Each year, Our State’s Made in NC Awards celebrate the talent and creativity of North Carolinians. Meet the state’s winners, honorable mentions, and judges. Check out all of this year’s
Cheetie Kumar grinds up an Indian five-spice blend called panch phoran that includes fenugreek, kalonji, fennel, cumin, and mustard seed. She then folds the blend into butter and adds Dijon mustard and maple syrup, creating a mixture that’s sweet, spicy, and savory. She always keeps a batch in her fridge, and she loves to slather it on winter squash like kabocha or acorn — whatever she can find fresh at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh.
Kumar was born in Pittsburgh, but at 6 months old, she moved to the northern Indian state of Punjab, and then to the Bronx when she was 8. There, cooking Indian food with her mother was a way for the family to stay connected to their heritage. It was also in New York that Kumar began to explore the cuisines of other cultures. As an immigrant, she found it easiest to make friends with other immigrants. At a Korean friend’s home, she tried kimchi and pickled fish. She had friends who were Greek, Puerto Rican, Romanian — because of them, she sampled dishes from all over the world.
During college, Kumar took road trips with friends to the South, and she liked Raleigh so much that she decided to move there after graduation. “There was something about the food culture of the South that connected with me deeply,” she says. “I didn’t intellectualize it; I just liked it.” Plus, Raleigh had a farmers market where she could shop for food in the same way that her parents had in India. There were also international food markets where she could buy Mexican, Indian, and East Asian ingredients. “This place helped me evolve my exploration of food,” she says.
But food wasn’t Kumar’s career — yet. She worked in the music industry, managing bands and playing guitar. She traveled the country and around Europe with her band, reading cookbooks in the van while on the road and exploring the foodways of the places she visited. In the Basque region of Spain and France, she loved that communal dining was a central part of life — an experience that united people. For her, food was often how she made friends.
Meanwhile, she’d met the man she would marry, Paul Siler, who, with a couple of friends, opened a live music venue called Kings in downtown Raleigh. Later, when Kings needed to relocate, the only space that the couple could find to lease was a three-story, 11,000-square-foot building that included a restaurant. So the pair and some partners reopened Kings upstairs and added a cocktail bar in the basement, Neptunes, and a restaurant, Garland, on the first floor.
At Garland, Kumar served up dishes that featured North Carolina ingredients and celebrated her Indian roots, like trout with panch phoran and tomato chutney. Despite having no formal culinary training, Kumar was a James Beard finalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2020 and 2022 and a semifinalist in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Garland closed in 2022 after nine years in business, but Kumar has her sights set on other projects, including a restaurant in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood that will serve fresh grilled items, including skewers — a popular dish in northern India. She looks forward to exploring new ways to bring people together through food.