Spice Coast: America’s Next Great Restaurant?

So writing about reality TV isn’t really my thing, but there’s a show on Sunday nights on NBC that regularly gets my mouth watering. It’s America’s Next Great Restaurant, and it takes 21 people, each with an idea for a fast casual restaurant, and finishes with a winner who gets his/her restaurant opened in three US locations: Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York. The judges are also the investors in the new restaurant, and provide their input (sometimes ultimatums) as to what they want from each contestant, eliminating one contestant per episode.

They’re down to the top five in tonight’s episode, and one of the remaining contestants is Sudhir Kandula (@sudsnyc), whose brainchild is Spice Coast, featuring – are you ready? – fast casual southern Indian coastal food! Sudhir’s restaurant began the show with the name Tiffin Box (it had me there) but the investors asked him to change it because no one knows what a tiffin box is.

I spoke with Sudhir earlier in the week about the show, the diversity of Indian food, and his idea for a healthy restaurant:

If you’re viewing this from a device that isn’t flash-friendly, here’s the link.

25 thoughts on “Spice Coast: America’s Next Great Restaurant?

  1. I really enjoyed our chat, Vivek. I am happy to answer questions, take menu suggestions, have a drink or share behind the scenes stories. @SudsNYC on Twitter and/or “Spice Coast – America’s Next Great Restaurant” page on FB. For the record, I consider idlys to be one of finest culinary creations – Indian or otherwise.

  2. Great interview Sudhir. It’s nice (and every day I hear more of these stories) that so many of us are doing different things after our intial career in technology. My mother makes a light (south Indian) cabbage that is one of the best salads one can have. It’s just lightly tossed with a mustard seed saute. I’m not quite sure what else but I can’t stop eating it. There is also sundal–once again a very light touch. Healthy and delicious.

    • oh man don’t talk about chundal and muttakosu. i still have a month of school left in the culinarily barren wasteland of new england…

  3. Regarding Indian foods, here are some improvements/suggestions/comments that I would like to see addressed: 1. Indians need to reduce the amount of white rice that we eat, and eat more brown rice. I’m not racist, but I simply think that brown is best, and white is suppressive.
    2. Indians could consider substituting quinoa for rice. 3. Indians are not so food literate. I had a brilliant Indian emigre tell me that “ghee is very healthy for promoting muscles and vitality.” Ghee, my friends, is liquid tobacco-smoke. 4. Indian restaurants here should NOT bastardize our foods to suit the American’s unsophisticated palate by sugaring up and creaming up the foods. Our foods are not saucy sweet like ketchup or fatty/creamy like chowdah.
    5. I love our practice of drinking WATER with our food. Typically, the water that we drink is at room temperature. You know why us brownies do this? Because we’re so smart, that we realize that water cleanses our palate, and it doesn’t cover our taste buds with other flavors, thus obscuring our next bite of food. If you’re drinking Coke with your food, your pizza will taste like Coke as you chew it. Water is flavor neutral, and you won’t have this problem. Moreover, it’s much less filling to drink water than it is to drink Coke. 6. We should understand oils a little better: Some oils high in polyunsaturated fats become rancid or hydrogenate to trans-fat acids when frying. We should be cogniscent of this. 7. I hate that many of our desserts have coloring in them. Moreover, I am not even sure if any chefs/pastry people even know what’s bad/dishonest about food coloring. Haven’t we evolved beyond colorful candy-looking food that’s all hookered up? We’re more advanced than this. Another words, next time you eat tandoori chicken, no need for your chicken to be all hookered up.
    8. Also, Indian ready-made pastries also use HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). At least in the USA, some companies brag that they use real sugar. The Indian market isn’t even sophisticated enough to see that HFCS is bad.
    9. I wish that Indian restaurants become more innovative/sincere. The ones here in Boston are all run by businesspeople who don’t give a d*mn about their quality, but only their bottom line. They’re always cutting corners and taking shortcuts. One upper-end restaurant called “Ghazal” here in Boston makes sambaar with vinegar instead of tamarind! My friend flipped out on this.
    10. The home-made Indian foods that I’ve had are, hands-down, some of the world’s most remarkable foods. I’m not just saying this because I’m Desi, but because, as a chef, I can totally tell you that our foods cater to all dietary restrictions, can be healthy (not hellthy), is high in macro-nutrients, and can be very low in saturated fats. I recently had buckwheat roti and whole-wheat roti with olive oil (as opposed to butter) with a lentil curry and a vegetable curry. They were extremely good, healthy, not-so-filling and fat, and finally, flavorful. 11. We should also develop a more anti-potato mindset. Nutrition-experts tend to stay away from potato, but we love it because it’s similar to meat. We should consider reducing our consumption of this or moderate our consumption of this. 12. Finally, there are communities with strange dietary restrictions, and they avoid potato, onions, mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes (because it looks like blood), and so on. Instead of trying to elevate their level of suffering by avoiding these good foods, these people need to eat a nice well-balanced meal without trying to have some weird guilty conscious.

