SF-based Top Chef alum Preeti Mistry recently stepped away from her most recent post as the chef of Charlie's Cafe, Google's biggest restaurant and took some time to get herself to Mumbai. Though her mother grew up there, Mistry hasn't been back for 20 years, and found herself in the Juhu Beach area soaking up the street food snacks, readying herself to bring the ideas home and tweak them to suit San Francisco.
Though she had pondered teaching Indian cooking classes, she's currently opting to do a pop-up called Juhu Beach Club in the Garage Café in SoMa (320 11th St. between Folsom and Harrison). Starting tomorrow, lunch will be served from 11 am to 2:30 pm, Monday through Friday. If all goes well, this pop-up might become permanent, but for now, it's one day at a time. I caught up with Mistry over the phone.
When were you in Mumbai?
End of December to mid January. I was there with my partner Ann and my parents who had gone for a wedding. We just tagged along.
What exactly is the Garage Café?
It's a liquor store across the street from my house. I go there to pick up beer or whatever and I asked the owner one day if I could take over the space since he doesn't open until later. The front of it has a little deli where he sells falafel, Lotto cards, you know. There are 30 chairs. When Urban Daddy wrote about [this pop-up], I was like oh no. I want people to be clear that this isn't some year-and-a-half remodel situation. I've only been in the kitchen here for 2 days!
What's going to be on the menu?
Dhokla, which are steamed lentil cakes made out of a batter of lentils and rice. You top it with a tempering oil seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chilies. I'd love to serve pani puri, filled with sprouted mung beans, chick peas and that sulphury Indian black salt, but logistically it's difficult. The beauty of eating pani puri in India is that you just stand there and have some dude make it for you to eat one by one. You don't assemble it yourself. I'm making what I call chowpatty chicken, which is chicken mixed with fresh turmeric, ginger and cilantro and then topped with a cabbage slaw. It's not authentic, but it's my version of authentic. I grew up in America eating hamburgers and Indian food, you know?
The idea of authentic is a pretty fleeting one, if you think about how cultures and tastes change over time anyhow.
Yeah, my sister was just talking about that. She was like, 'You know, when Mom was growing up in Mumbai there was no vadapav—which is essentially a potato sandwich. There was no Frankie—which is kind of like a kati roll that you get at Kasa. Those are relatively new street food foods in India. Things evolve. For this pop-up, I'm going to make what I like and what makes sense in San Francisco.