Suman Chaniyil of Le Indya is on a mission to change the perception of Indian food in America. The chef (known to his customers as Sam) hails from Kerala province on India’s southern coast, which is famous for seafood from the nearby Arabian Sea. The region is also known as the spice capital of the world and is a major exporter of cardamom, cloves, and black pepper, as well as coconut milk and oil. Chaniyil immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 and operates two successful restaurants in Fort Myers. He opened Le Indya in Naples last July.
“Spicy doesn’t necessarily mean hot,” he explains. “There are thousands of cook – ing techniques in India, but they all rely on unique blends of spices. If you change just one element, the entire dish is different. My goal is to give customers the same taste and flavor I would get at home.”
He’s also a cheerleader for the health benefits of Indian food. A spice such as turmeric, which contains the anti inflammatory cur-cumin, can make a significant contribution to well-being. Chaniyil is quick to point out that the use of canned or processed food is unknown in India, a practice he has carried over to his restaurants here.
“We use only fresh ingredients and cook everything from scratch every day. All our vegetables come from local markets. Our meats are slow-cooked in a tandoor oven, so we avoid the use of oil.”
His passion has resulted in popular appetizers such as Onion Bhajhi (coated in chickpea flour and spices), Fish Nirvana (simmered in turmeric infused coconut milk with curry leaves and mustard seeds), and no fewer than 14 dishes containing goat meat. Le Indya also offers a comprehensive vegan and vegetarian menu, which reflects health-conscious trends in both India and the U.S.
“We’re grateful for the reception we’ve had here in Naples,” he says. “Our clientele is sophisticated and well traveled, and they appreciate what we’re trying to do.”