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Home > Lifestyle News > Food News > Article > Exclusive Karan Johars restaurant Neuma hosts a delectable ode to South Indian flavours

Exclusive: Karan Johar’s restaurant Neuma hosts a delectable ode to South Indian flavours

Updated on: 19 September,2023 01:36 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Ainie Rizvi |

The Southern Odyssey Pop-Up is a passion project that has been meticulously crafted by the brainchild behind Mahe Goa, Chefs Sandeep Sreedharan and Sophie Radtke, two culinary maestros fluent in the universal language of love – food

Exclusive: Karan Johar’s restaurant Neuma hosts a delectable ode to South Indian flavours

Neuma, Garden Chalet at Colaba. Image Courtesy: Neuma

Karan Johar’s suave restaurant – Neuma, recently transpired into a hotbed of authentic South Indian dishes. Housed in the 19th-century colonial bungalow in Colaba, the diner collaborated with culinary maestros Sandeep Sreedharan and Sophie Radtke for their newly launched ‘Southern Odyssey’ Pop-Up.

After making waves in Austria, Hungary, Thailand and Germany, the chef duo is enticing Mumbai’s palate with coastal innovations from down South. What’s unique about the menu, we ask? “Placing South Indian flavours on the global map is the essence of these pop-ups,” remarks Sandeep.

With over a decade of expertise in South Indian cuisine, he aims to democratise comfort food by making it accessible to the world. His beau, Sophie, compliments him by infusing her Austrian culinary style without drowning the flavours with excessive spices.

Chef Sandeep Sreedharan and Sophie Radtke

Starting from Mahe, in North Kerala; the chefs have curated legacy dishes from the kitchens of Goa, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, topped with French and Italian flavour profiles. With Kerala's local street food like Pazham Puri (banana fritters) to Carpaccio from Italy, this pop-up is a journey of flavours from across continents.

As we begin tasting, Sandeep regales us over a childhood memory. “During school days, my mother used to pack jackfruit cutlets as a meal for lunch, which left an indelible mark on my sense of taste. When I sat down to curate the offerings for this pop-up, I knew I had to include the cutlets as they have been an integral part of my upbringing.”

Naturally, this was our cue to try out the dish. A bite into it, and we were immersed in a series of savoury sequences. The cutlet was soft on the inside while mildly crunchy on the outside. Curious about the preparation, we ask Sandeep for his secret hack. He whispers, “Mixing jackfruit pulp with potatoes and frying it to a light crisp, intensifies the dish.”

The chef duo believes that simplicity is the key to gastronomic brilliance. With this ideology, they have infused the fundamental spices used in Kerala kitchens – roasted coriander, red chillies and black pepper. Basic, quite literally! What distinguishes the use of these spices is how they are roasted (to have the perfect colour) and grounded (to have a perfect consistency).

In Kerala, the hand pounding of masalas is a traditional culinary technique celebrated for its authenticity and depth of flavours. As we speak, we are taken back to Sreedharan’s native town where women use large wooden mortars and pestles like a musician does her instruments. In the meadows of Mahe, they pound spices and herbs in a rhythmic symphony to unlock the essential aromas.

This rhythmic pounding brings us back to Neuma where music is turning tropical with a groovy tempo. In Latin, Neuma stands for ‘spirit.’ Embodying the essence of its meaning, the luxe European villa surpasses material realms to personify an infectious atmosphere. The kind that is swell with kinesis, ecstasy and a staggering blend of flavours.

Speaking of gastronomy, the next item on the spread was Doodhi Carpaccio. At first, we devoured the dish from our eyes. A gracious serving of coconut-yoghurt dressing topped with olive oil, pepper and red chillies had our taste buds raining. Upon tasting, the underlying okra revealed its flavour blended with the creamy paper-thin doodhi slices, compelling us to eat till there were no bits left.

Upon blending European cooking style for the Indian palate – Sophie picks the Doodhi Carpaccio as one of the trailblazing dishes on the menu. Carpaccio, an Italian appetiser, is made of tenderly pounded meat or fish, often served in a raw state. For Southern Odyssey, the chef duo innovated with the dish to transform it into a delectable vegan version made from milk dressing.

