When he was growing up in Hyderabad, India, Chef Kiran Patnam, executive sous chef for the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Harbor East, remembers making special journeys with his dad just to buy their favorite ingredients.
“My father is a great cook too,” Patnam says, sitting in the dining room in Apropoe’s (700 Aliceanna St.,  895-1879), the hotel’s restaurant. “We used to walk a long time in the farmers market, me and my father. [If] he likes a particular vendor, he wants to go by cilantro just from him. For some reason he thinks that’s better. I remember one day we took a bus to buy cinnamon. We traveled like 20 minutes, then walked for five, 10 minutes. That particular vendor, he was selling cinnamon sticks. We bought the cinnamon stick, get on the bus, walk home, just for cinnamon!”
In January, Patnam was on the culinary competition show “Beat Bobby Flay,” and bested Flay with his take on the Indian classic butter chicken. On the show, Flay used a pre-made spice mix while Patnam opted to carefully mix his own spices.
Patnam, 31, has been excelling at cooking since he started culinary school back in India. He worked at the JW Marriott in Mumbai, then came to the United States where he was quickly promoted to leadership positions at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Arizona and then at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland. He says cooking is more than just a job for him.
“When I wake up, when I’m sleeping, I’m waiting [and wondering] when is the morning going to come to go to work, I am not kidding,” he says.
Here in Baltimore, Patnam doesn’t spend much time cooking himself. Instead, he’s charged with leading a kitchen that feeds as many as 300 people in less than three hours.
“I can’t be cooking on one station, I can’t lead that way,” Patnam says. “I gotta be overseeing every single thing in the restaurant, including the dishwashers.”
Patnam says that his parents watched the episode of “Beat Bobby Flay,” with his brother back in India. It was a full-circle moment, because his family has always supported his career.
“When my father saw me on TV . . . he cried. He was so happy, he felt so emotional. That’s what they want to see their kids to be. I think this is the top of the game. There is nothing better than this. I made their day, I believe.”
Patnam was thinking of his parents when he chose his Flay-beating dish for the show. He could have prepared anything, but chose the butter chicken dish because it meant something to him.
“It is a connection,” he says. “Wherever [I] go, I can’t forget my basis, where I came from. I’ve done fancy dishes, I’ve done fancy restaurants, fine dining . . . but what makes me, what brings me here is those dishes. I have a very high respect [for] those kind of dishes. I grew up eating those dishes so I wanted to showcase that.”