Digging Into ‘Oota’ – A Total Culinary Experience!


Xandari Harbour in association with Guestronomy & Chef Shriya Shetty Hosted ‘Oota’! 

What began as a menu revamp at restaurant 51 of Xandari Harbour, Fort Kochi, transformed into a bespoke culinary affair, unlike anything Kochi has witnessed before.  ‘Oota’, the authentic Mangalorean seven course sit down dinner was curated by young Chef Shriya Shetty and Varun Shetty in association with Sareeka John and Payal Bafna of Guestronomy, a team that curates unique guest experiences. The culinary pop up was a resounding success with the restaurant bookings being completely sold out for all the six days. Ritz catches up with the masterminds behind this amazing gastronomic extravaganza that has set new goals for the hospitality scene in Kochi.

Text: Riya Sonny Datson  

So what does ‘Oota’ mean?  “It means ‘A meal’ in Tulu”, says Shriya who is thoroughly delighted with the response she received for her pop up. The 25 year old Chef, who started her culinary expedition as a home baker, has currently partnered with Varun Shetty to head Pupkins Kitchen, a bakery and patisserie in Mangalore.  “I feel Mangalorean cuisine has not been tapped to its full potential in most restaurants across India. Varun and I moved to Mangalore from Mumbai with the intention of setting up a restaurant but we felt that the food scene in the city had not evolved as much as its neighbouring cities. People still preferred traditional food. At that point, we were not ready for regional cuisine and since there were no good bakeries in Mangalore, we decided to setup Pupkins. It gave us the stability we needed while we did our research and set up base,” she recalls.  Shriya, who is originally from Mangalore, uses traditional recipes that have been handed down over generations and that makes her cooking unique. “The taste and flavours of the traditional recipes are really good, but one needs to elevate it to today’s day and age without losing its essence,” she says. And that’s exactly what she did at Oota!

In a culinary pop up, while food takes centre stage, the experience of relishing a meal is complete only when the finer nuances are in place like the service, ambience or décor. That’s where the Guestronomy team stepped in – to ensure that such crucial nitty gritties of the experience were taken care of. “We started out at Xandari Harbour with the idea of curating a new menu. But in the process, we ended up spending more time at the hotel analysing guest experiences. That’s when it dawned on us that while we can experiment with the menu or serve sumptuous meals, the finer details like service, ambience, décor or lighting all added to the larger picture. So we decided to curate a total experience for the guests that began right from the moment the booking was placed till the time the guests were escorted back to the door post the meal. For ‘Oota’, the marketing was restricted to online and social media platforms but the response we received was overwhelming. We were sold out for all the six days and have already gotten bookings for the next pop up!” says Sareeka one of the founders of Guestronomy, who is also a home baker with a blog titled ‘Sake the Bake’.

So what kind of planning happened behind the scenes of ‘Oota’? “When we initially got bookings, we called each guest personally to understand their preferences and allergies. This was important as we wanted each guest to feel the personal thought that had gone to curating the entire experience. My partner Payal took charge of the décor, ambience and the optimal use of space. The team at Xandari were briefed and given customised trainings. We worked with Shriya closely to curate the seven course menu that was lip smacking and stirred interest in the Mangalorean cuisine,” explains Sareeka.

An interesting element of ‘Oota’ was the story behind each dish that was served at the meal. “As in most pop ups, we had a mixed crowd each night with some being familiar with the Mangalorean cuisine, while others had no clue. So it was an exciting challenge to maintain consistency each night – to ensure that the story was heard, that each dish looked the same way and was served at the same time to every guest. When you are working with a new team of Chefs, there are hiccups initially as it takes time to tune in and get things running but thankfully the team at Xandari was a pleasure to work with. We managed to source all the right ingredients as well,” says Shriya.

A sit down meal is a relatively new concept in Kochi. The seven course dinner was time bound and guests were expected to be seated at the specified time lest they missed out on a course being served. Sareeka agrees that it was a challenge to ensure that guests kept to the time but the Guestronomy team made it a point to send reminders from time to time. “We had only 30 guests each night as we wanted to keep it personal. If we felt that a table fell silent, we would slowly approach them, start a conversation and then quietly leave. These little gestures go a long way while curating a memorable experience that you want to return to,” smiles Sareeka. And guests agree that it was indeed a well curated culinary adventure that they thoroughly enjoyed.

In terms of flavours and tastes, Mangalorean cuisine is similar to that of Kerala but Shriya clarifies that the techniques and use of ingredients are different. “We use a lot of coconut too in our cuisine but the flavours are dominated by chillies, coriander seeds and tamarind unlike in Kerala. It is amazing that our regions are so abundant and different from each other and yet we have so much in common!”

With so much competition in the industry, how does this young Chef plan to keep the momentum going? “I feel I am still learning and I have a lot more to explore, I have made the decision to move cities just to learn the recipes of the region. I am not worried about competition as I am trying to work with traditional household recipes that are not represented in restaurants. I don’t think I am going to run out of ideas and recipes anytime now. I am excited about this journey and I believe that your food speaks for you. Since am not bored, my guests wouldn’t get bored either. I have a good 30-40 years to go before I put my feet up.” Shriya is currently planning to take her pop ups to Mumbai and other cities around the country and hopefully go international soon. Thanks to the success of Oota, Xandari Harbour is already gearing up for the next round of culinary pops ups, so stay tuned!!

Food Philosophy by Shriya Shetty:

“Keep it simple. Food satisfies your soul and I believe that each of us have a relationship with food. It is an integral part of our life. I don’t believe in making my preparations look fancy or scientific but after dining from my menu, if you crave for one of my dishes, my job is done! No matter how far one travels, there is always a restaurant or a Chef that people want to go back to! I want to be that ‘Chef’ atleast in a few people’s lives!”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here