When it comes to Indian food, many of us immediately conjure up images of iconic dishes like chicken tikka masala and indulging in all-you-can-eat lunch buffets. However, there's much more to the vibrant and rich culinary traditions of India. Enter Emily Gilels, the visionary Founder and CEO of DOSA, a culinary venture that seeks to revolutionize Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist while respecting its boldness and diversity. At DOSA, Gilels and her team are on a mission to prove that Indian food can be more than just comfort food or a novelty for the adventurous eater. With a deep appreciation for the complex, authentic flavors of Indian cuisine, DOSA combines tradition with innovation, offering a fresh perspective on the culinary landscape. Join Delivery Rank and discover how Emily Gilels and her team are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to experience Indian food. Through their innovative approach, DOSA invites food enthusiasts to embark on a delightful journey of flavors, while paying homage to the rich heritage of Indian cuisine.
In my early twenties I began traveling India with my co-founder, a native to Mumbai (I still call it Bombay) and was deeply inspired especially by the food I was served in people’s homes, by regionally- inspired recipes passed down through generations.
Eating Indian cuisine outside of America, in intimate settings as well as on the streets of places like Bombay, Calcutta, and Kerala made me realize how underrepresented Indian food was in America, not to mention misrepresented. Indian food in America was something we did once a month and was very stereotypical in that it was often cheap and either bland for the perceived American palate at that time, or overly spiced. India was something entirely different though. Authentically prepared Indian food completely redefined what I knew as scratch cooking with its complex, yet perfectly balanced spice blends, bold colors, intoxicating flavors, and aromas. There was no turning back. My experience in India is what you hear most chefs say happened to them in France.
My love grew for South Indian food, in particular. When I had my first dosa, the savory, fermented lentil and rice crepe served with sambar and coconut chutney, the crepe that put South Indian cuisine on a global map, I was so moved by it that I said, “We should build a brand around dosa and introduce it to the rest of America. And it should be a modern brand that represents us.” At that time, I was just under 30 years old and there were no modern Indian brands, no South Indian brands, and no one going beyond ethnic to celebrate regional foods. I saw the opportunity and I decided to go for it.
Rolling the dice, the first venture was DOSA restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco which became a Michelin-rated farm-to-table, modern, South Indian restaurant group for twelve consecutive years and later transitioned to dosa by DOSA, the natural CPG brand before you today.
I saw two white spaces over the years serving over a few million people in my restaurants. The first was that no one had properly introduced America to lassi which is arguably the world’s first, most memorable, and most delicious yogurt drink at over 3,000 years old. The second was that there were no fresh Indian curries sold in the US market. Sauce is the star of the show in Indian cuisine, and with good reason, so naturally my aspirations grew over the years to make them accessible to everyone. (As you can see, I am always one to share the wealth!)
Raised as a vegetarian, I’ve always consumed lots of organic, raw, plant-based foods. In 1994 when I walked into my first Whole Foods Market on California and Franklin Street in San Francisco, I said, I have to live here if this is the agriculture scene. Standing in the produce section, I was in awe of California and the possibilities it presented in food and for my personal diet. So, later in life, from that place and that passion, I started working with my chefs on dosa by DOSA’s ready-to-eat (RTE) line- authentic, Indian street wraps, protein-rich salads, and handmade samosas, some reimagined a bit to include fresh, local ingredients. Whole Foods Markets often refers to dosa by DOSA’s RTE line as a “gateway to Indian food” for the mainstream consumer. I love that!
Our sauces are unique because we bring the fresh, bright flavors of some of India’s most treasured recipes to the everyday consumer. Our sauces, inspired by home cooks in India (not restaurant chefs) are spiced for a depth of flavor that simply does not exist elsewhere. It’s not about feeling hot on your tongue which is what I consider to be a shallow spice experience. Our sauces and flavors come alive because of the slow-cooking techniques we cherish and honor, including caramelizing onions for at least fifty minutes, using fresh coconut, vine- ripened tomatoes, and freshly roasted, ground spices. We also do something called wet tempering, a culinary process unique to Southern India which involves frying mustard seeds, cumin seeds, whole red chiles, chana dal, and fresh curry leaves in coconut oil and layering this in as a final step in the timeline of building a sauce. A typical sauce from dosa by DOSA takes 2.5 hours to make as we absolutely refuse to cut corners, even at commercial scale.
