By Anjli Mehta
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series that features the 2014 grant recipients of the Austin Food + Wine Alliance Culinary Grant Program.
The Austin Food and Wine Alliance gave out $30,000 in grants last year to five local food businesses and nonprofits, and Anjore, awarded $2,500, was one of the lucky recipients. Anjore can come in the form of a pop-up restaurant at farmers markets or as a supper club, and you can even order scratch-made Indian pantry staples from her online. It’s a new concept, pioneered by the business’ owner, Deepa Shridhar.
Shridhar made her way through the Austin culinary scene with a resume that boasts experience at Dai Due and Lenoir. At these hotspots she learned to how to highlight locally sourced food, without “messing it up.” Those lessons have helped to create the ever-evolving menus at her pop-up restaurants at Austin farmer restaurants. She mixes Indian pantry staples with Western cooking techniques, fusing flavors to create entrees like tandoori rabbit with cucumbers and cilantro stems.
How would you describe your take on Indian cuisine? What or who are your major influences?
I feel that any cuisine that doesn’t evolve from its origins will remain stagnant, alienating and obsolete. What we try to do is mix Indian flavor with local Texas regional ingredients. Sometimes it leads to biscuits, pork belly and a fried egg, and sometimes it leads to a Kashmiri Potato curry. We try to honor the ingredients and the farmers we work with and do the best we can to not completely change the flavor of the original product.
I would say my biggest influences would be my family and the chefs I’ve worked for. I learned a lot about food and sourcing from people who have taken the time to teach me in their restaurants or my father’s garden. Although, many food essays written by Jim Harrison have also influenced me greatly.
What moments sparked Anjore for you? Where did it all begin, and why?
I was line cooking at Lenoir and though it was an important step in my career, I realized I was starting to form a specific voice in food. I think initially I just wanted the space and freedom to explore that feeling. We just started as an underground supper club. It’s grown from there, but initially I saw it as a side project!
Can you walk us through a typical pop-up restaurant for your farmer’s market booth? What inspires the menu? Do you have a team on your side or is it a one-man show?
It’s an enormous undertaking every week. We set forth to try and create an inventive menu based on what’s in season and what our farmer friends are growing! We try and create dishes that service well in the weather and let our local produce shine. It is by no means a one-man cooking show! We are a small team, but there’s an emphasis on team. We do many breakfast pastries and we make our own butter for all of them with local cream. We make yogurt every week and then create 2-3 savory items per week. This is largely in part due to our amazing team. We were able to achieve a pop-up restaurant at the farmers market, because of the funds we got from AFWA. The grant helped us get grills and allowed us to utilize our stand for hot food vending.
You’ve mentioned that locally sourced ingredients are an integral part of your business; can you tell us more about your sourcing process? And why it’s so important to you?
We have a number of ways of locally sourcing our menu. We check in frequently with farms like HausBar, B5, and Animal Farm, weekly to see what is growing now, what will be growing in a few weeks and what we can get throughout the year. Another way we stay on top of locally sourcing is using great foragers like Valerie Broussard, who really is passionate about the local food scene. She has led us to use local sugar cane, getting great citrus from Houston, and even got us a supply of Texas ginger last year! I truly believe in locally sourcing. It’s by no means easy, but what it does do is force you to critically think about food not just as commodity but a statement of what a place or country looks like. Meaning, you are now creating an authentic flavor to the environment. Supporting other businesses and farmers that are local to your area should be a main priority to our food scene.
What’s next for Anjore?
We’ve got a lot of exciting things in the works. We’re pretty happy with our market turnout and are enjoying building a customer base. We’re seeing what other products we can produce for our retail line as well as getting out a supper club schedule soon!
You can find Anjore at these farmers markets: SFC Downtown on Saturdays and Mueller Farmers Market on Sundays, and you can purchase items from their retail line of Indian pantry staples on Anjore.com.