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New cooking show ‘KanDeepa Texan’ brings together South Indian and Texan cuisine

Deepa Shridhar is an Austin-based chef and host of the new "KanDeepa Texan" cooking show.
Courtesy of Deepa Shridhar
Deepa Shridhar is an Austin-based chef and host of the new KanDeepa Texan cooking show.

Texas has the second largest Indian American population in the United States. That blend of culture in the melting pot of the state’s cuisine can only amount to some truly exciting food.

It’s this reason Austin chef Deepa Shridhar has chosen to focus her new show on South Indian-Texan cuisine. The show, KanDeepa Texan, has episodes available on YouTube.

Shridhar spoke with the Standard on how the inspiration for the show stems from growing up as an immigrant to Texas from South Asia in the 1990s. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Congratulations on the new show. Tell us a little bit about yourself. I hear you grew up in Garland?

Deepa Shridhar: Yes, sir. So I essentially immigrated with my family when I was four years old in the ’90s and grew up in Garland, Texas. So it really was a blend of being a South Indian eating South Indian food at home. But also, because we were immigrants in the ’90s, there was a lot of just sort of crossover and cuisine immersion and, just generally speaking, the way I feel like a lot of South Indians in Texas cook is South Indian Texan food.

Well, you’re going to have to say more about that. But I’m curious what sort of food you grew up eating. Some of that ultimate comfort food so many of us grew up on, right?

Absolutely, yes.

So like I said, at home, you know, a lot of times there were in the beginning a lot more of a lean towards traditional South Indian cuisine. I’m Tamilian so it was sadams, which is like our version of courses where you would have rasam, you would have different kinds of just basically a rice-based main part with a lot of pickles and sides to go with it.

And then as we started to get more comfortable, not only just being in this country, but being in this subculture that is Texas, then you just really start to get more familiar with barbecue, with queso. Queso is huge. And you just start to realize that there are actually some similarities of where you’d define fine dining in your own household and what you find outside.

So how do you incorporate that? Queso goes with anything, I’ll stick with that. But what other elements do you find yourself or did your parents work into your meals and you find yourself using today?

Well, as especially because I am a chef here in Austin, Texas, when I thought about, “Okay, I want to strike out on my own, I want to make food that is comforting to me,” it only made sense to go towards this route of South Indian Texan.

And what that means is a lot of South Indian Mexican, it does mean South Indian Viet Cajun. It means basically finding those sort of crosshairs and seeing where the rubber meets the road with the cuisines that you find here in Texas and where I’m coming from.

Can I ask you about the title of your program: KanDeepa Texan? Sounds like it’s a bit of a play on your name, but could you say more?

Yes, actually, it was my family that came up with it because there is a Tamilian word called “kandipa” and you use it sort of just to say like, “of course,” like it’s a promise.

Like if let’s say like an auntie came up to me and was like, “Hey, are you coming to my house for this thing?” If I say “kandipa,” that means like, “Oh, I’m there,” and now I cannot break that promise to that auntie. Well, first of all, don’t break promises to aunties in general, but "kandipa" still is just sort of used in that sort of vein. And then we just thought it could be funny because there’s my name right there.

And then if you don’t know that Tamilian word and you’re looking at it, it also does kind of look like, “Can Deepa Texan?” So that’s where it came from.

Love it. Now for the show, you’re focusing on South Indian Texan cuisine. What about a crash course in some of the flavor profiles or maybe a dish?

Yeah, absolutely. So that first dish that we feature on this show is a cast iron biryani. So a lot of it is also just the crosshairs. … I keep using the word “crosshairs.” I’m going to find a new word, guys, I promise. But you find, you know, it’s on not only just the ingredients, but it is also the technique.

Cast irons are, I feel, so important to a lot of just sort of heirloom Texan cuisine. And when you make a biryani, you don’t necessarily bake it in the oven and don’t necessarily make it into a cast iron situation. And so that was one element where we were able to sort of say, “This is that Texan lean on something that really didn’t have [it]. … The cast iron is the ingredient.

What does a cast iron do? I mean, when I think of a biryani, I should say that I think of a dish with a lot of rice in it.

Absolutely. But the thing about biryani is that you layer it in a certain way because you want first the meat on the bottom. It almost kind of feels like, you know, counterintuitive because you’re searing the meat. But that sear is not going to really show up in a traditional biryani because then you’re layering it with rice, then you’re covering it, and everything is getting poached in a vessel, essentially.

What we’re doing here is we’re searing that meat. And because it’s in a cast iron, a cast iron is an oven in itself and it’s keeping that heat. And when we’re adding that rice and those layers to it, what you’re getting is a really nice, beautiful, crispy edge that you wouldn’t necessarily have in a traditional biryani when you put that whole cast iron in an oven covered. It’s getting poached within, but it’s also getting a sear at the same time. And you have something that’s completely different, a new element.

Oh, I love it. I mean, just you talking about it makes me really want to try it. So if someone listening wants to try their hand at cooking something in the South Indian Texas genre, if we can call it that — it’s always tricky to sort of put things in a box. But if you were advising them, where would you start? What’s a basic foundation for folks to know? Is there a dish or something that you would recommend?

So I don’t know if I would recommend a dish. Again, definitely watch the series because I feel like it sort of gives you an idea of how South Indian Texan cuisine comes to be.

I think more so — and I think I would say this about any cuisine, because I do find that people find the names of cuisine more intimidating than actually once you get into it. And I think a lot of fusion cuisine, something that I’m very passionate about, just because that is who I am, has to do with intuition.

So let’s say, like if your family makes an incredible mac and cheese dish, a way for you to incorporate different flavors is going to that particular sort of culture store. Like, for instance, we have all over the country, we call them Desi food stores or Indian stores. And basically they are your local neighborhood, just mom and pop Desi food stores, and they’re just a great way to start exploring.

I would say just be unafraid, unabashed. Learn where you can, read where you can, watch the series, of course, but really don’t be afraid to make things happen that feel scary. I love when people just decide like, “I’m just going to try something and just let it fly.” I think recipes are more about like, you know, “Here’s a suggestion.” And obviously food safety matters — follow those things.

But other than that, don’t be afraid. You know, it’s the most human thing to do, is to cook. So we should all do more cooking.

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Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: