A number of food cart owners have taken a non-liner route to becoming part of Portland’s food cart culture. Desi PDX just may have taken the most international path to food cart entrepreneur. Deepak Saxena began his journey in the north of India. From India his family moved to Mozambique, then to Brazil, and then to the U.S. and the state of Indiana.
Having acquired a degree in computer engineering, Deepak moved to Portland in 2004 to work with Intel and following that, a number of startups. After ten years in the Silicon Forest, with his fortieth birthday looming, Deepak decided to change careers. Oddly, it was an annual performance review that spurred the decision to open a food cart. Thanks to that HR person, we have Desi PDX.
Lest you think that Deepak sprung whole cloth into the role as chef, he has been cooking as a passion since he learned to cook as a young man. During the journey he’s dabbled in the culinary arts as a personal chef, (as Deepak calls it) micro-catering out of a bike trailer at small events, and of course at home. The epiphany that inspired a food cart during that performance review is Portland’s gain.
Desi is a Hindi word that has two meaning. One refers to a person of Indian decent, the other meaning is applied to items that are unadulterated or authentic. Desi PDX has several meanings. Deepak is from India and of course a Desi. His cooking is organic and non-GMO and that covers the unadulterated requirement. But there is a third aspect to the name.
The PDX aspect of the Desi name is a play on the authenticity side of Desi. It refers to the fact that none of the dishes that Deepak creates can be found in India. All of his food is his take on traditional Indian recipes with the addition of both PDX and Northwest influences. Plus Deepak’s recipes are influenced by all of the regions of India rather than a single region.
One dish that comes from this blending of ideas is the Pakora Waffle. Made with Garbanzo bean flour, the Pakora is traditionally an Indian fritter. Deepak has taken that fritter batter and re-imagined it as a waffle batter. The waffle is topped with a classic green chutney made with cilantro and chili peppers and a Hazelnut Tamarind chutney.
Deepak’s signature dish is the Cardamom Chai Chicken. Drumsticks are brined in tea for 24 hours, the drumsticks are then steamed with tea, after steaming they’re deep fried in organic sunflower oil, and then tossed in coconut sugar Chai glaze till the glaze caramelizes and finished with toasted Cardamom salt.