Sometimes dreams really do come true. Last February, the number one long-term item on my todo list became reality when we celebrated the Grand Opening of my Walnut Creek Kanishka’s Neo-Indian Gastropub, which offers global inspired cuisine flavors, encapsulating culinary themes that are both ancient and modern.
The word “gastropub” was coined in Great Britain in the 19th century to denote a bar and restaurant serving high-end food and drink. In the gastropub tradition, my restaurant offers gourmet cuisine with an extensive wine list and a collection of fine micro-brews. I incorporated Calcutta influences, and acknowledged the cultural background of the British Colonial Period, including Fish Rolls, Club Sandwiches, Cucumber Sandwiches, and a selection of Teas. The menu not only indicates my passion for taste but for healthy eating, as well. We offer Vegan and gluten free dishes and entreés. I am a specialist at healthy eating and created the heart-healthy cuisine offered by an event at the Stanford Cardiomyopathy program.
The restaurant is named after our eldest son, 11-year old Kanishka. On December 31, 2011 while on a trip to Europe we attended the grand opening of a new restaurant in Venice. As we were riding on the elevator, I remarked that I wished I were the one opening the restaurant. Kanishka said, “This will be you one day.” Then he added, “Mom, you have to do this now, before you get old.” At that moment, I realized that he was right. If I didn’t get started, circumstances and the pressures of daily life would continue pulling me aside and my dream of restaurant ownership would never come to pass. That moment was a turning point of my life. My focus changed from wishing to have my own restaurant to making plans to actually own one.
MY VOYAGE TO FOOD
For most of my adult life, technology was my profession but entertaining guests and feeding them good food was my life. I was born in Calcutta and as a young child had my first contact with the world of dining and entertainment in the home of my grandfather. Dadu loved to entertain richly. His house was an entertainment center for neighbors and family members, famous for the exceptional table grandfather set that was typically groaning beneath endless courses of delicious food, which were always supplemented by rounds of Scotch and beer. Dadu’s home served as a gathering place for people who were observing whatever celebrations, cultural festivals, or holidays were taking place at the time. From my earliest memories I was inspired by the joyful spirit that seemed to be the hallmark of my grandfather’s home. My parents were influenced by Dadu’s passion for cooking and entertainment; both were amateur chefs and fine cooks in their own right. As soon as I could hold a mixing spoon or spatula, I joined them and began to learn the techniques and ingredients behind the wonderful dishes served in that place. The ingredients, spices, and flavors of grandfather’s cuisine represented a British Colonial/Bengali fusion, so I eventually learned to prepare such dishes as cutlets, goat, fried rice, puffed bread, and prawns. Beginning with my high school years I had an ambition to open a restaurant and some day to provide for the diners who patronized my establishment the rich dining and entertainment experiences that my grandfather offered his guests.
I was adept at Science and Math subjects, so I came to America to study and in 1998 graduated from the University of Illinois in Chicago with a major in Computer Information Technology. I began my software development career, working in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. The pursuit of my career in technology didn’t stop my passion for food, and I devoted my free time to studying cookbooks and developing my own unique cuisine. I followed Grandfather’s lead in offering our home as a place for entertaining guests.
I attempted to mine the entire planet in an effort to uncover the resources, techniques, and ingredients behind various regional and ethnic cuisines. I began to travel extensively in order to explore the dishes served in New Orleans, Spain, Rio de Janeiro, and Southern France. I took advanced training at Florence’s Culinary School of Tuscany where I had a fabulous time learning to make Ravioli from scratch, Pasta Andante Al Dente Style, and Zucchini Flan. I experimented with incorporating Indian spices with Italian flavors and ingredients. I most recently spent two weeks studying the flavors, spices, and ingredients served in fine restaurants in Costa Rica.
I began developing my own recipes, drawing on the lessons learned in my childhood home and from my subsequent culinary explorations. I compiled recipes into a book in preparation for the day when I would open my own eating establishment. Giving birth to a set of twins didn’t divert me from my goal, and I began to research the requirements for opening a café or diner and checking out various restaurants as models for developing my own ideal establishment. I discovered that some of my associates shared my dreams and were restaurateurs themselves. I learned what infrastructure went into a successful restaurant. I met the owners of Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen and learned from them what it would take to build a restaurant and kitchen from scratch.
