A software engineer by day, Varun Raghavan has a passion for cooking, which is why he started Karma Khana a few years ago. Initially a sporadic pop-up, Karma Khana has become a regular monthly event since last September, and the proceeds for the events are always donated to a nonprofit. Raghavan spoke to us about the ins and outs of his operation.
Explain your motto ‘Eat for a cause.’
VARUN RAGHAVAN: It’s pretty simple. We’re a group of people that love to cook, especially for others. Why don’t we spend a couple hours every now and then just cooking some stuff that people don’t normally find around here? When you are paying for the food, in the traditional sense, you might look at the value, you might say ‘I don’t know if I want to pay seven or eight dollars for this dish.’ We tell people you’re getting the food for free. We don’t turn anyone away if you want to eat and don’t want to donate anything. That’s perfectly fine. If you want to donate something, it goes directly to the nonprofit organization. Suddenly people become much more generous with their donations. They don’t pinch pennies as much. We found that people are very receptive to this and it’s been going well. One hundred percent of the proceeds we raised go to the organizations. All of our workforce is volunteer.
Your website says you make ‘Indian-inspired cuisine.’ What does that mean, exactly?
Actually, we make very authentic Indian cuisine. There are some Indian restaurants around the area, but they serve the internationally popular things that you find in most places. We serve dishes that are very regional. We serve dishes that we’re fairly certain you won’t get in any restaurant in the area. We try to showcase something extremely unique. We change the menu quite a bit. There are a couple popular dishes that we come back to every now and then, but I would say we end up repeating a dish maybe once every three months. We definitely do wildly different things every time. One of our extremely popular dishes is called Misal Pav. It’s a sprouted lentil curry. There is a layering process to serving it; there’s the curry and it has quite a few toppings, some raw minced onions, some Indian-style crunchies, some cilantro, then you eat it with the pav, which refers to a bread roll. You take the bread roll and dip it into the curry and you eat it like that. It’s definitely on the spicy side, and is beyond the heat range for some people to enjoy it. But we found that the vast majority of people really love it. It’s actually a dish that’s very specific to the region that my wife is from. It’s a state called Maharashtra; that’s the state that Bombay is in.