In addition to Chef Piuma’s honor, you also chose Sarma as Somerville’s Best Restaurant Overall, Best Restaurant on Winter Hill, and Best Middle Eastern.
Chef Cassie Piuma thinks she started cooking in her mid-teens, a bit more than 20 years ago, and says that the constant challenge of improving a dish is what keeps her coming back to the kitchen at her restaurant, Sarma, for six years now.
“I like fixing things and making them better and improving on something,” says Piuma. “My journey is something like working on things that are already good and seeing how we can improve them. To be creative and push boundaries.”
On the other hand, though, sometimes you just get it right pretty much on the first try. Witness her addictive lamb köfte sliders, which she says are “representative of Sarma.”
“They have been on the menu since day one,” the chef acknowledges. “We’ve certainly gotten more efficient in making them, but the components have not changed, the ingredients are the same. I love that dish! It’s never come off the menu and it never will.”
Ground lamb. Browned butter. Tomato. Pickles. A bun. Such a simple package, to bring such satisfaction. But even if Piuma hasn’t fiddled with the recipe, there is still that sense of invention behind it. After all, sliders are a decidedly American bit of nosh, while köfte can be traced back to ancient meatballs and meatloafs of the Balkans, Turkey, India, parts of Asia.
That’s what Sarma is all about for Piuma. It’s a dedication to bringing far-flung flavors—especially those of the Middle East and Mediterranean—and composing them into dishes that are tantalizing in both their familiarity and their newness. The integration of the old and the new in ways that are faithful to both.
Even with more than two decades of cooking experience, Piuma says she’s constantly trying to treat her own skills the way she treats her recipes, looking for new angles to explore. Those may be found in her travels, or they may be found by Sarma’s stove. One of her sous chefs, who has a background in traditional French cuisine, showed her how to imbue a new green curry dish they were developing with a bright, vibrant green color that had eluded her.
“It’s because he’s using more technical cooking skills—specific ratios, timings, methods,” says Piuma. “Without his help, I wouldn’t be able to achieve the dish on that level. I intend on putting it on the menu.”
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