On The Line: Geeta Bansal Of Clay Oven, Part One

Geeta Bansal doesn't sit still. Her travel plans to visit chefs Europe are around the corner, and they've just finalized plans for another dinner collaboration– and that's just for October. Most recently, they served wild boar at Taste of Newport. Plans to prep their signature Thanksgiving turkeys for sale are daunting. Maybe this year (it's been 22) they'll actually have one left over for themselves.

Your earliest food memory:
Warm milk with chocolate-flavored Bournvita. It's a powdered mix from Cadbury. It was the only way I would drink milk.

Favorite meal growing up:
My favorite food while growing up was Chinese, especially chili chicken with fried rice. Chinese food is the second most popular cuisine in India.

Your best recent food find:
Gold and silver edible spray paint from Germany.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Onions. They form the base of a lot of dishes. People forget to mention them sometimes when they are discussing a recipe. It's taken for granted. Onions by themselves can be a dish, or a garnish to a dish.

How long have you been operating out of Irvine?
For the last 26 years.

How did the pop-up ideas come about?
Through meeting and brainstorming with other chefs in the local culinary community, and wanting to create a novel dining experience.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Well-traveled and informed clientele who embrace new culinary ideas.

What fast food do you admit to eating?
Once in a while, In-N-Out. I get a hamburger, Animal-style and protein-style, no pickles, extra chopped chiles. It's one of the few late, late night options.

What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Mighty Leaf green tropical tea from Whole Foods.

Why do you think diners love chicken tikka masala more than any other dish?
It is the most reviewed and written-about dish in Indian restaurants. I think it has to do with the fact that chicken is a basic protein, and the tomato-based sauce is universally appealing.

What are some of the advantages/disadvantages to working with your family?
The biggest advantage is that we always have each other's back. A definite disadvantage is that we can never get away from work, even at home.

One food you can't live without:
Dark chocolate. It's my happy food.

Where was your most recent meal?
At home, some ratatouille with Indian spices using vegetables from my garden.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Be adventurous, creative and use the best quality ingredients you can find.

You mention Ayruveda on your website.How does the ancient Hindu treatise relate back to your cuisine?

We match spices and herbs to dishes based on their beneficial effects in combination with the main ingredient. Ayurvedic belief is that food feeds the mind, body and soul, and should be prepared with love and good feelings.

What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
Guilty of it myself, but to each their own.

Favorite chef.
It's a tie between two chefs. Carme Ruscalleda of San Pau restaurant near Barcelona because of her sensorial, delicate and meticulous food. The other chef is Elena Arzak of Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain, because of her amazing skills of experimenting with new techniques and food combinations.

Are there any other collaborations in the works?
There are! [Editor's Note: She has creative ideas for days about future themes and people she'd like to work with, but we are keeping the details under wraps until her plans are solid.]

What are the quintessential herbs and spices in cooking Indian cuisine?
Cumin, coriander, Kashmiri chilies, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cilantro, fenugreek and garam masala. They are categorized by taste, color and aroma.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Crunchy fried moss at Noma in Copenhagen. It tasted like a mushroom.

There's a stereotype of having a buffet with your cuisine. Is that the standard in the restaurant business?
It isn't, but we do it to offer guests a way to get a quick lunch with a variety of freshly-prepared choices.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
Javier's at the Irvine Spectrum, The Playground in Santa Ana and Drago Centro in Los Angeles.

You're making breakfast. What are you having?
An omelette with spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms and Herbs de Provence.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it):
One customer requested all of the skins we remove from our Thanksgiving Tandoori turkeys. We did not oblige.

We noticed a lot of vegetarian options. Do you cater to other dietary restrictions, like gluten-free?
We cater to most dietary restrictions, such as vegan and gluten-free cooking. We even make a gluten-free bread.

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