India native shares culture with Utahns through love of food

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DAYBREAK, Utah (ABC4 News) – Lavanya Mahate was born and raised in South India. In 2000, she moved to Utah and has been here since. Ten years after her arrival in the United States, she followed her passion and opened a restaurant.

Now, nine years later, she’ll soon open the fourth Saffron Valley location in the Salt Lake Valley.

“I’ve been always passionate about food from a very young age,” says Mahate. “Food is what I love and it’s just my passion…I think we’re able to spread the love of Indian food and culture with the people of Utah.”

Saffron Valley owner Lavanya Mahate dishes up a customers order of chicken tikka masala.

While it takes passion to follow a dream, Mahate says in Indian culture, people show their love for one another through food. And that’s why she and some of her employees were selling the restaurant’s food at the Bollywood Festival on Saturday.

“Food is a universal language. I think everybody speaks food,” says Mahate. “But it’s a huge part of our culture.”

Mahate says one of her favorite things about owning a restaurant is “when somebody who’s never tried Indian food tries it and loves it.”

“It’s an opportunity for us – from India –  to share our culture,” Mahate says.

Mahate says most Americans think Indian food is hot, spicy and unhealthy, but she says that’s not true.

“Indian food is fresh, flavorful, and just has a great combination of textures, flavors, [and] colors,” Mahate says.

Talking about the amount of time it takes to prepare Indian food, Mahate says another misconception Americans have about her culture’s food is that it’s cheap buffet food.

“People won’t pay if it’s expensive, but it’s the most labor-intensive food to prepare,” Mahate says.

With three Saffron Valley restaurants open, Mahate hopes to change people’s perception of Indian food and make her culture’s food a more mainstream restaurant in Utah.

The grand opening of the Riverton Saffron Valley will be held on Thursday, Aug. 15.  

The third annual Bollywood Festival was held in Daybreak. Organizers say they plan to continue embracing other cultures and heritage through events such as the Bollywood Festival.

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