Chef Kirti Pant has been cooking modern Indian cuisine at Junnoon (pronounced “Juh-noon”) since it opened in Palo Alto in 2006. The 36-year-old chef grew up on air force bases all over India, where he was born. Pant’s mother was a wonderful cook, and he enjoyed cooking with other air force families, and learned about the various regional cuisines of India. This background is one of the reasons that Junnoon owner Sabena Puri brought Pant on board. She was looking for someone beyond the “heat and curry” food that many diners may expect from a commercial Indian kitchen. Pant says his understanding of food diversity is reflected on Junnoon’s menu, with “an eclectic menu from regions all over India,” rather than one singular type of Indian food. Spices are ground daily, meats are seasoned and cooked to order and a variety of sauces are available. Dishes include Darjeeling steamed wontons with pork and green chilies, Bombay crab and cod cake, and tangy semolina shells filled with chickpeas, mint and tamarind.
Chef Floyd Cardoz of NYC’s famed “New Indian” Tabla restaurant helped develop the menu with Pant, and Cardoz is a consulting chef and partner in the restaurant. Before landing at Junnoon, Panti worked at the Cinnamon Club in London, Tamarind in NYC, and studied at the Institute for Hotel Management in New Dehli, where he quickly realized he wanted to become a chef.
Pant lives in the East Bay with his wife, Aparna, and young daughter, Anika. He loves a samosa from Bharat Bazar in Fremont, which he considers a guilty pleasure. His wife Aparna is a vegetarian, so the choice of Green’s for date night makes sense. Pant sites its “great location, overlooking the waterfront and stuffed mushroom entrée” as reasons for visiting the San Francisco classic. The Pants also enjoy the prix fixe menu on the The Napa Valley Wine Train for a date night getaway.
The Pants like to go to Sala Thai in Fremont, for “good Thai food” where orders of basil fried rice, Penang chicken and Thai red curry with vegetables are favorites. In Sunnyvale, Pant seeks out Saravana Bhavan, a chain vegetarian South Indian restaurant. Daughter Anika gets mini idli, which are “coin-sized steamed rice and lentil dumplings with sambar and coconut chutney.” Sambar vadas, which are lentil dumplings in a spiced lentil and veggie broth, are another favorite. Pant says he loves to also try “Mysore masala dosa and sambar” while at Saravana Bhavan as well.
Aparna loves Chinese food, so the family goes to PF Chang’s for the hot and sour soup, steamed wontons, curried vegetables and Kung Pao chicken. “Because it’s kid friendly,” they also go to another chain restaurant: Elephant Bar & Grill, for orders of warm asparagus dip with chips and braised lamb shank with roast gravy and mashed potatoes are their standard go-to items.