  4. There is a particular shrimp and okra curry I’ve had in Bombay that I would love to try making myself. I can’t find a recipe for it anywhere. Does anyone know the curry I’m talking about? It has a wonderful aroma, and may have coconut in it.

    • PATM – Look for “Jheenga Sabzi” or “Prawn Masala” … If you wanted the Okra crispy, I’d bread and fry them separately and add them just before serving.

      • Rahul Rvd – Thanks for the suggestions, but I’m not finding anything. With Jheenga Sabzi I get a cooking video that looks promising but can’t understand what they’re saying.

        • If I couldn’t find you a recipe/video in English, do you have a second language of preference?

          I’m only asking because the endeavor of finding that maybe easier than me translating the recipe.

  5. potato is similar to meat? what meat would that be? i am asking because i usually avoid ordering meat dishes in indian places, unless it is tandoori or grilled in some other way. i would like to see tofu prepared with more creativity. i slice and bake very firm tofu after dousing it with a mixture of lemon juice (tamarind would be better)ginger, garlic, green chillies and oil. it cab refrigerated and used in other ways such sitrfrys and mattar paneer, rollups with salad ingredients, such as kosmali.

  6. On a side note about Desi foods. I know this one person who always travels to SE Asia. This person is of Chinese descent, and she knows a lot about street foods. When I asked her what was her best culinary experiences in all her travels, she said quite definitely, “Calcutta India.” I was very surprised about this, but honored at the same time.

    Also, Anthony Bourdain visited South India, and he said that “he’s never had anything bad to eat while down there. Everything was perfectly great” or something like that.

    Put your hands UP for Indian food.

  7. Ok, didn’t know this show existed. Had to find old episodes online to catch up.

    I think Indian casual fast-food is a great concept.

    Is it unique? yes. Does it have range? OMG yes. Would it be appealing? Indian is in, so says American Foreign policy.

    Also, to his credit, Sudhir feels like a responsible, sensible person. He’s not too young, not too old. He has some business acumen and experience. All pluses when you’re investing. But, reality shows require DRAMA, and Sudhir lacks there. He’s gotta pick a fight with someone or bitch about something or have a breakdown.

    The only big negative I see is, is “Indian” going to win an “American” restaurant show. Wouldn’t you rather pick soul or Cajun or southern/Texan food as “American”.

    Comments on the episode about wrap vs keeping the naan separate : just give the customer the choice to have it to-go wrapped or in a box. Chipotle does that. Comments on the children episode: tough one. I’d definitely switch the toy to an elephant, because 1) appu(asiad’82 games mascot) was adorable 2) nothing says Indian like a royal elephant. Food wise, tough demographic to please. Maybe dosas (either pancake-sweet batter with some potato stuffing) or regular rice dosas with some sweet chutney/mango-jam thing. But Sudhir tried his best with trying to make the food as American as possible.

    Oh, btw, the comment about “Ghee”: Ghee in Ayurveda is considered a lubricant for joints etc. I’m not going to argue for or against Ayurveda. Modern science is just discovering curcumin and neem etc so who knows. Personally, I’d probably not cook greasy north Indian food with it, but I wouldnt say no to a spoon of ghee drizzled over some steaming hot rice.

    God, I miss south indian udupi temple marriage food!

    • “Oh, btw, the comment about “Ghee”: Ghee in Ayurveda is considered a lubricant for joints etc”

      I had also tried to post a comment on ghee earlier (it got deleted before I pressed enter and I didn’t feel like retyping). Here’s part of it–I will be visiting an Ayurvedic center next month and will most likely be forced to eat ghee. I’ve been on these retreats before and that is what they prescribe for me. I end up looking 10 years younger and since I already look 10 years younger than people my age, I end up looking 20 years younger than my actual age.

      I have health problems which I like to trace to my ultra low fat ghee-free youth. I have no problems with ghee at all.

  8. I had this same idea, the 1st time I walked into a Panda Express. As soon as I saw the layout of the food, I thought Indian food can be served the same way.

    The only thing is that Indian food has such a strong odor that Americans are put off by it. Americans are very sensitive to anything that can be perveived as “unclean” and the smell of masala in the air just wont fly with the American public. However, I think any average chef can come up with 40 Indian dishes(spread out over the years) that can be Americanized and served quickly.

