Cooking began as a chore for Kausik Roy as a child in his native India and developed into a lifelong passion and culinary profession. The Stamford resident recently opened his fifth restaurant.
Aladin Indian Bistro at 36 Westport Ave. in Norwalk opened in late July. It features authentic Indian cooking techniques with a twist. Roy's menu serves traditional nan bread and other Indian classics like Tandoori chicken and Mulligatawni soup, and nontraditional dishes cooked Indian style.
"I don't want to think inside the box," he said. "I love to work with authentic Indian style of cooking with a lot of locally produced vegetables; commonly known vegetables," said Roy, who is no stranger to experimentation. Roy created the spiciest dish in the world, something called Phaal, which was featured on the popular television series, "Man vs. Food." Roy called it "insensibly spicy curry."
The food at his Aladin Indian Bistro is much more palatable for local customers, and many of his dishes are gluten-free. By using vegetables that are recognizable, rather than the unfamiliar, exotic ingredients generally found in Indian restaurants, Roy said it takes the fear from ordering lunch or dinner. "It's more in their comfort zone," he said.
"I use the English terminology as much as possible so people can really understand it and experience it with their familiar foods cooked in authentic Indian style," said Roy, a graduate of Johnson and Wales' Florida campus.
He has created "an Indian Bistro cuisine which is lighter and more health conscious than `traditional' Indian (food), while still delivering the dramatic impact of its spices and preparations." Wraps, salads and new Tandoor treatments of locally raised vegetables, meat and seafood are mainstays on the menu.
Roy was only 12 years old when he began cooking. His mother broke her leg and was unable to stand for four months. The responsibility for preparing nightly family meals would usually fall to a female child, but Roy's sister was too young, "so I was the one helping mom, cooking for the family under her supervision," said Roy, who grew up in Calcutta.
"We never grew up with fast food," he said.
Most of the recipes in his restaurants, including Tawa in Stamford and Brick Lane in New York City, are his own, but he does use his mother's recipe for Bengali fish curry. At Aladin Indian Bistro, Roy said he is introducing some dishes not found at his other restaurants.
Roy said he chose the location for his newest restaurant very carefully. While many new restaurants are opening in South Norwalk and people are quite attracted to that part of the city, Roy decided instead on a free-standing building with its own parking lot just down the street from Stew Leonard's grocery store.
"To create an identity there (in South Norwalk) is difficult," said Roy, who feels he can create his own identity in his own way at the Westport Avenue location.
He also likes the idea of the one-business building. "I don't want to be in a strip mall. You get lost," he said.
Roy serves lunch and dinner, and has a take-out menu at Aladin Indian Bistro. In about a month he plans to add a bar menu, and he will also serve up music on Thursday nights beginning in late August. He said the music will be Indian played on a sitar, or jazz, or acoustic guitar. "No loud music. It has to be soothing, something that complements dinner," he said.
Roy will also offer a Chef's Table for a minimum of four people where he will prepare a four- or five-course meal of dishes not found on the menu.
Although the economy has not fully rebounded, Roy said he thought this was the right time to open another restaurant. The economy is improving and people are dining out again, he said.
Tad Diesel, Norwalk's director of marketing and business development, said it's a good sign that people are going out to eat and that so many new restaurants are opening, particularly in the city. Diesel said it's not just the numbers of restaurants that are opening, but also their diversity.
"It's not a lot of look-alikes. It's a variety of culinary cultures. If you can't find something great to eat in Norwalk on any given night, then you're not looking very hard," he said.
For reservations or information, call the restaurant at 203-939-9040 or visit the website, www.aladinindianbistro.com.