Dubbed the “Indian Spice Master” by the Food Network, Chef Kiran Patnam of Apropoe’s at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront has been experimenting with spices since his mom taught him to cook as a boy growing up in Hyderabad, India.
Over the years, Patnam’s talents have been proven at Marriott properties in India and the U.S. and were on perhaps their broadest display yet when he was awarded the opportunity to showcase his culinary chops competing on “Beat Bobby Flay.”
We are going to add the competition dishes to the menu so we can share them.
Patnam had the ability to hone his craft first because of parental encouragement and then by studying at the Culinary Academy of India before embarking on his exclusive career with Marriott.
After starting in the management training program at the JW Marriott in Mumbai, Patnam moved to the United States in 2008, and continued his work at Marriott resorts in Arizona and at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, in Maryland.
Now Baltimore is lucky to claim Patnam, who has been bringing his big, bold flavors to Apropoe’s since 2016.
We actually built a small kitchen here at the hotel just like the stadium kitchen at the Food Network.
Still, earning a spot on “Beat Bobby Flay” required not only talent, but persistence — and a serving of patience. Patnam applied three times over the course of years before getting the call from the Food Network. And that call set off a a series of elaborate steps before the episode was even filmed, including creating five unique recipes to impress the committee, interviews by phone and Skype, videoed cooking demos and more.
“The waiting from one step to the second step was nerve-wracking,” Patnam admits. But he seized all of that downtime as an opportunity to practice, practice and practice some more. “That’s a big gift I got from this company,” Patnam says of the time he spent preparing for the cook-off. “My bosses, cooks and coworkers all helped me out.”
And they didn’t just give the gift of time and support, but did some heavy-duty sleuthing, too. “We actually built a small kitchen here (at the hotel) just like the stadium kitchen at the Food Network. Dry storage here. Pantry there. Meat cooler on that side,” Patnam explains.
Like a good mise en place, this gave Patnam confidence that he could go into the show with no surprises. He practiced with almost 150 different ingredients that might possibly turn up as “secret ingredients” in the first round of the competition.
The cooks on his team tried to stump Patnam with unexpected ingredients, including grapefruit and almonds, to build his repertoire and create a plan. “This way I knew, ‘This is what I’m going to do if I get a citrus. This is what I’ll do with red meat.'”
All of this homework and long days paid off. When Patnam arrived on set, he felt confident. “I kept saying, ‘I’m going to win. No stress.'”
Can you guess what happened? It’s no surprise that all of that hard work paid off, and Chef Patnam defeated his competition and did, in fact, beat Bobby Flay.
Marriott TRAVELER caught up with Patnam to talk spices, the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay, and, of course, how one prepares to go up against a Food Network icon on national television.
The Food Network episode description calls you the “Indian Spice Master.” What do you think about this nickname?
I love it because I grew up eating spices, using spices in my cooking. My secret weapon when it comes to Indian food is garam masala, which is a blend of spices. I also use a lot of cumin, coriander and turmeric. It’s just perfect for me that the Food Network tells me I’m a spice master — I’ll take it!
How do you incorporate Indian spices with the local bounty of the Chesapeake Bay?
Recently, I did a curried browned butter to go with our Chesapeake Bay oysters, which was pretty unique. I cooked spinach with curried brown butter, which goes on the bottom, then a raw oyster and a turmeric hollandaise. It was very flavorful.
It's just perfect for me that the Food Network tells me I'm a spice master. I'll take it!
As a chef in a hotel, you may be a visitor’s first introduction to Baltimore. What do you hope your menu highlights about Charm City?
The big thing for our restaurant is the crab cakes, and I always suggest that before you leave our hotel, you’ve got to try them. They are very simple — Maryland crab meat, Old Bay, lemon juice, chives, a bit of mayonnaise and a little bit of crackers to bind it all together.
I lightly season them with salt and pepper and then pan fry and serve them with fresh corn and a tarragon aioli on the side. It’s a very refreshing dish.
Recently we came up with the idea of a Maryland crab scramble. It’s basically very light and fluffy scrambled eggs topped with Maryland crabmeat and local cheese. Sometimes we get a local goat cheese, other times a local boursin or garlic-flavored cheese. It’s served with homemade french fries. We recently added it to the bar menu, too. Presently, at 2:00 a.m., we’re getting a lot of orders for this one!
We also recently added a vegetarian dish that’s eggplant and oatmeal croquettes served with a bell pepper and bean ragout. We mix roasted eggplant and oatmeal to make croquettes that are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian. It’s one of my personal favorites.
The Harbor East waterfront area is constantly growing and changing. What do you recommend guests must do when they are in the area?
My personal favorite, and a walkable distance from the hotel, is the National Aquarium. If you’re there at the right time, staff may invite you to help feed the birds. (Here’s a tip: Check the schedule before visiting for daily animal encounters.)
So, now that you’ve conquered one big goal, what’s in store for the new year?
First, we are going to launch a new menu [at Apropoe’s] after the show airs. We are going to add the competition dishes to the menu so we can share them. Next, we are trying to take this restaurant to reach more people in Baltimore and to constantly change the menus based on the season and use local ingredients and produce as much as possible.