Pantry Portrait: Cheetie Kumar

Pantry Portrait: Cheetie Kumar

The chef behind Raleigh favorite Ajja opened her pantry to share her essentials, from which spice blend is her go-to, to her favorite veggie swap for a classic roux.

I believe food is the most fundamental vehicle for connection on this planet. I strongly believe in eating with the seasons and sourcing locally. Thoughtful use of spice and aromatics is the backbone of my approach to all food. Coaxing the natural depth of flavor in ingredients while maintaining a brightness and textural complexity is a puzzle that is endlessly inspiring.

Cheetie's Top Five

Fresh Whole Spices

I can’t live without coriander, fennel and cumin. I consider this my go-to trifecta and don’t want to split them up!


Zest, juice, preserved, dried—I lean heavily into all the iterations of this essential finisher in my repertoire.

White Wine

Always be deglazing that fond!

Caramelized Onions

Bringing depth, complexity and added richness to sauces, stews, gravies. I prefer it to a roux.


I guess I’m Asian - must have/ can’t live without!

Photo Credit: Joe Payne