Get to Know Meherwan Irani

With five lauded restaurants across the South and Spicewalla, his small-batch spice company, Meherwan Irani continues to have the golden touch

Photo: Jack Sorokin

Irani playing around with turmeric in Spicewalla’s Asheville factory.

Known for his work as a chef, restaurateur, and spice dealer. Irani was born in London and raised in India. He opened his first restaurant, Chai Pani, in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2009, and launched Spicewalla in 2017 to supply fresh spices, first to chefs and now to home cooks.

First job: “Waiting tables in Myrtle Beach at a French patisserie. I married the owner’s daughter, Molly.”

Odd job: “When I finished my MBA at the University of South Carolina, we moved to San Francisco. The idea of sitting in an office selling stocks over the phone sounded miserable. I saw an ad for a Lexus dealership, and spent twelve years selling cars.”

On opening a restaurant: “It’s easier to understand business and learn about food than it is to understand food and learn about business.”

On selling fresh spices and herbs: “At our restaurants, we only reach people who walk in our front doors. I look at our Spicewalla tins as bringing that same love and passion we have in the restaurants into your kitchen.”

The Oprah effect: “My first memory of grad school was standing in the cafeteria trying to figure out how to work the Coke machine—I had never seen one. In the seating area, a bunch of people were transfixed around the TV. I wandered over and watched Oprah. That was my first American experience. Ever since, I’ve loved what she stands for. To find out Oprah picked Spicewalla to be on her [2019] list of ‘favorite things’? That was full circle.”

Misperception about Indian cuisine: “That it’s all heavily spiced.”

Underappreciated spice: “Black mustard seeds. Heat up oil and pop the seeds in it. They flavor the oil and work great with pickling, stews, and salad dressings.”

Good advice: “My dad said, ‘When you go to America, make sure you’re always nice to everybody. You never know if the guy waiting tables could one day be your doctor.’”