Just when we thought we had had the best – bang came the Rambutan with Creamy Fermented Cashew Cheese. Native to Southeast Asia, Rambutan is a tropical fruit that resembles the family of lychee (with add-on spikes). This vegan dish was a revelation of Sandeep’s culinary artistry which he devised while experimenting with Goan cashews. With the last mouthful, we found ourselves thanking the heavens for the chef’s existence.

By this moment, we acknowledge our oblivion to the depths that coastal flavours carry. To assure us, Sandeep shares how South Indian cuisine, despite its appeal, remains underrepresented in European nations. “Forget about coastal flavours – even the iconic butter chicken or biryani’s pulsating taste does not echo in those regions,” remarks Sandeep.

This brings to the fore the inherent problem with coastal cuisine – World over, it is known to be very cheap (economically)! Whenever you mention South Indian food, people invariably assume it to be idli sambhar, dosa, parotta-beef-fry and the like. Hence, people discard it as it doesn’t come across as an upscale dining experience.

“For instance, if I price the fish moilee at Rs 50, you will not buy it. But the same dish, when priced at Rs 500 – becomes a gourmet cuisine you would be happy to pay for. That is how the perception of our food is flawed,” says Sandeep. His words ring in the idea of how Kerala food is essentially made for the community. Thus, many people outside the state remain uninformed about the rich tapestry of its taste.

This gap and misguided perception of South Indian cuisines fuels the essence of Southern Odyssey. The journey from appetisers to main course transforms into food lessons, taking the gastronome through the soul of coastal India. Minimal-in-appearance yet maximal-in-spirit – That is the feel of each dish on the menu. It is light yet palatable; tickles the deepest corners of your tongue, leaving you with an insatiable craving for more.

When asked about how it has been working with Sophie, Sandeep chuckles. “She is as good as me serving this cuisine to a Jain. She understands the game!” The chef duo met when he was interning with EssZimmer – a Michelin-star restaurant in Munich. Since then, they've crisscrossed continents, channelling their unparalleled passion into their craft.

Finding a companion who compliments your creativity is the stuff of tales. However, all is not as simple as it looks. When two creative brains join forces, monumental challenges arise. “Creative people have their own minds and to align two-thought processes is the real dare. We sometimes run into roadblocks, but turning that energy into a productive path is what I call – artist management, and that process is how I make it work for us,” shares Sophie.

Recalling a discord from a pop-up from Germany, Sophie shares how she tried to convince Sandeep to not make it too spicy. On the other hand, Sandeep wanted to stick to his roots and not water down his flavours as they would not taste the same. Lastly, he bent and dulled down the spices anyway. “And then people expressed how they expected it to be spicier as they were emotionally prepared to brace Indian flavours,” confesses Sophie.

The moment demanded reflective analysis from the chefs. People on international waters are willing to savour authentic Indian dishes and a secret hack would be to go bold with flavours without compromising on the originality.

Speaking of secrets, Sandeep remarks, “My only secret – I have no ego that everyone should like what I prepare. The trick lies in simplicity and being devoid of pride.” His USP? “I know how to bring core flavours to the table that everyone can enjoy,” says the chef who credits his culinary skills to the matriarch’s kitchen. All his cooking wisdom has sprouted from the lessons passed on by his mother and his mother’s friends.

Parallelly, Sophie is a self-taught cook who was always obsessed with food and binge-watching YouTube lessons. After arriving in India in 2022, she has been on a journey to embrace the fundamental aspects of Indian culinary methods. When asked about how she compares Indian vs. Austrian food, she comments “Austrian meal is very simple where less ingredients stand in the spotlight. Whereas, in India, chefs use diverse spices and blend them into unique flavours.”

Tangy, coconut-ty and milky – Southern Odyssey stands out as an experiential delight bringing the core of Malabari and Mangalorean treats. The pop-up summarised a journey of flavours that have traversed continents to present flavours, whose taste lingers until the next spread is served.

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