Two-night pop-up celebrates the intersection of African and Indian food

Sobre Mesa owner Nelson German is doing a two night stand with a high-end Indian chef.

The Arum/Sobre Mesa collab dinner begins with an amuse bouche of jamon serrano and roasted piquillo peppers. Courtesy: Aurum & Sobre Mesa

What: Aurum/Sobre Mesa six course tasting event.
When: 5 p.m. March 9 at Aurum in Los Altos, 5 p.m. March 16 at Sobre Mesa (1618 Franklin St., Oakland).
Menu highlights: Corvina/hake ceviche, jerk stuffed quail, lamb osso buco and chai tea banana bread pudding.
Reservations: $150/person via Resy (links: Sobre Mesa reservations, Aurum reservations). A coursed cocktail pairing add on is an additional $65.

On the surface, chefs Manish Tyagi and Nelson German have little in common other than their profession. Tyagi built his Bay Area creds at high-end Indian spots August 1 Five and Amber Dhara in San Francisco, while German worked his way up through New York’s fine dining scene, and appeared on TV cooking competition “Top Chef.”

Both head up popular Bay Area restaurants, but their spots are as different as they come. That’s why a two-night-only dinner collaboration from the chefs is more intriguing than most “special event meals” than land in Nosh’s inbox might be. What’s the common ground between Tyagi’s Northern and Central Indian dishes and the African and Caribbean cuisine German serves at his Oakland destination, Sobre Mesa?

According to German, the food Tyagi and he make shares more than we might think. “A lot of cuisines are ultimately the same,” he said, “or stem from similar influences that harness their own stories and regional approaches,” for example, how almost every country seems to have its own kind of soup, stew or noodle dish.

In fact, German said, the Afro-Caribbean menu atSobre Mesa and Tyagi’s menu at his Los Altos spot, Aurum, share a lot when it comes to spices and ingredients, despite the clear distinction between their respective cultures. “When you lift the veil on these recipes,” Tyagi said, “they are actually very intertwined and only the slightest adjustments on spice levels separate one dish from the next.”

“With this collaboration, we want to highlight how our cultures have many close connections,” German said. “When we ate each others’ food, we sensed such familiar flavors even though we come from different cultures. This dinner will show how our cultures can be so intertwined. It’s a beautiful thing.” In a world that feels increasingly siloed, this almost seems like a radical premise.

To be clear, silos aren’t always a bad thing — after all, everyone can find “their people” now, any ways to celebrate individual heritage and experiences are now more accessible than ever. But if the events of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that staying within a silo, without regard to the world outside, can also be remarkably corrosive.

Perhaps by reminding folks that we share more than we realize when it comes to food, these dinners can help break down some of those walls, and can assist people in seeing that our distinct cultures have important connections. Or perhaps I’m overthinking it, and this is just a delicious, two-part tasting menu event. That’s fine, too. 

Eve Batey (she/her) is the editor of East Bay Nosh. Email: eve@eastbaynosh.org. Twitter: eveb.