My life leaped forward in a dramatic fashion when I got a job in New York and took an offer in Manhattan with NBC Universal. We moved our family, which now included three kids, across the country. I got caught up in the amazing world of New York’s restaurant industry and quickly adapted to the Manhattan lifestyle. I enjoyed driving through the City’s traffic jams, which reminded me of Calcutta traffic, and enjoyed such things as buying fresh fish from a Chinatown vendor.
Bobby Flay Restaurants became important destinations. I appreciated the amazing way Chef Flay was able to balance spices and ingredients to bring out the particular flavors in each dish, and was particularly intrigued to discover that one of his desserts had chili spice. That opened doorways in my imagination because I dearly love spices and exploring the various uses of peppers. I began to follow Chef Flay’s use of peppers in a robust, bold way to enhance and balance other ingredients. I especially love habanero and am a fan of the light but powerful citrus-herbal flavor of peri-peri peppers that enhance the savory or sweet taste of whatever ingredients they are mixed with. I first tasted peri-peri fresh off the plant when I visited a plantation in Goa, India. I was inspired by the dishes of other famous Manhattan chefs, but also by the amazing variety of Manhattan street foods. For example, a street vender on Seventh, by 34th and 36th, sells the greatest shawarmas I ever ate.
I got a chance to apprentice with Shaun Smith, co-owner of Crema, which is a famous restaurant in Manhattan’s Flat Iron District. Crema’s unique cuisine applies French cooking techniques to Mexican dishes creating a dining experience that has been characterized as “elevated.” Chef Smith was also owner of China Latino in Chelsea, which was a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant. I felt that destiny had brought Shawn and me together and I spent two-and-a-half years studying business operations under him.
Manhattan was wonderful, but I missed California. I always enjoyed the ocean and Rockaway Beach could never serve as an acceptable substitute for Zuma Beach on Malibu. The winters, of course, were bitter. The kids were getting older and were ready for some California sun, so in 2008 we moved back to California with the intention of settling down for good. I got a good position working for Kaiser. In 2011 we bought a house in Walnut Creek that soon developed a reputation, like Grandfather’s, of being a source of good food and good times. I was always providing food for the seniors in my neighborhood who would come by for a good meal and some laughter. I enjoyed barbecuing and our guests loved the results.
I began looking for locations for the restaurant of my dreams and was put in touch with Art Lopez, a real estate broker who specializes in restaurants. The two of us spent some serious time assembling a list of requirements for my ideal establishment then began checking locations in the Walnut Creek and Piedmont Areas. The Bonanza Street location came into play and seemed perfect. I signed the lease on August 1 and began working with my vision to open a small-plate gastropub, driven by gourmet cuisine. My menus include global inspired cuisine with Indian Flavors served in small plates together with suggested micro-brew or wine pairings. We have eight micro-beers on tap; four of them are constant. One seasonal beer is included in the four rotating beers. We plan to introduce tastings on the menu, offering both beer and wine flights. One of our most popular dishes is Lamb Sliders. I once served these to my mom when we were living in New York. She has been an enthusiastic supporter of the dish ever since, and would not be satisfied unless we included these on the menu.
We participate in community outreach programs, and for the past two years I’ve conducted fund-raising events for the Culinary Youth Connections; proceeds go to support the local foster-youth community. I was paired with a different foster-youth each year and would create a special dish for the event based upon the culture of the particular youth at that time. I am planning a series of Karma Nights that will raise funds for nonprofit organizations, hopefully beginning with Blue Star Moms. We will also support underprivileged children, the Red Cross, and the World Bank. People will be able to come, enjoy a fine meal, and help others. My PR person, Heidi Smutny, is exploring opportunities to conduct other outreach events.
My idea for a restaurant would have remained a mere daydream without the belief and support of my beloved husband, Debiprasad, who has been my strength, inspiration, and support since the two of us were together since college days. Thanks to him, my dreams really did come true and Kanishka’s Neo-Indian Gastropub is providing the fine food, drink, and entertainment experience that I have always hoped for. Grandfather would love this place; he would be so proud!