Sure, Chef Aarthi Sampath bested Food Network’s Bobby Flay on Beat Bobby Flay in March and dominated the competition on Chopped! becoming the first female Indian chef to win, but she also worked as the Chef de Cuisine for Michelin-starred Junoon in New York City. And now her shiny star is rolling up to a parking lot nearby (on the Eastside at Bellevue City Center every Friday) in the form of Kukree, a food truck so colorful it’s hard to miss.
Sampath partnered with co-founder and former Amazonian Shilpi Gupta, launching the food truck as a precursor for a future brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Sampath’s goal is to bring fine dining to the masses utilizing the best possible local ingredients to produce “an amalgam of flavors.” Her food is far from the one-note, deep-fried carbs served on many food trucks. It’s a symphony for the palate, featuring cuisines from around the globe, including Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, India, and the United States. Each dish is a balanced composition of protein, ancient grains, vegetables, and sauces (there is usually more than one sauce per dish).
Sampath is originally from the south of India but grew up mainly in Mumbai. She left home at 16 to travel the world and landed in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. After working for hotels and acclaimed NYC restaurants, Sampath was looking to strike out on her own when Gupta contacted her with a business proposal. Sampath visited Seattle and was impressed by the quality of produce, proteins, and seafood available in local markets.
“The chefs here (in the Seattle area) are really talented. And even the turnips are sweeter,” said Sampath, smiling at how something like a simple turnip could blow her away.
Since food trucks mainly serve the lunch crowd, Sampath wanted to buck the messy, junk-food trend by serving options that leave customers feeling satisfied and well all afternoon. Her menu is an ever-changing experiment — basically, a rolling R&D kitchen testing out the preferences of local customers.
First up on the menu is the dish that beat Bobby Flay, aptly called BBF Biryani, made with KGB, or Kukree Grain Blend, which consists of quinoa, millet, amaranth, chicken, cucumber, eggs, mint, yogurt, mixed vegetables, and shallots. Other dishes include hanger steak with KGB grains, beans, plantains, Swiss chard, rhubarb, pickles, cilantro chimichurri, and spring chicken over KGB grains, flavored with coriander, and served with asparagus, sunchoke, green harissa, and golden raisins.
It’s fine dining minus the white tablecloth and wait staff — sophisticated flavors packed with nutritious, wholesome ingredients.
Kukree currently parks at the Bellevue City Center on Fridays, located at 600 108th St. N.E., kukree.com