It is a match made in heaven — beetroot pesto and garlicky mushrooms. Nothing fancy, a straight forward pizza. The creamy pesto with a hint of sweetness forms the base while the toppings are button mushrooms sautéed in butter, some split black olives, and charred onions, home-made balsamic glaze and arugula. A simple combination of sweet, earthy and fresh tastes, and the lingering sourness of balsamic glaze brings an interesting flavour to the taste buds. “Beetroot pesto is my mom’s recipe and we have converted it into pizza,” says Siddharth Sethi, one of the founders of Van Dough Cafe and Pizzeria. When three friends —Siddharth , Pavithraa Priya, and Dhiren Khturia, who share a common passion for food came together, they started The Cloud Kitchen Project, a cloud kitchen based in RS Puram that offers an intimate culinary experience for patrons as well as themselves. “Initially, we started pizzas as weekend delivery menu of the parent brand. It clicked and here we are,” says Pavithraa Priya.
They want to also promote art along with good food, and there are plans to host live mural painting sessions by local artists at the cafe. “We might use Impressionism style as the cafe is named after Van Dough. We want to engage with artists regularly and have lined up events like a design contest to create a pizza box for us,” explains Siddharth adding that they tried as many as 50 new menus in the cloud kitchen including Japanese, Vietnamese, and modern Indian before setting out to start a cafe offering artisanal pizzas in continental and South Indian flavours. “We wanted to put in new, better dishes and what better way to go than the pizzas? We make everything from scratch. We get our fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, micro greens and arugula from hydroponic farms here. The marinara is made using tomatoes sourced locally while for sherry leek sauce we sauté garlic, leeks and shallots in butter, and add non-alcoholic red wine and cream. This brings a huge flavour difference,” explains Siddharth pointing to the delicious, piping hot Kundapuri ghee roast paneer pizza waiting to be savoured. “We studied at Manipal and we frequented Kundapur, an hour’s drive from Udupi to savour the famous ghee roast chicken and prawn. We recreated that on the pizza,” adds Siddharth, smiling. The Kerala chicken roast pizza with pickled onions and in-house eggless mayo transports us to the local eateries of God’s Own Country.
Most South Indian flavours on the pizza menu are inspired by their dining experience at food joints in the city. For example, pichu pota kozhi (shredded chicken) pizza is an ode to the delicacy served at Burma Bai. “We also want to replicate their tangy and spicy thakkali chicken. We seek out local food and for the first few months we were eating something new every day. Coimbatore has amazing food but restricted to South Indian,” he explains. Pavithraa nods, adding, “Most hotels have a multi-cuisine concept. You will find biriyani even if it’s an Italian or Chinese. There is no focus on a star dish.” As we bite into crisp fried oyster mushrooms, crunchy on the outside and juicy inside, dunked in finger-licking warm honey dip, Siddharth talks fondly of petrichor (the smell of first rain) pizza made using truffle oil, and shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic and a white sauce base to bring together a pronounced earthy flavour.
Besides running their own food business, they take up consulting and help people create new menus. Their recent outing was a deep dive into Mexican menu for Agave restaurant in Goa where they put together a cocktail using horchata (a rice-based beverage traditionally had without liquor) among others including a vegan version of ceviche with tender coconut, kafir lime, orange and jalapeno dressing. “We have also done Himachali, Tibetan, and vegan menus on a consulting assignment in Dharamshala where we discovered our love for working with vegetarian food,” says Siddharth.
While agreeing that the food scene in the city is constantly evolving, he says, it helps new cafes to experiment with innovative menus. “ We want to introduce pastas too, like miso mushroom pasta, a fusion of Asian and Italian. We are also trying to make a home-made cola with a home-made syrup, lots of spices, orange rinds, jaggery and tonic.” There are plans to introduce high hydration sourdough and appetisers like marinated mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, fresh parsley and a dash of lemon juice and honey that go along with sourdough and cheddar toasties . “It’s an authentic Italian style. We are getting out staff trained to handle it. We are also experimenting with poolish, a 12-hour version of sour dough,” adds Pavithraa.
As we wind up, Siddharth shares the story behind sugar cane chicken that figures on the menu. “It is inspired by a street food vendor from the bylanes of Pune. “When we requested him to make something new, he surprised us with this dish. We tried to play with our experience and recreated it on the menu. On a sugarcane slice, we add minced chicken, celery, kafir lime, and lemon grass, and coat it in panko crumbs before frying to make it crisp and serve fresh. ”