Our Kerala Coconut Sauce, known as ‘moilee’ in Southern India, is one of the most famous regional sauces in the Indian subcontinent but no one I have ever met in the US had ever heard of it or tasted it before we brought it to market. So cool, right? It’s a sauce used to simmer halibut or other firm white fish and it comes from Kerala, where the coconut palm forests abound alongside these beautiful, white sand beaches. I didn’t know Indian food could be so light, tropical, and healthy until I visited Southern Indian and so we’ve bottled that up for everyone in the US to now afford and enjoy.
When the brand was founded, we got tons of support from the Indian community as well as the non-Indian community. All the Indians had to do was taste our South Indian Sambar, a flavorful, hearty dal made with three types of lentils, fresh vegetables, and about thirty-six ingredients in total that immediately communicated our skills, experience, and authenticity.
dosa by DOSA’s Indian culinary team has always been extremely open-minded, excited to forage local ingredients, and supportive of me as a female founder and operator. We have in-house contests for who makes the best chai all the way to battering everything from fiddlehead ferns to kale pakora in our kitchen. We all share in the joy of maintaining authentic Indian recipes while using local produce. I have loved working with the Indian community and have learned so much from the culture and its diversity. I feel fortunate to have had so much inspiration from the kind and dedicated people who have built dosa by DOSA.
I do remember being pushed as a young brand to not bring so much heat, to make the recipes more mild. We overcame the pushback by just remembering who we are, by knowing our identity and staying committed to an authentic experience, even if it was hotter at times. A good brand has a complex personality just like interesting people do. We’re proud, yet open-minded. We’re modest, yet outspoken. We’re easy-going, yet outgoing. dosa by DOSA is someone I would be excited to hang out with if the brand were a person. It’s a confident, fearless leader, yet humble, modest, and hardworking. And it loves to party and have fun!
The fun part is just that, maintaining authenticity while creating products that appeal to modern tastes, a mainstream American audience, and growing dietary preferences. I always say we’re lucky because Indian food is naturally THE best plant-based cuisine in the world! It’s rich in iron, fiber, vitamins, protein, and calcium. As I was born and raised in New York originally, the collaboration between myself and our Indian culinary team produces great results. I represent America, ensuring the brand reaches everyone with ease and clarity and the chefs naturally maintain authentic recipes and techniques, holding tightly onto that piece. The end result is a winner every time. It’s a thoughtful, highly iterative process.
A great example is our line of lassi, our Indian yogurt drinks. Mango lassi is the most traditional yogurt drink in the world at over 3,000 years old so we make a recipe that wholly honors lassi, a homestyle recipe with richly-cultured yogurt, ripe fruit puree, and fresh spices. However, we innovate with flavors and spices, taking to market Cardamom Mango, Turmeric Banana, Peppercorn Berry, and Cayenne Tamarind Lassi. We are also the only lactose-free lassi in America in support of the growing population of lactose-intolerant people like myself. We aim to define the category for lassi and remain deeply committed to do so until this whole country is drinking lassi, celebrating this most famous drink from India.
We are modern in our perspective and that drives all our decisions. We learn from others but we don’t copy anyone. We see ourselves as pioneers and leaders in all our categories.
I really encourage people to continue to elevate regional cuisines in the US and to do it authentically, be it a food, beverage, restaurant, etc. Don’t dumb it down. But before you do it, go sit with businesses and brands you admire and learn from them. People like to help people, believe it or not. I had no food business experience before I built DOSA and no CPG experience before building dosa by DOSA but I live by a few golden rules I’d like to pass onto you:
You don’t need to have done something before to do it well.
You can be a success so long as you make mistakes and learn quickly from them, without your ego getting in the way.
Be creative. Trust your artistic vision as others will get it and love it, too.
Don’t give up. The people who don’t give up make it to the top.
Take care of people. Your employees, partners, suppliers, vendors, service providers are going to be who get you there and if they’re happy, your customers will be happy.
If you would like to find out more about DOSA, visit https://www.dosabydosa.com/