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America's First 'Celebrity Chef' Was an Indian Immigrant in the 1880s

A dinner at Sherry's, New York City, taken Nov. 30, '08. (Image credits: Wikimedia Commons.)

A dinner at Sherry's, New York City, taken Nov. 30, '08. (Image credits: Wikimedia Commons.)

A 2016 book by historian Sarah Lohman named Eight Flavors talks about how Smile went on to create a name for himself in the American society who were oblivious to the complex curries of Indian subcontinent.

The Indian diaspora around the world has registered a number of feats on their name but did you know that the status of a celebrity chef was also first achieved by an Indian chef?

Before the world had Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, or Nigella Lawson, there was a man named Prince Ranji Smile who had emigrated from Karachi to London in the 1800s. After working in England’s Cecil hotels, he impressed Louis Sherry, a prominent restaurant owner with his curry recipe. Smile then sailed across the Atlantic ocean with his English wife to introduce the Americans with his delectable Indian cuisine in 1899.

A 2016 book by historian Sarah Lohman named Eight Flavors talks about how Smile went on to create a name for himself in the American society who were oblivious to the complex curries of Indian subcontinent. The book also talks about how a reporter in The New York Letter described the good-looking Indian chef as having “clear dark skin, brilliant black eyes, smooth black hair, and the whitest of teeth.

With the help of restaurateur Sherry, Smile got the job in his eponymous Fifth Avenue restaurant and by 1907, he was travelling across America performing cooking demonstrations at department stores and food halls. With his charming looks and exotic culinary talents, Smile had beguiled the west especially its women.

A Park County Bulletin from November 17, 1899 quotes Smile as saying that if the women of America will eat the food that he prepares, they will become more beautiful than they imagine. To sell his recipes and the Indian cuisine, Smile also claimed that with his food, their eyes will grow lustrous, their complexion will become lovelier, and their figure will become like those of “beautiful Indian women.”

A report by The Better Inida also mentions what items were on his menu and it included the Indian Bhagi Topur, Kalooh Sherry, Murghi Rain, Muskie Sindh, Curry of Chicken Madras, and Bombay Duck.

However, Smile could not carry on his legacy in the US due to the colonialists who ruled the country. The Immigration Act of 1917 banished South Asians like Smile from obtaining legal citizenship in the US. Smile was also asked to get drafted to fight for the US in World War I even though he would not be a US citizen.

The gentleman declined to fight for the country and it is reported that he returned to India with his wife. However, not much is known of his return to India and what happened afterwards.

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