I was very excited to take part in my second time experience a Ruchikala popup! I blogged about my last experience where I was blown away by the complexity of flavors and spectacularly attractive dishes that looked like art last year. Kumi, who works as a personal chef/caterer, takes these opportunities to creatively show off her fusion food bringing together homey Southern Indian culture and US Southwest upbringing (she also divides some of her time working in Tucson).
This time, I took F with me to the Ruchikala Winter Pop-up because I wanted him to experience the fearless flavor combinations she imbues onto her dishes that you may never think to try, but thanks to Kumi, you are about to learn how spirited they are. She also is very conscious about making sure we feast not only on her masterful combination of flavors, but with our eyes, with our sense of smell, and even with touch in terms of the textures in every spoonful.
Another plus is that because it is a small group, you are able to hear the tale of each dish- like a food fairytale come true. You hear the background food memory that Kumi is drawing inspiration from, the voice of her mom, you might pass around a mason jar to smell the intoxicating aroma of Pasilla de Oaxaca chile. It’s an experience that is a foreign adventure to your normal palate, yet so warm and intimate as well.
To get a little idea of how warm the pop-up atmosphere is like, here’s a little video of one of the pop-ups she did in Tucson, created by Hank Knaack. Her pop-up dinners are a fun way to meet new people, and her perspective on flavors are so original. For some gorgeous photos of her food, you should also check out these mouthwatering photographs taken (again, at one of the events in Tucson) by Liora K Photography.
Because both F and I were there, as you can see we had a “camera-faceoff” with me using my Samsung Galaxy II and he with his Nokia Lumia (can you tell which camera took which photo?). Thankfully, fellow food blogger Je Mange la Ville was also there so I felt a little less guilty about pulling out my phone to photograph and social media share the beauties before me.
So without further ado, the exquisite courses of the Ruchikala Winter Pop-up Dinner Menu of 2014!
Rava Dosa – buttermilk coconut crepe, chickpeas, fresh paneer, pasilla de Oaxaca, chutney pudi, pico de gallo
Kumi explained how there are the crepes that are thin that you usually see in Dosa, and there are the more homey, thicker pancake ones she grew up with. The kind she presented us was something in the middle. Kumi served some ghee on the side that we could spoon on the chutney pudi (the powder you see to the right) to make a little paste to enjoy with the crepe, or you can just eat the powder as is, like she said her parents do!
Dahi Vada – A fermented lentil and habanero fritter in Kashmiri chili yoghurt, lemon, mustard seed, avocado, curry leaf
This was my favorite course of the five. Kumi talked about how she used to hate this dish as a child, as her mother would describe it as ice cream and she knew it wasn’t. Now as an adult she appreciates the creamy desserty texture, and I did too…
I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to have this again unless Kumi makes it for me, as I had never heard of this dish before and would never know how to get it anywhere. I also liked that there was a bit of an interactive part to this dish in breaking up the leave and the chili pepper seeds inside so that I would be able to get lots of little crispy bits with spoonfuls (you discard the chili pepper casing). Every bite was a mix of the soft melty luxuriousness along with lots of crunchy pops.
Bisi Bele – Karnataka-style lentils, lemon and barley cream risotto, ghee poached prawns, tamarind jaggery and poppy gastrique, curry leaf crostini
This dish gave everyone a chance to try one of Kumi’s spectacular breads, she has been cultivating various bread yeasts for years now, and is how I got to know Kumi- because I was drooling and stalking her homemade breads (let me link you directly to her bread food porn photos…). As you can guess, the prawn-less one is the vegetarian version for F.
Beet Gnocchi – Red beet gnocchi, tandoori roquefort bechamel, mustard curry leaf thadka
It sounds strange at first… beet gnocchi? A Tandoori Roquefort Bechamel? Let me assure you, no one left anything on their plates, though at this point we were getting quite full as everything does add up! I loved the gorgeous plating. If you think you don’t like blue cheese, let me assure you here that the roquefort here is hidden and your plate will be clean too (as two people at my table who said they didn’t like blue demonstrated!).
I love here how there is a mix of savory along with the sweet, and the different kinds of textures with the cake, the soft creamy pumpkin mousse, and the yielding edges of the meringue.
Be sure to like the Ruchikala Facebook to be informed of upcoming yummies from Kumi, be it pop-up dinner or her amazing breads or if she’s participating in a CSA! I am shaking my finger at all of you to get on her list to find out about her projects and so she can have MORE pop-ups, like every quarter. I get jealous that she does them more often in her previous city of Tucson than her current home city of Portland because she has an established audience there. We need to step it up and support her!