovering new techniques and ideas. Among her favorite experiences: working on a farm in Abruzzo and on a winery in Tuscany. Italian cuisine soon became a Reddy obsession.
Moving to Colorado in 2014 post-honeymoon, the couple joined Spuntino Denver in the United States, a restaurant serving traditional Italian food, allowing them to get their foot in the food industry; Strathmann took over the bar program while Reddy became chef de cuisine under Chef-Owners John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom.
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Named on Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list, she and her husband took over Spuntino Denver in the United States in 2015, adding a robust amari program along with Reddy’s thoughtful Italian cuisine. The daughter of Indian-born parents, Reddy, a 2017 StarChef Rising Star, relies on her past, incorporating touches from Indian food, along with global influences, when creating a dish.
Symrise caught up with her to learn more about her philosophy, her “must not” ingredients, and where she may travel next.
Symrise: Tell me a little bit about your background.
Cindhura Reddy: I grew up in a household that cooked and ate together and have always loved being a part of the cooking process. I was fortunate to learn to cook from my very talented family, and then professionally from the incredible chefs I've been lucky enough to work for like Michael Solomonov, Lucio Palazzo, and Erin O'Shea of Philadelphia who were the first I worked for and probably the most influential of my career. They made me love this life.
Symrise: How would you describe your cooking style?
Cindhura Reddy: I like to cook food that isn't too fussy, things that are simple and that let ingredients speak for themselves. The most ingredients I will use in a given dish are for ethnic foods, with the variety of spices and what not, but even then I think keeping it clean and simple is best.
Symrise: What are your favorite food ingredients?
Cindhura Reddy: Right now working with traditional Italian food ingredients “musts” are good oil specifically olive of course, good eggs and dairy products like Parmesan cheese, and fresh herbs. If the core ingredients are right, the rest is pretty straightforward. “Must-not” ingredients are a little trickier, it's great that premade or overly processed products generally don't have a place in most kitchens these days.
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Symrise: Where do you get your cooking inspiration? I understand you've traveled a lot.
Cindhura Reddy: Traveling is definitely a source of inspiration for dishes. Whenever I'm looking for a new idea or even element to a dish, combing through old travel journals is usually an easy solution. I would love to spend time in South America, specifically Argentina and Peru, I think the cuisine there would be really exciting to explore.
Symrise: What do you cook at home when not at the restaurant?
Cindhura Reddy: I do love cooking Indian food at home; it's often a full day process that keeps us fed for a long time!
Symrise: A flip side to that question: what are you trying to master now in the kitchen?
Cindhura Reddy: I'm exploring the world of dumplings right now; it's kind of an easy side project after years of pasta making, but the variety of types, flavors and textures from different countries really interest me. Also, they're delicious because you can pack them with ingredients like parmesan cheese, nuts, among others.
Symrise: What’s your favorite dish on your menu and why?
Cindhura Reddy: My favorite dish on our menu right now is a porchetta-style lamb dish. It's a ground lamb sausage wrapped with lamb belly, trussed, sous vide overnight, sliced into rounds and seared to order. I had never worked with lamb belly this way, and it was a really fun experiment and a challenge to troubleshoot. We serve it with mascarpone polenta, fava beans, and a lamb demi-Luxardo amaro reduction.
Symrise: Where do you like to eat when you're “off-duty?”
Cindhura Reddy: Some of my favorite places in Denver are up and down Federal Street, predominately hole in the wall Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants. There is a great Szechaun place, husband and wife run, that has made some of my favorite day off meals called Lao Wang.
Symrise: If you were stuck on a desert island -- what kitchen utensil would you take or what kind of food and why?
Cindhura Reddy: Ignoring practical answers like a water purifier, matches, some life-sustaining super food, etc., I would say pizza. A lifetime of cooking has taught me I could eat pizza every day.