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Great W’kana Cafe, First of its Kind in Texas, is a Gourmand’s Delight

By Jacob David

Kalonji

Boneless Kalonji Murgh Kebab (chicken flavored with onion seeds) with grilled shrimp, Sheekh Kebab (lamb), mint chutney and salad

STAFFORD: When it comes to innovation in cuisine, restaurants fear to try anything out of the ordinary.  The restaurant Great W’kana Cafe aims at serving people great tasting food from all regions of India.  It is led byChef Sunil Srivastava, born and raised in Jaipur, Rajasthan, along with managing partner, Jacob Mathews, from Mumbai. Anupama Srivastava, like Chef Sunil, is a graduate of Indian Hotel Management, Chennai. She helps them both to brainstorm and run the Great W’kana Cafe. Anupama is also a Certified Hospitality Educator awarded so by the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

W’kana means harmony in vedic sanskrit. Keeping the meaning alive, both Chef Sunil and Jacob have managed a harmony of earth tone colors along with contemporary wall hangings and unifying a blend of flavors from Indian food cultures. The restaurant is painted a match of red and yolk yellow colors with brick patterns by the open kitchen divide that represents Indian villages. The restaurant plays healing ragas and Buddha Bar music. Chef Sunil cooks daily in front of his guests, in the open space, what each diner likes. “For me, it is important that I know which region of India my guests hail from. That helps me tone the spices accordingly to suit your taste buds. It’s a gift I’ve acquired along the way.” he says.

For diners who are in a hurry and want it to be a fast food experience because of its booth style seating arrangements, expectations can be pleasantly surprising. The cozy restaurant that can seat 50 people, invites you to relax and spend an hour or two, get to know Chef Sunil and his intimate cuisine creations.

Dal

Aged Basmati vegetable pilaf with Tandoori Murgh, Peshawari Murgh Tikka, Tandoori Machi, Dal, Mint Chutney and Vegetable salad

Great W’kana Cafe does not carry a regular menu. Instead they have fliers that carry interesting food items from the expanse of India. This is changed monthly or bi-weekly when inspiration hits Chef Sunil. “I want to keep the menu items fresh. I want my diners to try different dishes each month. That is our reward to them for visiting us again.” he says. The menu presents an amazing array of tastes – the mint chutney is the freshest your tongue will ever taste, with a hint of lime and fresh yogurt.

Tandoori Tilapia with a squeeze of lime and lightly coated with spices is seared to perfection on both sides, yet steamy and tender inside as you cut in with your fork. The Northwestern frontier chicken also called Peshawari Murgh Tikka is succulent and juicy, the spices not too intense, but just right. The chicken pieces flavored with onion seeds called the Kalonji Murgh Kebab is mild to the taste, great in flavor. The lamb from New Zealand is ground up with fresh broken peppercorn and a mix of unique Indian spices in the right ratio and grilled to perfection, then skewered also known as the Sheekh Kebab. The Palak (spinach) and Dal is a blend, steamed just right that they compliment each other. The Chicken Tikka Masala is all boneless tender chicken that falls apart and blends in the creamy tomato sauce. The aged basmati rice which is a superior quality rice, known for its aroma and consistency not to break apart, is used for the vegetable and meat pilafs. All meats are boneless. All spices are ground fresh in limited portions not to last for more than two days. “This helps increase the quality of taste in our food. We take our spice preparation seriously.” Anupama Srivastava explains.

It is also the first Indian restaurant here in Houston to serve a regular line of breakfast items with Parathas, Omelettes, chai and kapi (tea and coffee, spelt the Indian way in the menu). People with a busy lifestyle who skip breakfast can now grab a quick brunch break from work to eat a hearty breakfast at Great W’kana Cafe.

Chef Sunil Srivastava,  a graduate from the Indian Hotel Management Institute in Bangalore (1995), the 2nd best school of culinary arts in India, has schools in 17 states. He recalls the intensive selection process. Right from the start, he fell in love with the food and beverage services. “I felt comfortable in the kitchen, taking my time to understanding what good food was all about.” Right after graduation, he did his chef training at the Grand Kakatiya, Sheraton, Hyderabad, for two years.

In 1997, Chef Sunil won the Best Chef and gold medal for excellence in French Culinary Creations while working at the ITC (Indian Tobacco Company) awarded by the Hyderabad  Associates of Catering Professionals. Hearing of his achievement, he was approached by the Zerbounne Cruiselines, Germany, to be their Seafood Chef on their five star cruiseship Astor. He fondly remembers carving four inch steaks out of his first fresh catch Tuna that was ten and a half feet long, weighing roughly 850 lbs at Lisbon, Portugal. Traveling worldwide, meeting people, gaining experience on the Astor, Chef Sunil has touched most shores around the world. It has helped him understand the varied tastes people have.  He has served high level state dinners to the Duke of Edinburgh, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,  Atul Bihari Vajpayee, the 11th Indian Prime Minister, current Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister, Chidambaram, His Royal Highness of Jaipur, and Baroda, Nawabs of Hyderabad, the King of Daspalla, Vishakapatinam, several French naval commanders and Captains. He also planned and hosted a cooking show for Miss India 2002. He has done cooking shows for Star Plus and been featured by major newspapers in India – Times of India, Indian Express, Hindu and a host of other publications. Chef Sunil Srivastava’s ultimate goal is to participate in the Iron Chef Championship and win.

Jacob Mathews, managing partner, has been associated in sales with several food service companies like Ali Raza in Saudi Arabia, Sea Rock, and Leela Kempinski, Mumbai. Meeting Chef Sunil Srivastava in Houston six months prior to starting the Great W’kana, they found they had common goals. With their passion being shared by Anupama Srivastava, there was no looking back.  This is their brainchild, the result of their hard work.

Coming to America on an O-1 visa, for extraordinary talent in the culinary arts and sciences, Chef Sunil Srivastava took 3 months in Virginia to help a friend develop a restaurant. He then worked at Amber India, California,  for three years, which ranks among the top 100 best restaurants in the Bay area for 12 years. He then moved to Houston and introduced the Dawat Catering concept, a full elegant North Indian Style Catering extravaganza that features a pre-plated food arrangement for big events. Starting on the journey to form his own restaurant, he dreamed of the “Beyond Curries” concept. Great W’kana’s menu features this everyday. Chef Sunil loves to cater to intimate parties of 100 to 200 people. He believes in small groups as quality of taste must not be compromised.

Loyal, repeat diners come in from as far as the Woodlands to taste Chef Sunil Srivastava’s creations. “We don’t mind driving the distance for really good food,” said an elderly American couple who are connoisseurs of Indian food.  A British diner who was initially brusk, saying he would decide if it was Indian food or Indo American food is now in love with Chef Sunil’s food.

The news of Great W’kana Cafe’s spread of great taste is catching on fast. Great W’kana Cafe wins major points for innovation in menu and decor, consistency in food taste, quality control, food presentation, service and customer attention.
A cozy diner type, this restaurant has a five star aura to it.

Visit them at 11720 West Airport Blvd, Suite 600, Meadows Place, TX 77477. 832-886-4291. www.greatwkanacafe.com

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