Say hello to NYC’s latest Indian Michelin Star restaurant. It earned the prestigious Michelin star in November 2022 and is called Semma. A popular South Indian restaurant in the U.S., Semma is known for its authentic flavours when it comes to South Indian food. The team behind Semma, Dhamaka, Masala Wala & Sons, all located in NYC aim to bring about the real, authentic stories of Indian food.
Here is how Semma is making a mark in the most bustling city in the world, New York.
Chef Vijay Kumar, the man behind Semma
Headed by Chef Vijay Kumar, Semma celebrates authentic South Indian food with the presence of flavours that would help the diners establish an emotional connection with the history, taste and culture of the land. The concept of the dishes is drawn from Chef Vijay’s childhood memories in his rural and ancestral house. It is a culmination of all the memories that Chef Vijay has collected while growing up in his home in Tamil Nadu, and while studying or travelling across the country.
Chef Vijay, in one of his past interviews, had mentioned how his grandmother handpicked snails so as to cook them in different spices in a mudpot. His cooking has greatly been influenced by people at home and the traditional methods they follow.
The word ‘semma’ is Tamil slang for ‘super’ or ‘fantastic’. Semma’s menu is reflective of the childhood memories of Chef Vijay Kumar, who grew up near rice paddies which were harvested by his grandparents.
The speciality of the Semma menu is that it doesn’t use any cream or turn down the spice level of the items on the menu. The cooking style is on the lines of authentic home-style South Indian cooking. Semma is all about establishing an emotional connection and reminding you of your mother’s cooking style. It definitely is a walk down memory lane for most South Indians.
Another speciality of Semma is that it houses a lot of vegetarian dishes on the menu. Chef Vijay Kumar’s personal favourite from this is the snack/appetiser - cut cucumbers and lemon curd.
The main vision of Chef Vijay Kumar for Semma is that he wants his guests to be brought closer to his ancestral home, and thus to authentic South Indian food.
The Semma menu
The Semma menu draws inspiration from Chef Vijay Kumar’s childhood memories of eating at his ancestral home in Tamil Nadu, India. This menu is difficult to find even in South Indian restaurants of India. All the dishes are given native South Indian names without their English translation.
Popular dishes on the Semma menu include the Gun Powder Dosa, Aattu Kari Sukka and Nathai Piratta. The secret ingredient is not just one, it is the use of all ingredients that Chef Vijay Kumar ate while growing up.
Another dish on the menu is the Mulaikattiya Thaniyam (called sprouted moong). This is a dish that Chef Vijay Kumar’s mother used to make as a snack when he came back home from school. Similarly, Uzhavar Santhai Poriyal is another dish that is made with fresh, organic vegetables bought from the local farmer’s market in Tamil Nadu. Chettinad Maan (Deer) is another dish that is curated from Chef Vijay’s memories of his father getting the deer meat for cooking.
There is, however, no doubt that South Indian food feels incomplete without the addition of any curry leaves, cumin seeds, coriander, or tamarind. The amalgamation of all these flavours makes the dishes on the Semma menu special as they preserve the authenticity of the South Indian cooking style. And, all the spices that are used in the food dishes are imported from India via different vendors.
The Semma experience
Guests who dine at this Indian Michelin star restaurant, get to experience the distinct flavour palates that are a part of the South Indian cooking style. In fact, at Semma, guests are encouraged to eat with their hands, because that’s how the food is consumed in the Tamilian household.
We hope this has gotten your taste buds excited and wanting more, and if you do plan a trip in the near future, you know what one pitstop is.