Tampa’s only Nepalese-Himalayan restaurant was one of two local concepts which earned their first Bib Gourmand award this year—a massive feat for an eatery that’s only occupied its quaint New Tampa plaza for 10 months. Three Tampa restaurants earned the city’s first-ever Michelin stars.
Gorkhali Kitchen—located at 10044 Cross Creek Blvd.—is riding off the high of receiving a bib from one of the most (if not the most) prestigious organizations in the culinary world, but Nepal-born co-owner Rajesh Pathak isn’t letting it get to his head. His first order of business was making sure Gorkhali can handle the influx of customers reserving tables at his newly-Bib’ed restaurant for Mother’s Day weekend, with some folks making their first foray into South Asian cuisine altogether.
“The news of our Bib Gourmand was definitely unexpected and I’m still trying to digest it all,” Pathak told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay the morning after the ceremony. “I just have to sit down and think about what our next steps should be.”
Michelin’s top-secret inspectors praised the little delicacies: “Its chili momo filled with chicken is tossed in a fiery sauce that's not for the faint of heart,” says the Michelin Guide. “Sweet at the start, the heat builds and then finishes with a very spicy kick—perfect for heat seekers.”
Popular Indian dishes like tikka masala also found their way onto Gorkhali’s menu, as Pathak realized that folks will sometimes order what they’re most familiar with.
Nepalese fare is influenced by its massive Southern neighbor and shares a few flavors and techniques with India, but its tourism board states that they’re actually five different categories of Nepali food corresponding to the major regions of the landlocked South Asian country.
Pathak tells CL that he’s hiring both back of house and front of house positions to help keep up with the recent, post-Michelin demand. He’s looking to bring on two more BOH and three FOH staff, offering both full-time and part-time hours.
Besides an influx in customers and a glimmering page on the Michelin website, restaurants and their owners can be affected in many ways when the leader in global culinary commentary lets them into the chat.
While Gorkhali won its first Bib Gourmand this year alongside South Tampa Greek concept Psomi, they aren’t the only Tampa-based restaurants that boast the coveted Michelin recognition, given to concepts that “offer a meal of good quality at a good value.” Proper House Group’s Seminole Heights concept Rooster & The Till got its 2022 Bib renewed alongside currently-shuttered ramen spot Ichicoro.
While PHG Executive Chef And Co-Founder Ferrell Alvarez recognizes the Bib Gourmand as a great accolade and acknowledgement of decades of hard work, he says that it’s not the end-all be-all of success.
“At the end of the day, we just try to make sure that we focus on the task at hand, which is providing great hospitality,” Alvarez told CL in the days after the Michelin ceremony.
“I’m able to wear so many hats by creating and surrounding myself with a great team,” Alvarez imparts. “It’s a lot of meetings, lots of checks and balances and discussing ways to constantly improve.”
Alvarez also says that Tampa’s recognition from the Michelin Guide can have lasting effects on the future of our local restaurant industry.
“I can definitely see the culinary landscape of Tampa Bay continuing to progress tremendously over the next few years…we've come a long way,” Alvarez explains. “I think that the implementation of Michelin and three restaurants winning stars will also educate the consumer on what it really takes for a restaurant to operate at that level.”
Last year, The Tampa Edition brought in two-Michelin star chef John Fraser to lead the kitchen at its restaurant Lilac—a trend that may continue to happen with other high-end hotels and hospitality groups rapidly descending upon The Sunshine State. Alvarez points out that it’s easier to earn a star in Tampa versus larger cities like Chicago and New York due to its smaller scale and Michelin’s new relationship to Florida.
Although Fraser helms one of the hottest kitchens alongside chef de cuisine Joshua Werksmen, he also realizes that earning/maintaining stars is an arduous, continuous process.
Ultimately, rewards can come in all shapes and sizes.
With Michelin’s recognition under your belt or not, great service and tasty food will help any chef and restaurateur get a long way. Alvarez, Fraser and Pathak all agree that consistent products and an obsessive dedication to top-notch hospitality will get your restaurants packed out on weekdays, with a dining room full of word-of-mouth regulars—whether you run a multi-million dollar concept on the water or an unassuming Nepalese spot across from a Domino's Pizza.
UPDATED 1 p.m. 05/22/23: Updated the name of Lilac's Chef de Cuisine, Joshua Werksman.
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