Nithya graduated from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s Community Kitchen culinary job training program in 2017. The 14-week course prepares adults for careers in the food industry.
Nithya had come to the United States with her husband, a software engineer for CVS, from Tamil Nadu in India. In India, Nithya had a masters degree in physics as well as a bachelor’s of education. She had been a physics teachers but she lacks accreditation in the United States, and so was unable to continue doing that work. With little English, she took a language class, where she saw an application to Community Kitchen.
“I think the Community Kitchen has been a life-changing program,” she told us, two years ago as she was graduating, and it turns out to have been true. Nithya graduated with two job offers, and eventually accepted a position as a cook and a teacher. But after a while, her husband could see she wasn’t fulfilled by the teaching alone, and suggested she do what she wanted: open a restaurant.
Today, Nithya runs Dosa Express, serving “authentic, South Indian food.” The eponymous dish served is dosa, a rice batter pancake (not unlike the French crepe) that has is its origins in South India. She initially ran Dosa Express herself, but she now has a partner who helps her manage the demands of the restaurant business.
Each week, the two plan out a new menu, rotating through different recipes for dosa, curries, chicken, fish, and biryani. “There are twenty to thirty varieties of biryani,” Nithya says, “so we’re not worried about running out of choices.”
She finds that her American customers prefer more familiar Indian fare like tikka masala and naan, but that parotta, especially kothu parotta, a dish of shredded bread, egg, meat and spices are also very popular. “People like a new variety,” she says.
Nithya, too, gets to give back and experience variety in her work by assisting with the Community Kitchen and the Food Bank. “I like CK [the internal Food Bank acronym for Community Kitchen] so much, I wanted any opportunity to volunteer,” says Nithya. “CK is part of my life. The instructors, they are part of my family.” She loved getting to demonstrate to Class 71 her very own vegetable biryani recipe.
Nithya is also participating in Food Bank fundraising events with Dosa Express. She worked alongside the Community Kitchen table at last spring’s Truck Stop table, and in October she participated in her first Empty Bowls for the first time as her own restaurant… though it wasn’t the first time one of her recipes made it to Empty Bowls: in 2018, Community Kitchen used her recipe for pav bhaji as the dish they served at Empty Bowls.
Though out of Community Kitchen for over a year, Nithya stresses how important it has been for her. She improved her English during the program, and some of the interpersonal relationship skills that she brought from the classes are still practiced in her house.
“I want to say thank you so much for Community Kitchen, for giving me the opportunity,” says Nithya. “I will never forget in my life. I want to give my service to the Community Kitchen and the Food Bank.