Ashley Popat

Executive Chef


Executive Chef Ashley Popat is an intuitive culinary natural.  Although she has never received formal training, she has garnered considerable notoriety and acclaim in the San Diego dining scene for her exquisite Indian cuisine, most recently being named San Diego’s Top Indian Chef of 2009 by California Connect.  By combining familial cooking techniques with the refined idiosyncrasies of her self-trained palate and genuine knack for the profession, Chef Popat delivers her own interpretation of her home cuisine at Monsoon in Downtown San Diego, an interpretation that manages to be both faultlessly traditional, and cleverly innovative and inspired.

Unlike the majority of others in her profession, Chef Popat never dreamed of becoming a chef.  When she and her brothers came to San Diego and opened their first restaurant, Chef Popat took over the cooking only at the urging of her siblings, a request she considered to be “a great honor.”  When it first opened, Monsoon was more of a fast food, a la carte restaurant than the fine dining establishment it is now, and featured cuisines from around the globe, rather than focusing on Indian dishes.  Although she had a strong foundation in Indian cuisine from cooking with her mother, and was known at home for “wowing” her family with finely crafted desserts, she had little background in other culinary styles.

She educated herself by pouring over different cookbooks, “going out to eat a lot” at restaurants around town, and watching the Food Network for ideas and techniques: “it’s my dream now to be on the Food Network” she reveals with a smile.  Although Monsoon has since changed in concept, becoming more focused on Indian cuisine in a fine dining setting, this cultural eclecticism still characterizes Chef Popat’s menu, blending the flavors and ingredients of different global regions with traditional Indian dishes to make for truly distinctive and unique offerings.  Menu items like Masala Hummus are sites for delicious cultural convergence, while unconventional ingredients like the use of Mexican habanero chilies to impart greater heat to dishes, subtly transform flavor profiles and make for a delightfully surprising, yet familiar dining experience.

Of Indian descent, born in East Africa, and raised in England, Chef Popat’s diverse cultural history influences her subtly eclectic culinary vision.  Dishes like the Dizzy Noo Shak reflect her personal global journeys: while its name is Swahili in origin, the banana curry itself is a traditional Indian staple rarely seen outside of the country, and was a popular dish prepared by her mother.  This dish, perhaps more than others, reflects the complex associations that influence Chef Popat’s preparations: her dishes are the products of a complicated amalgamation of family recipes, traditional flavors, regional/global disparities, and individual inspiration.  Each dish tastes both of the recognizably traditional flavors of Indian cuisine and the distinctions of Chef Popat’s palate preferences, making for an experience that is at once hauntingly familiar, exhilaratingly exotic, and as distinctive as a signature.

Despite the infusion of different cultural influences, Chef Popat’s priority is to “educate” diners about Indian food.  While she dabbles in fusion, she does not use it unthinkingly or unilaterally in her creations: “Some restaurants experiment with fusion cuisine, but it’s not right.”  When Chef Popat combines the flavors of different cultures, she does it primarily to enhance the flavors of a particular Indian dish or ingredient. By contrasting different culinary styles and ingredients with a traditional dish, she seeks, above all else, to highlight the characteristics of Indian cuisine.  Thus, when she creates a dish like the Masala Hummus, the hummus itself becomes a complementary canvas to showcase the nuances of the masala.  It is a very clever education, succeeding in conveying another culture’s culinary tradition through more familiar and approachable epicurean vehicles.

While Chef Popat uses a diverse array of fresh ingredients, she favors one above all else: the heart, “Those who want to cook, should cook from the heart.  So many cooks and wannabe chefs cook, but with no heart.  [A successful dish] has to come from the heart.”  The entire Monsoon menu is a labor of love, a dedication to Chef Popat’s family history, cultural background, and her pure, unadulterated devotion to the finest quality food.  By infusing her cuisine with “heart,” she successfully transcends cultural boundaries, making the exotic flavors of Indian cuisine as comforting and familiar as any home-cooked meal. 


Restaurant Info

  • 729 4th Avenue
    San Diego CA 92101
  • Restaurant: Monsoon
  • Address: 729 4th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: F Street
  • Location: Downtown | Gaslamp Quarter
  • Cuisine:
  • Cost: $$ | Inexpensive | $25 - $50
  • Category: Casual Dining
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Casual Elegant
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: 15.00 | Per 750ml bottle.