Sudhir Kandula crusades for true Indian food in America

By Jessica Rock

Sudhir Kandula - © NBC

Sudhir Kandula is famous for being the runner-up on NBC reality show America’s Next Great Restaurant, but he is much more than just a reality star. Suds, as his friends call him, grew up in India and has loved food from a very young age. He now lives in New York City, and calls the west village his home. He is interested in technology as well as food, and has founded several successful start-up companies. Throughout his life he has been drawn to good food, and has turned this love into a new sub-chapter in his life. His goal is to educate kids and adults about Indian food, and also spread the word about fresh healthy ingredients.

Sudhir’s very first food memory is eating delicious mangoes in India. “Indian mangoes are my first and most beloved memory. They are worlds apart from any mango you get here – be it from Mexico or Chile or wherever else. And there’s about a billion Indians that can attest to this – Indian mangoes are just a world apart. They are the sweetest, non-fibrous, amazing mangoes – and so many varieties as well. I ate them at an unholy clip when I was young,” he said. “During summers in India, it would be blistering hot outside, and Mom or Grandma would dump the mangoes in cold water because we didn’t have home refrigeration at that time. Then mom would yank off all our shirts so we didn’t make a mess. My cousins and I would sit around and just go to town on these mangoes.”

Sudhir lived in Paris for two and a half years, and it was there that he really honed his cooking skills. He took a three month course at Le Cordon Bleu. “I may have been the only straight guy who went there because Julia Child went there,” he said. He admires the French style of cooking and the culture of eating in the country. “Even the poorest person buys their produce every day and they take meticulous care of what they cook and what they eat. Food wasn’t just for sustenance, it was a true pleasure for them.”

He made his way back to America and is now a resident of New York City. He says his most favorite thing to do in the city is to score some food and sit outside somewhere. “For me, eating in Central Park or the Highline is easily the best thing. You’re in the middle of the greatest city in the world, but you have your own piece of grassy heaven.” He says his time in Europe influenced his love for eating outdoors. “It’s the same thing that has persisted from Paris – you get a baguette and some cheese, and then sit in le jardin with a book.”

He has advice for those who eat lunch at their desks each day. “I think it’s absolutely worthwhile to take a half an hour off and really savor your food. If there’s a message for the world, it’s to savor your food and not to eat in such a rush. Eat consciously and enjoy every bite,” he said.

As for his favorite upscale restaurants in New York City, Sudhir goes right to the top. “I love Le Bernardin and Per Se – I worship at the temple of Thomas Keller,” he said. “But also at the other end, I love street food.”

Sudhir has plans to open a pop-up restaurant in the city in the next few months. He says he will donate all the proceeds to charity, and hopes the pop-up will give him a chance to educate others about delicious Indian Cuisine. He then has plans to open his restaurant, Tiffin Box, within the next five years. “I will definitely only do it in one city, with multiple locations, before I move to another one,” he said. He admires Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle and backer on America’s Next Great Restaurant. “I plan to mimic him in his operations. I am not trying to make tacos, but he is an inspiration in terms of how well he runs his company. Along with that, I would love to educate America about the regional cuisines of India either through a TV show, series of articles, or a web series.”

Sudhir also has plans down the road to start a farm in Northern California. He says his goal is to educate children in the ways of fresh food. He would like to grow fruits and vegetables to use in his own kitchen as well as donate fresh produce to area schools. “Many children don’t know where their food comes from. I want to show them that food can be fresh and delicious, straight off the farm,” he said.

While food is a big component in his life, Sudhir says he won’t leave his tech career in the dust. “Just like with software companies, I am setting myself lofty goals. I will still do some tech projects, because I love start-ups, but I will focus more on food in the next five years. Through my food projects and my food visions, I want to do more for the world in the next 5, 10, 20 years. If it sounds Polyanna-ish, so be it. I have to set really pure goals for myself. The reality is that you’ll come somewhere close, and that’s good enough.”

Sudhir Kandala is an Indian mango lover and New Yorker. You can follow him on Twitter — @SudsNYC.