Fame Bites goes inside the belly of the entertainment beast. We're dishing out where the celebrities are eating, what they're eating and who they're eating with.
With episode names like “Jolly Vindaloo Day” and “A Sitar is Born,” the workplace comedy "Outsourced" is spicing up NBC's Thursday night line-up with a little Indian food and culture at 10:30 p.m. ET.
"Outsourced" is based around an Indian call center in Mumbai for Mid American Novelties, a catalog-based company that sells really practical items like wallets made of bacon and "Ring for Beer" bells.
Parvesh Cheena plays Gupta, the call center’s good-natured yet socially irksome employee - it's safe to say he's the guy you scurry away from when you see him approaching the water cooler.
We recently had the chance to chat with Cheena about his native Chicago's deep-dish pizza (Fact: He checks frozen ones in his luggage), Indian food, and why we agree that Paula Deen might need a seven-step program for butter.
"Thank you, I like that people can see themselves in him. That inner kid that we all have. He doesn’t censor anything and says what is on his mind."
This past week, Gupta received a plate of laddoos (an Indian sweet made out of gram flour and formed into balls) - so we wanted to see what your favorite type of mithai (Indian sweet) is?
"As a kid, I loved jalebis (deep-fried batter soaked in syrup) because they were totally the Indian sticky pretzel. That was the best treat that I liked. Now, being older, I realize it is a lot of sugar to have! I guess my taste has become much more savory - I’ll definitely eat cake and sweets but I don’t seek it out. I’m more of a chips and salsa and papad (dried lentil chip) type of guy.
I always loved laddoos because they were dry, it wasn’t wet like rasmalai (balls of cheese soaked in clotted cream and flavored with cardamom) or gulab jamun (deep-fried dough with flavored syrup]. You always have to equate it to your American sweets, so laddoos are kind of like donut holes or Dunkin Donuts' munchkins.
I also have a special place for laddoos because when I was little my mom would explain 'April Fool's Day' to us by telling us this story of how when she was in a convent school in Delhi, her and her friends made balls of mud and covered it with laddoos covering and served it to their professor. I love that story - always tickles me that my mom was naughty. You never think your parents are ever naughty! Now - you can’t go there, especially with food allergies.
You know, I remember playing 'taste test' when we were in second grade. Did you ever play that?"
I don’t think so…
"You’d have to close your eyes and your friends would pick the food from the fridge or cabinet. I remember one time I ate a saltine with spoonfuls of salt on it. One time, my friend Amy even ate cat food."
Dangerous! So what would you say is the best way to win Gupta’s heart or stomach?
"My boyfriend Gregory and I have found Clay Oven on Ventura Blvd. It’s in Sherman Oaks and they’ve got delicious food. I’m pescatarian, so I don’t eat chicken, beef, pork, all that stuff. They make this great vegetable tikka masala - so it’s like the fajita of Indian food with sizzling onions. After the 'Jolly Vindaloo' episode, they made us vegetarian vindaloo (a curry cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, vinegar and red Kashmiri chilies).
Gupta is definitely a sweet eater and can eat sweets all day. Without giving away too much, we have an episode this season where Gupta lets himself go. And Anisha Nagarajan's - who plays Madhuri - joke is: 'So, you were trying before?'"
Do you cook often? When you do, what is your signature dish?
"I’m actually a really bad cook, to be honest - but my signature dish is spicy mac n' cheese.
What is in your spicy mac n' cheese?
"Any good quality mac n' cheese. I go a little light on the butter and cream and add a little more cheese. I’ll even shred my own. And then loads of whatever the spicy sauce of the day is whether it is Tabasco, Cholula, or my favorite, sriracha. That is my comfort food. And then when I’m trying to be healthy after traveling, I make almond milk, brown rice, and stir-fry with a little white wine.
That sounds pretty fancy.
