Dévi’s Hemant Mathur Keeps It Real With His Tandoor

No, you may not stick your hand in there.
No, you may not stick your hand in there.haha Photo: Melisssa Hom

Hemant Mathur of Dévi is the Yo-Yo Ma of tandoor cooking, a virtuoso whose instrument is the traditional clay oven. Many menu highlights come from it, from the lamb-stuffed tandoori chicken to the naan and roti breads — all of them delightfully marked by the searing heat of Mathur’s three-year-old modern clay oven.

Unlike the traditional variety, this tandoor isn’t built into the ground, covered with grain husks or horsehair, or powered by a low-lying level of charcoal. Brought over from New Delhi, it features an oversize gas burner that allows for pinpoint heat control and a radically shortened preheating period of 30 minutes, instead of the hours it would normally take to reach the 500-degree centigrade heat. The fire is supplemented by “flavor stones” that give the already flavorful food some extra taste. “It’s good, strong clay,” Methur says. “The temperature is very even all around, and high — it’s very good for meat, and for bread, and I make it even hotter when I cook fish.” But is it as good as the one in India? “It’s the same,” Mathur says. “It is. I’ve been cooking on these ovens for 22 years. I can work on anything, but I like this one best for what we do here.”