Old Village Post House celebrates Malabar Coast cuisine

Chef Forrest Parker greets Jimmy Hagood at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival's Opening Night Gala on Wednesday March 4, 2015 in Marion Square. Parker served country captain. Grace Beahm/Staff

Most restaurant kitchen chatter can’t be repeated in a family-friendly newspaper, but one of the debates that’s lately occupied the line cooks at Old Village Post House is touchingly clean: Would you rather eat only meat or only vegetables for the rest of your life?

Chef Forrest Parker is firmly on the side of plants, even though he long ago concluded his youthful stint as a vegetarian. “It was before I realized chicken salad was really tasty,” he says, laughing. During those years, a steady diet of rice and beans persuaded him to explore traditionally meatless cuisines, including Indian cookery.

“It really kind of blew my mind,” Parker recalls. “The variety of not just the flavors, but the textures: That crispy meets chewy.”

Parker this month is opening Mt. Pleasant’s summer season of wine dinners with a $70 meal devoted to dishes inspired by the Malabar Coast, a busy southwest Indian trading region that’s absorbed edible influences from around the world. For example, gobi Manchurian is a Chinese cauliflower preparation adapted for the Indian palate. Parker is calling his version of the saucy General Tso’s-like dish “KFC,” or Kerala Fried Cauliflower.

“I think people will be pleasantly surprised,” Parker says. “There’ll be a substantial amount of food that’s familiar, but just in a different context.”

The five-course menu includes coconut collards, okra lady fingers and saffron potato bhajji, which Parker describes as saffron mashed potatoes. He’s also planning to serve country captain kofta, a nod to the Lowcountry’s longstanding relationship with India.

Southern chefs have begun making hay of the cultural and culinary overlaps between the Southeastern U.S. and Southern India, both former cotton-growing colonies and bastions of leafy green fandom. After sampling fried okra and stewed sweet potatoes at an upscale Indian restaurant in New York City, John T. Edge, writing for the Oxford American, noted, “Both dishes tasted Southern. And they tasted other. And they got me thinking about the transnational identities now being forged in this newest of New Souths.”

“Indian cuisine -- and especially that of the southern states Kerala and Tamil Nadu -- are trending,” Parker says. “Look at what Asha Gomez did in Atlanta with her restaurant Cardamom Hill, or what Chai Pani in Asheville or Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville are doing.”

Here in Charleston, Parker’s dinner is scheduled for Apr. 15. The meal starts with sparkling wine in at the courtyard at 6:30 p.m.; dinner will be served at 7 p.m. For more information or reservations, call 388-8935.