"I do okay –- everyone has their dishes that are their go-tos. When my family did shy away from Indian food, we’d eat a lot of Chinese. We’d use the wok a lot. I never had a problem with Brussels sprouts or broccoli growing up. I always grew up with the mentality of finishing your plate. Cauliflower is my weakness even today: I love eating cauliflower even with a little bit of dressing. My big downfall is deep-dish pizza from Chicago. That is why I can’t go vegan - I can’t give up cheese. I can’t give up dairy."
What is your advice to those who haven’t tried Indian food - whether they are nervous or scared? On the show you make a lot of jokes about how Indian food will make your stomach hurt.
"My advice is that there are always easy jokes - and we did that at the beginning because there are a lot of people who haven’t experienced Indian food. The best way is that after the joke, let’s break down the ingredients. Do you like spinach? No? Well do you like potatoes? OK - add some cauliflower and add some aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower). Do you like chicken? OK cool, we’ll show you how to make boneless chicken - your chicken tikka. The level of spice can always depend on the dish.
The best way is to not say, 'Here is aloo gobi subzi,' but say, 'here is a potato-cauliflower dish.' Do you want chicken on the bone? Or the soft chicken in the orange? To differentiate between tandoori chicken and chicken tikka."
So, just really demystify the dishes?
"Yeah, really make it accessible. I really like south Indian food. Being Punjabi myself, we would go to a south Indian restaurant once or twice a year. The good thing I realized about Southern food is that everything is separate - it’s dry, and then you dip it into the sambar (vegetable stew made from Pigeon peas, so that was really easy to explain to people too. I was afraid of Korean food when I moved to L.A., let alone sushi. I remember thinking either sink or swim. Living here in Studio City, Ventura Blvd. is the Mecca of sushi restaurants. What you thought was so exotic is just run of the mill."
I also think the issue is that people assume you order an Indian dish and just eat it in its entirety, even though much of the Indian experience is eating family-style where you take a little of everything and share.
"I did tell some friends that when we are at home at my Mom’s, we’ll have the three or four subzis (vegetables). The bindi (okra), the bhartha (eggplant), the rice, the naan. But if it is a regular casual night, we’ll just have a roti (Indian flatbread) and one subzi. If I ate the way we do when it’s a weekend or special holiday, it’s way too much. You can totally overdo it. It’s easier to eat a little daal (lentils), saag paneer (spinach and cheese), and one or two rotis.
So - who is your dream dinner date?
"I’m kind of fascinated by Paula Deen. I’ve been to her restaurant, The Lady and Sons, in Savannah. My friend was studying in the area and we ate at her restaurant and it was right at the cusp where Paula Deen became Paula Deen. I’d be curious because her spinach artichoke dip is fantastic, [as is] her eggplant Parmesan and shrimp scampi. I’d sit with her and say: 'Paula, we can’t eat this everyday.'"
An intervention with Paula Deen! I love her, but she needs a butter intervention.
"But it just tastes so good. She’d be a fun dinner date because she is not lacking with conversation.
Anisha and I are the only two on the cast who brought our old T.V.'s to our rooms on set. I’ve got the 20-inch TV that is like two feet deep. The only thing Anisha has on her TV is Food Network - we’ve been watching a lot of 'Barefoot Contessa.'"
I’m a big Giada fan, and Ina has won me over as well.
"She is so sweet! She is so happy. My dream date has to be a chef because I’d want them to cook for me and talk to me about it afterward.
It's so great - our whole cast, we are total foodies. We all go with each others' spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends. Tonight, we are going to Jitlada which is on Sunset, and Rebecca [Hazlewood] is hosting it. She is the one who sent the e-mail last night. Anisha had a big Indian dinner - she cooked everything. And, we all go out afterward. There is no BS about it at all.
You know talking to you, I guess I am a foodie.
This past week with friends in town we went to FireFly, Lotería, Pizzeria Mozza, Kiwami Sushi, Hugo’s. Earlier in the week, we went to Clay Oven; last night we went to Dominick’s. I realized that I’ve gone to all my favorite restaurants around town so I definitely need to bring it back to reality and eat at home!"
Devna Shukla is an Associate Producer for CNN's AC360°.