Anthony Bourdain Interviews Sunil T at Lunch


Photos: Gaurav Thakkar

By IAN Correspondent

HOUSTON: CNN Parts Unknown celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain interviewed Sunil Thakkar over an hour and half long lunch at Himalaya Restaurant in Little India last week.   Bourdain, who typically spends a great part of his interviews munching on the flavorful cuisine, often sat mesmerized as Thakkar answered questions about his childhood in Mumbai, journey to America, family, and heading a unique business in Indian entertainment.   After Thakkar animated his humble start with Masala Radio 23 years ago, dabbling in producing the feature film “Where’s the Party Yaar,” sailing over 40 Masala Cruises, and decades of rocking the Bollywood party scenes, Bourdian exclaimed, “How are you not doing this in a city like New York which has what like 5 times the Indian population?”    Sunil countered, “India is the motherland but Houston is my home. You might be surprised but Houston is the most diverse city in USA.  Houstonians are very accepting of my Indian culture.  At the last Houston Holi, we had 15000 people that attended and 40% were non-Indians.   Houston is the best of both worlds – Little India inside Big USA.  Masala Radio, Bollywood Parties, Holi, Diwali and even the Ganesh procession through the streets of Hillcroft – Houston has it all.   Indians and Pakistanis living together in one peaceful homogenous community.  No wonder Houston has the largest flux of South Asians among any city in America.  It is the best city to live Indian style.”   Bourdain joked that Thakkar is the unofficial Indian Ambassador of Houston and they both laughed.


Anthony Bourdain with Sunil Thakkar at Himalaya Restaurant

CNN Producers had selected Thakkar for a unique perspective of Indian culture, focusing on Little India on Hilcroft, for a segment on the diversity of cultures in Houston – Indians, Vietnamese, and Hispanics.    4 weeks before the shoot, Producer Josh and Director Toby walked Thakkar’s favorite restaurants – Alings Hakka for Indo Chinese, Udipe Café for South Indian, India’s for North Indian, Maharaja Bhog for its Rajasthani-Gujarati thali, and Himalaya for its Indo-Pakistan cuisine.   Ramesh Anand who was present at the the shoot said “I want to congratulate Sunil for being featured on Anthony Bourdian’s Parts Unknown.  His talent and years of hard work with his amazing Masala Radio team is now in national limelight. We are all so proud of him and everyone at Masala Radio” .


The producers decided on Himalaya after researching its mainstream popularity and food awards.  Bourdain asked Thakkar about his food habits then and now.  “Does everyone in your family eat like you did in Mumbai?” Thakkar laughed, “My Mom does, yes!  But my wife Sandhya prefers Carrabas, my son Sahil – Torchys and my daughter Simran – Sushi, but we all love Indian cuisine and eat it together family style three times a week”   Thakkar talked about traveling all over the world, even Mumbai, but prefers the Houston restaurants.  “We have the best tasting food in the world – the Veg American Chopsuey at Alings is better than what he used to eat when growing up in Mumbai, and Udipi is the only place in the USA you can get the south Indian thali served on a banana leaf.  And you get fresh mangoes from India at Maharaja Bhog.  Its all here in Houston”


The producers had a tight schedule, and the shoot day was set for Wednesday June 8.   In addition to the lunch interview, the show producers wanted to shoot Sunil hosting a Bollywood Party.  Since that would be difficult to create on a Wednesday afternoon, Thakkar convinced the film crew that he could convert Keemat Grocers Hilcroft – the largest grocer in Little India – into a club!  Warned not to publicly announce that Anthony Bourdain would be there, Thakkar promoted a “CNN TV Show” shooting from 5-8 PM at Keemat, with a Bollywood Dance Contest, Free Pani Puri and Deep Snacks and Juices, all to celebrate Masala Radio’s 23rd Anniversary.  DJ Zee rocked as Infused Performing Arts, Rhythm India, Roarin’ Raas, and the Masala Cruise Dancers dazzled both audience and filming crews with the latest Bollywood hits.  Umang Mehta of Deep foods offered free samplings of Deep juices and total bhel as well as Britannia cookies. Bourdain joined in just as Sunil conducted an exciting pani puri eating contest.  After gulping one himself, Bourdain with a tear in his eye was wondering how anyone could take down twenty spicy pani puris in less than a minute. “This is probably one of the most colorful and stimulating interviews we have ever done.  We are so blown away!”


The interview ended with Thakkar expressing that he couldn’t be happier living anywhere else but Houston, and Bourdain inviting Thakkar to India to do a segment on Mumbai and a retreat in his favorite vacation spot in India – Rajasthan.