By Manvi Pant
Besides being a compelling source of nourishment, food is the bearer of our roots, geographical landscapes and traditions. Taste preferences used to act as a great unifier of cultural identity, but a lot has changed in this digital-first era. That longing for roots has been replaced with quick fixes, and eating in isolation has become a norm.
Meet Vishal Shetty (52), co-founder of Bengaluru Oota Company, an experiential dining space that is bringing Bangaloreans closer to their culinary heritage.
Vishal (lead image, left) was introduced to the culinary world by her late father, Sanjeev Shetty, who was an outstanding cook and the owner of an iconic restaurant in Bengaluru, Hotel Udyavan. Vishal spent her childhood watching him bring soul to the recipes and serve them with a lot of love.
This sparked in her a desire to follow the same path as her father, but she did not know when and how. “I got married, did various corporate jobs. But that longing to have my restaurant kept me waiting for the right moment. And then, the universe conspired,” confesses the mother of two.
The idea to start Bengaluru Oota Company (‘oota’ means food) arrived one afternoon in Vishal’s kitchen over glasses of gin and a delicious home-cooked meal that Vishal had cooked for a group of friends. “My childhood friend and business partner, Divya Prabhakar, and I were both on sabbaticals from work. She saw my love for cooking. One conversation led to another, and we realised that we both wanted to do this. That’s how it all started!”
Since Divya is a Gowda, and Vishal is from the Bunt community of Mangalore, the food served is a delectable mix of both heritages. Far from being a typical restaurant or a joint around the block, it’s a place of experiential dining where one gets to be oneself, slow down and relax. One needs to book a table days or even weeks in advance, and the premises themselves are unassuming. The food is customised for each guest, and there’s a new menu every day.
“We have a large bank of recipes that we turn around. And we are always mindful of customers’ preferences or allergies before we curate a menu for them. When you walk in, you are made to feel at home. We also educate people on how to eat a certain food in a certain way, with one of us always around to host you and narrate stories of how the food has travelled to where it is today. We also teach people the forgotten history of this food,” explains Vishal.
Ranked 17th at the Conde Nast Traveller & Himalayan Top Restaurant Awards 2019, the restaurant caters to diverse segments. “We provide end-to-end service. We do parcels by kilos and portions. Recently, we have started the OOTA Gaadi, which is a food truck with a concept of minimal wastage and fresh food.”
Vishal loves to experiment and add hints of nostalgia to every meal. The restaurant kitchen is home-style in appearance and the cooks are mostly single women with children to support, who live nearby.
Over two years, Bengaluru Oota Company has not only grown wider in reach but also tried innovative formats to keep up with cooking trends. Indeed, the partnership has been incredibly rewarding for both Vishal and Divya, but the secret ingredient behind their palpable chemistry is their contentedness with less.
“People ask us, don’t you want to expand and go bigger? But both Divya and I know where to draw a line and be content. We both strive for flexibility and balance.”
First published in eShe’s January 2020 issue