Thayer Street Restaurateur Strives for Variety in Indian Cuisine

Kabob and Curry owner dishes on his journey to bring Indian flavors to Providence

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Before Sanjiv Dhar was the restaurateur behind Providence’s longest-running Indian restaurant, Kabob and Curry, his earliest culinary influence may have been serving as sous chef to his grandfather in Calcutta, India, where he grew up.

Dhar left home to study Culinary and Hotel Management at the Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management in Salzburg, Austria, where he found time to learn German and French. He met his wife and partner Vandana, who studied hotel and catering management in Mumbai, while they both worked at the 5-star Le Méridien New Delhi.

Eventually, Dhar made his way to Johnson & Wales for master’s level study and after graduation did a stint at Marriott Marquis in Times Square. While at the Marriott, Dhar was offered a working partnership at what was then a flagging Kabob and Curry. “Since I had always wanted to own my own business, I took up the challenge,” Dhar recounts.

In the early days, Dhar and his team stuck to a few key principles: serve meals on time, remember everyone’s name, and make them feel at home. The menu has evolved to feature popular street foods, but Dhar remembers that “Thayer Street turned out to be a fantastic location because the students and faculty from so many nearby colleges were always willing to try something different.”

In turn, Kabob and Curry has always supported everything that helps Thayer Street build its brand, like the Thayer Street Arts Festival. “Any business has to support its surrounding community because you cannot grow unless the entire community prospers.”

Despite so much variety already offered by Dhar’s restaurants – which now also include Rasoi in Pawtucket, Rasa in East Greenwich, and most recently, Chaska in Cranston – he assures diners there are still new dishes to explore.

“I enjoy cooking Kashmiri cuisine because I grew up eating that at home. It’s totally different from what everyone is used to.” Known for being more meat centric than the cuisines of other regions of India, Kashmiri dishes are rich in flavor but milder in spice. Dry spices serve as the building blocks of sauces, rather than onion or coconut, and a unique warmth is achieved by using an abundance of “hot” spices like cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and ginger. Even those who have frequented Dhar’s restaurants for many years can look forward to ever evolving menus. “I hope I can one day introduce Rhode Islanders to this region of India.”

When asked what he loves most about the food of his home, Dhar is very clear. “The beauty of Indian cuisine is in its diverse spices,” he says. “The tempering of a dish is very scientific, and every region is passionate about its style. A simple curry dish may change because someone decided to add one less or one extra spice, but the results are still delicious. So why not expand the palate?”

It’s not only Rhode Islanders’ palates that are expanding but also Dhar’s experiences. He’s conducted cooking demos on YouTube and The Rhode Show, held teaching sessions at both Brown and Harvard, and spoke at TED Talks in Providence.

When asked his favorite food memory from his time in Rhode Island, Dhar had no trouble choosing one.

“One day one of my chefs said, ‘Sir, when you’re tense it shows up on your face and we all get worried and nervous. On the other hand, if you are smiling, we feel great.’ Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to put a smile on as soon as I enter the restaurant. Ultimately, it’s my job to coach them with a smile and give them a place where they, too, can smile and be happy. Everyone should be happy in our restaurants – employees and guests alike!”

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