Nashville culinary talent Vivek Surti has operated one of the city’s most beloved and long running pop up dinner series for seven years. He teams up with another innovative Nashville favorite, Bastion Restaurant, to celebrate success.
An Unusual Path to Culinary Success
Nashville’s Vivek Surti has taken an unusual path to culinary success. He began cooking early on, preparing meals for his parents and siblings, but never followed the path of a traditional professional chef. Instead, he started Vivek’s Epicurean Adventures, his food blog, in 2010 after moving back to Nashville from Washington D.C. Surti felt inspired. And with two years of blogging under his belt, he branched out, creating the VEA Supper Club.
The VEA Supper Club in Nashville
Surti’s supper club started out small, hosted in his parents’ dining room, but six years have passed and Nashville has taken notice, along with a growing number of food enthusiasts around the country. Supper Clubs allow for a more intimate dining experience, shared more closely between chefs, producers, and their patrons. Surti’s supper club operates on what’s called a ‘pop-up’ basis, which means it appears, one night at a time, occupying a restaurant, a Farmer’s Market, or other location, then disappears like magic. Local restaurants are hoping the act continues.
Upscale locations all across Nashville have bought into Surti’s formula—locally sourced meals, accompanied by some of Nashville’s finest wines and homegrown Southern IPAs. And so have the patrons. Tickets to attend one of Surti’s bashes, depending on the size and location of the event, can run upwards of $150, a reasonable price all things considered. Since the food is of the highest quality—and there’s an exclusive, one-night-only draw that comes from operating as a pop-up—people are willing to pay. Some nights, Surti and his staff have prepped multi-course meals for (and sold tickets to) more than 200 people. Selling-out regularly, the events are ‘can’t miss,’ and Surti helps provide the food while promoting his hometown’s best restaurants.
Celebrating Seven Years at Bastion
He recommends Bastion, Chef Josh Habiger’s innovative watering hole, which serves Nashville’s upscale young professional crowd, its insatiable artists, and its undefeated dreamers. The small 24 seat restaurant serves an evolving five-course menu and a la carte items. VEA Supper Club celebrated its seven-year anniversary on Sunday, May 20, 2018 by collaborating with Bastion. The multi-course feast was paired with sparkling drinks and a relaxed, authentically Southern atmosphere.
We spoke with Vivek Surti about his career on the occasion of VEA Supper Club’s Seventh Anniversary.
Q: How has the Nashville food scene changed since the time that VEA Supper Club began?
VS: The food scene, like the city, has exploded over the past seven years. When I began VEA Supper Club, there were only a few restaurants in town with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Cafe Margot [and] Jeremy Barlow’s Tayst come to mind. That has totally changed, and you can find that farm to fork experience all over Nashville now — which is great.
Q: Has your approach to flavor changed over the years?
VS: My goal has always been to create a memorable experience for people. I want to cook like I cook at home and share authentic Indian flavor. I grew up in the South, but my parents came from India and that was the cooking in my home. People are curious about Indian cooking, and a lot of places do not serve authentic Indian cuisine. Like many first generation Americans in the restaurant business, the tendency was to Americanize the cuisine to make it more familiar. Some of the most popular Indian dishes in the South are not Indian at all. Chicken Tikka Masala is a British dish, and naan is Persian. India is an extremely diverse country with many languages, religions and food traditions. I am always learning more about it, and I want to share that with people who come to the supper club. I want to cook authentic Indian food that is not compromised. Attitudes have changed so much over the time that I have been doing this. I credit people like Anthony Bourdain and shows like The Food Ranger with opening people’s minds about food from different cultures. I think people now are curious and look forward to experiencing flavors and dishes from different places.
Q: How does the food from your Indian roots compare to the food of your Southern upbringing?
VS: In a lot of ways, the cuisine of the South is similar to Indian food. There is a particular dish from India made with okra and tomatoes. I found this dish to be common in the South with a few differences in seasoning and spice. Many say that Southern cuisine is heavily influenced by African cuisine. I see those influences, but I also believe that African cuisine shares many flavors and technique with Indian cuisine. When I was growing up in Nashville, we did not appreciate different American cuisines. There was just American food and at the time the choices were limited to chain restaurants. Some local barbecue places stand out.
Q: Why did you choose Bastion as your partner for celebrating the seventh anniversary of VEA Supper Club?
VS: So when I was thinking about planning this dinner, I thought I would swing for the fences. I have so much respect for Josh Harbiger and have known him a long time. My sister and I were some of the first customers when Catbird Seat opened. I think he is the best chef in the country, maybe in the world. His dishes are some of the most creative and memorable I have ever experienced. So I called Josh to see if Bastion would be interested in collaborating on this dinner and he said yes. I was ecstatic. His cooking is always genius. He has a natural ability to put flavors together in a way that is always unique, unexpected and delicious. I was honored to work in his kitchen to bring this meal together.
Q: What is the future of VEA Supper Club?
VS: I will continue doing this as long as I have a passion for it, and I do not see that ending. There is so much to learn and explore with cooking, and I want to continue breaking down barriers between the cooking process and the dining experience. When you come to one of my dinners, I want you to learn and to feel like you are in my home. I want to cook like my grandmother cooked.
Connect with VEA Supper Club
Vivek Surti’s VEA project also offers cooking classes. Always having been passionate about sharing the experience of cooking and dining as a group, his classes introduce students to traditional cuisines with global influences, including Thailand and India.
What VEA Supper Club serves up are personalized, once-in-a-lifetime meals, the menus of which are written by Surti’s greatest influence, Nashville itself. The main goal of the supper club is to introduce new and exciting options to the city’s culinary scene. Some nights there may be traditional Southeast Asian cuisine, and on others there will be barbeque — or whatever Surti feels his hometown is hungry for. Always on the search for the latest and greatest, Nashvillians can attend VEA Supper Club events and never see the same menu twice.
You can learn more about Chef Surti and VEA Supper Club at veasupperclub.com.