Meet the chef: Paulraj Karuppasamy
Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife and business partner, Nellie Tischler, own and operate Paper Dosa, a restaurant specializing in South Indian Cuisine. Located at 551 West Cordova Road, the menu offers dishes with lamb and chicken as ingredients, but this Santa Fe favorite is especially popular with vegetarian diners. During our interview, the proprietors wanted to encourage Institute readers to “diversify your produce! We are inspired by what goes into our salads, soups, uttapams, chutneys, sambars, and curries. We do serve meat as we want to feed the whole Santa Fe community, but vegetables are what talk to us the most and the ONLY way to get fresh veggies is through a farmer – plain and simple.”
Both Chef Paul and Nellie come from farming families. Chef Paul grew up in Tamil Nadu, India, where his mother was a very good cook, and his father farmed and ran the local grocery store. He taught Paul how to choose the best produce for the store from an early age. Nellie is a Santa Fe native whose farming roots extend to South Dakota. They met in San Francisco, where they both worked at a South Indian restaurant named Dosa. Chef Paul worked in the kitchen for 10 years and Nellie oversaw customer service. We could say the rest is history, but there is much more to tell.
Paul and Nellie married and moved to India for a year. By now Nellie was pregnant and wanted to move back home to Santa Fe to raise their child surrounded by family. Paul needed to work to support his young family, but finding employment in New Mexico was difficult. In 2014, they made their own opportunity through catering and pop-ups at Café Fina and Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, among other locations. In 2015 they took the plunge and opened Paper Dosa.
Chef Paul created the menu drawing from his culinary training experiences: helping out in his mother’s kitchen; three years of exacting schooling, where he learned both front of house and food and beverage best practices and fulfilled apprenticeships at five star hotels; and his ten years at Dosa in the Bay Area. He now “provides jobs for thirty people and feels grateful and content.”
Chef Paul said that Santa Fe Farmers’ Market farmer Matt Romero teaches him “day in and day out with his immense knowledge. His produce is beautiful, and I learn about different eggplant and radish varieties from him, among the many items he has available each week.” Asked about whether he has incorporated any of New Mexico’s signature green chilies in his preparation, Chef Paul acknowledged he has created a Green Chili Cheese Dosa featuring the unique Southwestern flavor. (A dosa is a thin pancake in South Indian cuisine made from a fermented batter of ground black lentils and rice.)
Nellie singled out 2021 Farmer All Star Susan Higgins of Sungreen Living Foods, or the “Sprout Lady,” as she is referred to affectionately. Nellie said, “Susan is amazing; she restores faith in humanity.”
Nellie shared that Chef Paul descends from a vegetarian caste, and so Paper Dosa’s focus on vegetarian dishes comes naturally for him. They have a commitment to “diversifying their vegetables and sourcing locally as much as possible – everything is fresh with few exceptions, such as coconut which is not available here.” When we spoke, the couple was making dinner at home. The menu was a Sambhar, the traditional lentil stew, which in this case featured 15 or 20 different vegetables.
They both agree that “you can tell when something is fresh and local. It’s so beautiful and you can taste the difference.”
During the pandemic, Chef Paul and Nellie created cook at home kits for customers to buy and prepare dishes at home. Today they graciously share their recipe for Green Cabbage and Sweet Carrots Poriyal. Please prepare it at home using Santa Fe Farmers’ Market produce, and then visit the restaurant. Nellie shared, “We welcome our loyal customers and are honored when people tell us that they choose to bring their out-of-town guests to our restaurant.” When you next dine at Paper Dosa, please thank Chef Paul and Nellie for sourcing their ingredients from the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market farmers and vendors. For more information, please visit the website.