For someone who lost a big competition, Sudhir Kandula – who goes by SudsNYC on Twitter – is remarkably benevolent in his good wishes to the winner. But then this was the friendliest of competitions in the world of reality food shows. His Spice Coast restaurant concept lost to Jamawn Wood’s Soul Daddy in NBC’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant.” But, Sudhir, 40, said in an interview, “I think my concept suits non-malls better.” That said, “I would have loved to win and have all that expertise behind me. I wish nothing but the best for Jamawn.”
He’s gracious in comments about his TV experience: “I walk away from this with pride for what I have done, and gratitude for what I was allowed to do. I don’t begrudge the investors for not catching their eye. You want investors to be 100 percent behind you.”
On the plus side, halfway across the world, “There’s a lot of buzz in India because I was in the top three,” Sudhir said. “My parents are excited. My mother is happy that I’ve done justice to the food.” This summer he is spending a month with his parents in India.
Not winning the ANGR competition was only a minor setback for Sudhir, who is busy planning a future restaurant while waiting out the noncompete clause in the NBC contract. “I have interest from investors elsewhere. I want to stay true to my vision, which means that I will swing the pendulum back to more vegetables. Not vegetarian, but the way we eat in India.” He would like to open a restaurant that’s geared toward the professional, “someone who has traveled around the country, eats sushi and is willing to experiment. It will happen. I want to have a thoughtful launch,” Sudhir said, one that “doesn’t compete with other Chutney Joes [an Indian chain], which is northern Indian [his idea is southern Indian]. I’m comfortable with my vision, and I want to do it right. It’s not going to happen overnight. I want to start with one city and one store. I’m a patient guy. The show was never the end game; it was the beginning.” Possible locations for his restaurant: Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; or San Francisco – all cities he knows well because he has lived there.
Guests won’t find Indian-style carnitas or quesadillas on the proposed menu. Those were among the dishes he prepared on the final episode of ANGR, to the criticism of fans and judges who were shocked at his Mexican-themed foods, though they had Indian flavors “I might have gone a little too Mexican,” he admitted, of his attempt to please the judges. Sudhir’s proposed restaurant – he still likes the name Spice Coast and his original idea Tiffin Box – will likely include the likes of sautéed greens with lentils, cooked with toasted coconut and dried red chiles, served on rice or in wraps. He wants to use distinctively Indian breads, made fresh every day. On the NBC show, he had to substitute tortillas because no one had sufficient experience to make the real thing. And there will be no beef at his restaurant. “It’s counter to what Indians believe. I want to represent my country.”
Sudhir has been talking over his restaurant concept with Floyd Cardoz, at right, formerly of Tabla in N
ew York City, who himself offered a New Indian cuisine. “He’s a brilliant chef and master at making breads,” said Sudhir.
He heard about the NBC competition on a food blog. In the midst of traveling and unable to make it to either the New York or Chicago auditions, Sudhir sent in a video entry, the only one of the top 21 finalists to do so.
Sudhir, who works in technology and has been part owner of two restaurants, plans to quit his day job by the end of the year and focus all of his attention on the future restaurant. “I want to bring the same worth ethic to building a food business.”
Today he has a dozen “fairly serious” investors who are interested in his proposed restaurant. “But my mission is to have not that many, but a small number of large investors to give creative vision. Also, I want to ideally create content for TV later on that really educates people on Indian food – there are 20 to 30 different kinds of cuisine in India, very dissimilar from the other. That’s a longer term project. Now I’m getting Spice Coast – or Tiffin Box – going. I’ll also put up my own money. This will be my career for the next 20 years. I love starting things and building great organizations from the start up,” he said.
Sudhir was born in India, but became a U.S. citizen two years ago. “It was a big deal. I had to give up my Indian citizenship. You can’t be dual. It was a big step for me.” He spent his first 20 years in India, and the next 20 years in Europe and the U.S.
He’s a global traveler, having lived in Paris, where he went to culinary school at the Cordon Bleu, as well as Sweden, Spain and India. Today he calls the West Village in New York City home.
He admits that his original idea for the show was lofty: to reintroduce Indian comfort food, “what our moms made for us to eat, healthy light food, beyond the thick greasy curries and vindaloos.” In fact, in the earliest episode, Sudhir pushed for an almost-vegetarian restaurant, to the dismay of the judges who noted that most diners are meat eaters. Then Steve Ells – he of Chipotle and also a judge – began pushing his views on hand-held food. To paraphrase Ells, “If you just put this filling onto naan so it can be hand-held and eaten …” That led to the final episode where Sudhir was criticized for being too much like Chipotle.
“People misconstrued my obsession with Chipotle. I’m an unabashed fan of Steve Ells’ mission. I wasn’t trying to be a Chipotle, but to have an operation like that with attention to details,” he said.
Despite the sometimes goofy challenges – this was TV after all – Sudhir’s Indian food was highly regarded throughout the episodes and by his fellow competitors (the exception being the kids' episode, where Sophia Flay, daughter of Bobby, primly told Sudhir the vegetarian "burger" was mushy).
Post - ANGR, Sudhir is happy he's caught the eye of those who like food. "My cause advances the cause of fast casual." He hopes he can open a restaurant before his name fades out of public memory. But, if not, "I'll tell my story, one city at a time."
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