Chef Deepa Shridhar shares how she’s adapting food service during COVID-19 and her latest cocktail invention: Wine Gatorade.
By Courtney Runn, Photo by Kate LeSueur
Before a global pandemic crushed the food industry, Deepa Shridhar was already disrupting it. Day after day after day after day of cooking and serving food at her farmers market stand, food truck and supper clubs grinded on her; instead of accepting the relentless toil as a necessary evil of her industry, she quit. Wary of its sustainability, she “shut down a very successful truck doing daily service” to focus solely on her weekly supper club, quickly garnering repeat fans who came for the creative cuisine she’s known for—naan croissants are a favorite—and the community.
If supper club brings to mind a subdued potluck with friends, you’ve never been to one of Shridhar’s supper clubs. She prefers to think of them as house parties with her curated hip-hop playlists and swag bags full of goodies made by local women. Before the pandemic, Shridhar was feeling familiar pangs of burnout and was already planning her pivot from weekly to monthly dinners. Now, she’s considering how to transition them to the web.
While COVID-19 might have rattled her peers, Shridhar quickly transformed her business model: Within a month of shelter-in-place, she launched an Instagram-live version of her weekly Wine Wednesday parties, offered takeout groceries and launched a podcast. Her podcast—a weekly conversation on food and alcohol pairings and kitchen culture— was in the works, but the pandemic forced her to take action.
“Creating art right now is really important so you don’t have the privilege of being precious with it because really, right now, if you’re in a creative field, it is your responsibility, your duty…to create art for people,” she says. “If you’re good at what you do, you’ll find a way to do it and you need to make sure that’s what you’re contributing to society.”
While this season has provided opportunities to be in front of more people online, it’s also taken. Rental space is expensive, and the future is uncertain. But from destruction can spring renewal and Shridhar is hopeful for a cleansed food industry that is more sustainable, more forgiving to its workers. She’s noticed restaurants are being forced to narrowly focus on their strengths, instead of fighting to compete with every other restaurant in town. She’s also hopeful the pandemic is pushing chefs to stare down the realities of daily service and come to the same conclusion she has: “It’s not feasible, it’s not sustainable and it’s not healthy.”
Until then, she’s making a lot of roti, resting in the comfort of “something buttery and simple” and she’s committed to providing flavorful food for Austinites.
“I feel one of the first things to kinda go with something like this is immigrant cuisine and immigrant cuisine done in a you-can-take-it- home-and-do-it-yourself situation,” she says. “I really wanted to bring that back into peoples’ lives and also just be able to provide a little bit of comfort. Just because we have to ration, just because we have to be smart…doesn’t mean you don’t have to have spice in your life.”
During one of Deepa Shridhar’s Instagram lives, a follower asked if she had any recipes for wine drinkers wanting to purchase her cocktail kit. In response, she crafted her new favorite—and what she claims as hangover-free—drink: Wine Gatorade. “I’m also a wine drinker, too,” she says. “But I’ve always been told just like you’re not supposed to play with your food, you’re not supposed to play with your wine. But who’s going to stop you; you’re in your house.” You can purchase your own Wine-R-Ade kit on 33-tigers.com or try this DIY version.
A large pinch of smoked salt (Shridhar recommends local farm La Flaca’s seasoning salt.)
7-9 mint leaves (another ingredient she likes to source from La Flaca)
4 ounces citrus simple syrup (Shridhar sells her own mix online)
1/2 cup preferred citrus, sliced
1 bottle of favorite house red wine
1 bottle of preferred sparkling wine
1. In a large mason jar or pitcher, place mint leaves and salt at the bottom.
2. Mix in remaining ingredients.
3. Place pitcher in freezer for about an hour.
4. Let thaw for 10 minutes and serve.