    I would also serve all dishes that require any type of naan, to be served burrito style, because it is just easier to eat on the go.

    And if Americans like egg rolls then just wait until they get a load of a samosa.

    I am so sick of having to choose between a burger, turkey sandwhich and a taco everyday for lunch. America needs more divirsity in its fast food.

    • Dear ShallowThinker,

      Presumably you have never been to an ethnic supermarket targeted towards East Asian customers. (For those in the Bay Area, think Ranch99.) there is a very distinctive odor in there. of old fish, raw fish, pickled things, fermented things. And to someone who is not used to that combination of aromas, it’s very off-putting.

      That doesn’t mean that Chinese restaurants tone down their food for Americans and excise all the soy sauce, fish pastes, etc just so that some white dude won’t say “eww that’s stinky” and hurt their feelings.

      Why should Indians care so much about not offending Americans who are brave enough to venture out and try a different cuisine? Why should we bend over backwards to make their forays into diversity as comfortable as possible? If they are turned off by turmeric and red chilies, their loss – we don’t need them. It’s also a little patronizing to uniformly assume that all ‘other’ people can’t handle the real Indian food and therefore it needs to be dumbed down for them.

  9. Oh and the spices in English or capable substitutes …
    Kashmiri Chillies – you can substitute Poblanos Jeera – Cumin seed (If you have Cumin Powder, use a little more than a teaspoon … go by taste…it is Indian food after all) Haldi – Turmeric Small Ball Tamarind – Just soak the stuff you get in Mexican food markets

    Oh and for the future you can use this link – http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/comcom/spicesglossary.htm

  10. Guys,

    I would feel sad if people made fun of Mr. Sudhir Kandula. He appears like a nice, sincere, avuncular-type of guy that we all can relate to. I hope that people are fair and broad-minded to him.

    I am very skeptical about the little kids trying out his food. My American friends didn’t like Indian foods when I was in elementary school.

    • “I hope that people are fair and broad-minded to him. “

      “4. Indian restaurants here should NOT bastardize our foods to suit the American’s unsophisticated palate by sugaring up and creaming up the foods. Our foods are not saucy sweet like ketchup or fatty/creamy like chowdah. “

      Yeah isn’t it bad when people aren’t broad-minded

  11. This dude was a classmate of mine when I moved to India as a kid. Small world, ey. I wish him the best. If you are reading this, what up. I have weaned myself off of reality shows but gave this a shot as the concept of a new kind of Indian restaurant with lighter foods and not overdosing on spices was something I thought about for a while.

    I am just glad that Meltworks guy was gone. Typical drone who thought he knew it all but was closed to anything new. He was not as smart or creative as he thought he was. I think Sudhir won’t have a problem with the business aspect of the competition. The only thing that may hold him back is the Indian cuisine aspect. It is still a niche in the US compared to UK, though UK is more into northern indian cuisine compared to the abundance of southern indian immigrants in the US.

    And the judges, oh I am sorry, I mean investors (I wonder if they really will invest or is it one of those facades they need to maintain for a reality show ala Hells Kitchen) insist on talking about the model needing to succeed in a such a wide market. Sometimes a focused niche with a big enough market size that is executed well is better than one aimed at a larger market .

    I did wonder why Sudhir didn’t use the sloppy joe analogy instead of the burger analogy for the paav baaji sandwich. I think that threw off Flay’s teen daughter as to what kind of mouth feel to expect. Funny thing is the first time I ever ate one of those sandwiches was when I returned to the US and never saw one of those in India.

    I think middle eastern food , especially Lebanese, tends to appeal to the American taste more than Indian. I am a huge fan of excellent Lebanese and Iranian restaurants and lucky to have some excellent choices in atlanta. The asian chick was onto something but you need to have a good cook and recipes for the kind of food she was serving.

  12. Boston Mahesh, some good points. I would also like to add that Indians also need to not be afraid of tasting the freaking vegetable . A lot of Indians overdo the spices for vegetable curries.And when I mention spices, i do not mean how hot it is as I can eat really hot food. So sudhir may have a nice niche if he can lighten the spice load so the customers can taste the vegetable and the spices.

    As far as idlis, I prefer dosas.

    I gotta say this boston_mahesh, for some reason, I need to drink coke with pizza. The fizz and taste of coke work in harmony with the pizza I am eating for whatever reason. I stick with water for many other food items.

    Also while it’s always wise to have a wrap of some sort for customers on the go, I dont think the majority of items need to be wrap based. If you go to Popeye’s chicken, you got side items that are not that different from the makeup of indian curries.in terms of portability.