Q&A With DosaMaker’s Arvind Krishnan
Back when I was at NYU, I’d pass by the famous “Dosa Man” (a.k.a. Thiru Kumar) in Washington Square Park with his delicious food cart, which has become one of the most popular and award-winning food vendors ever. But Arvind Krishnan hopes that’s only the beginning of hungry Americans’ love affair with the yummy vegan & gluten-free South Indian dosa, because his DosaMaker will make it possible for everyone to cook them at home. The DosaMaker by the Soul of India Cooking Co. is currently seeking funding in a Kickstarter campaign, which launched today — and you can totally pre-order your very own right now at a deep discount! (UPDATE: The DosaMaker has been fully funded!)
It’s a big step in a long journey for Krishnan, who has a background in business and food, and came up with the idea nearly a decade ago when he missed the dosas his family used to make. The dosa may look like a crepe, but it’s actually a challenging-to-cook crispy South Indian staple made from rice and lentils. But with the DosaMaker, Krishnan is hoping to make easier for everyone to enjoy homemade dosas. Krishnan recently took the time out from his busy schedule to speak with me about the DosaMaker and give me a demo of the product!
What inspired you to create the DosaMaker?
I’ve grown up eating dosas my entire life. It was something my mom made at home all the time — they’re from South India. We used them like bread at home. They were something that we always just had around in a traditional South Indian house. In India, usually dosa batter is available all the time. Whenever somebody comes over, you say “Hey, do you want a dosa?” and you can make them a quick meal. So I was in India with my family actually eating dosas — my family in India has a very old food business — and I was working there with them. I’ve been in the food business my entire life. And I realized that dosas are something that everyone I know enjoys eating. For South Indian people, they are something we crave, and, for North Indian people, they’re like a delicacy. My friends here, once they started experiencing dosas, they realized it’s a really cool, versatile crepe. I realized that dosas are something that could be really popular, but there’s no product that can help you easily make a dosa. Nothing out there that you could have at your house. I was enjoying a dosa and I thought, “Wait a minute, there needs to be an easier way to make this.”
What are the challenges you’ve faced — & most people face — when making dosas by hand?
Dosa making is almost like an art form. It’s something that when you see someone else do it and take a time-lapse video, you say to yourself, “That looks so easy.” The first thing about a dosa — as compared to a crepe — there’s no egg or fat in the batter. It’s just rice and lentils. So the minute you put that on a pan, it starts cooking. It doesn’t have that time to spread around, so that’s your first challenge. You have to have the technique to use the bottom of your ladle — and some people would use the bottom of a cup also. You have to have that touch to spread it out, but if you put too much pressure, you’re going to put a hole in it. If you don’t spread it out fast enough, it’s going to cook in the center. That’s one of the biggest challenges. The other challenge is with the temperature. The pan needs to be hot enough so it goes through the cooking process and you get a nice golden color and it becomes crispy. But if it’s too hot when you pour the dosa batter onto the pan, it sticks immediately and it’s not moving anywhere. It turns into this weird blob. So to make a nice widely-spread and fully-formed dosa really takes a skill and experience. With our machine, we take care of the spreading and we also manage the temperature. We certainly respect the tradition and we made sure to have the texture, the ridges — all very important in terms of getting that taste of a homemade dosa.
How long has this journey been for from idea to now, with the kickstarter ready to launch? What’s that journey been like for you?
The conception of the idea started almost 10 years ago. It came to me and I thought it would be a very interesting thing to do, but what was difficult was that there was nothing for us to follow. Ten years ago, the start-up movement wasn’t as popular and the resources for start-ups — especially hardware — weren’t really there. I came up with the idea and tried it at home with my mom. I really studied the art of dosa making to really understand what she was doing. I would work in my free time in my house, just trying to see what could be done and started building some prototypes. It became something I really knew could really work when we built our first proof of concept and that was almost five or six years ago. It was something I did on the side as I was working. It took a long time to optimize the temperature system to make sure the temperature control was right, make sure it was easy-to-use. In the past year and a half, we’ve been visiting China to make sure this is something that can be manufactured. We don’t want to design something that can’t be manufactured. We really want to show our community that we’ve really thought this through and we can deliver for you.
the website lists several different kinds of dosas that can be made — breakfast, dessert, traditional, Mediterranean — but what is your favorite kind?
All of them! I’m partial to in many ways to a traditional dosa — with the potatoes, the sambar,a and the chutneys — because that’s something that brings me back home. I also really like the dessert ones, because I love dessert and it’s not something people necessarily think about. These dosas are a healthier way of having these tasty fillings.
What’s been surprising to people — but I’m really fond of — is our grilled cheese dosa. We actually put sriracha in there. It’s like a quesadilla, but you’re having it with a slightly healthier wrapping and you’re making it fresh at home.
What will the funds raised by the Kickstarter go toward?
We’ve gotten pretty far with our factory. We have a really great partner and we’ve been able to work with them, getting the product to where it is today. The Kickstarter will help us finalize some of our production. We need to finalize tooling and some certifications. Chinese manufacturing can be pretty expensive process, but we want to make this really high quality and to deliver something to the customer that’s going to last. We’re seeking to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter to be able to finalize this push and get the product rolling.
Where is your favorite place to get Indian food in Los Angeles?
I think everyone needs to try Badmaash. I tried them for the first time when I moved here a month ago and it is awesome. What they’re doing is really, really cool.
Images courtesy of Soul of India Cooking Co.