Born and raised near Hyderabad, India, a place famous for Mughlai cuisine, Asif R. Syed has been cooking from an early age. Before opening his restaurant 21 Spices by Chef Asif in East Naples, Syed served for 14 years as the executive chef at the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort. He was named the Curry King at the Tampa Bay International Curry Festival in 2013 and 2015. Last year, Syed competed on Guy Fieri’s reality cooking show, Guy’s Grocery Games, which inspired him to open 21 Spices last December. Syed launched his restaurant to present traditional dishes from India in a modern fashion.
“Cooking is like the ocean—it’s never-ending. Every single day you come to learn and know something new.” – Chef Asif
Influences: After I finished my bachelor’s degree, I lived on the island of Cyprus to do an advanced course in culinary art. I had lots of influences from there because that country is considered one of the healthiest in the world. I saw freshness in the food and Mediterranean styles of cooking.
Favorite ingredients: Spices, of course! I have 21 secret spices and I carry them everywhere I travel or cook, whether it’s to a charity event or a high-end wedding. Other than that, I love local produce—seasonal fruits and vegetables and fresh herbs like cilantro, lemongrass, and mint.
Where inspiration comes from: I love to meet people of different cultures and talk to elderly people about the old recipes they used. They might share with you something special they’ve perfected over the years that really works wonders.
Defining moment as a chef: When I was on the Food Network last year, Guy Fieri gave me a lot of encouragement and motivation. He told us, “You can be successful in life; you just have to pursue your dreams.” I left a very comfortable job with a lot of benefits to take this risk, and I’m glad I did it.
For the love of Naples: I’ve lived in this area for 16 years and I think I owe something to the community. I would never have opened a restaurant anywhere else before I started something in Naples, and that’s something I’m proud of.