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Carpe diem

From corporate job to dream cafe, Radhika Shashtry followed the beat of her heart and the taste of her passion all the way to Isprava’s favourite Indian hill station, Coonoor.

 

/,ka:peI ‘ di:Em, ‘diEm/
Latin, ‘seize the day!’

She moved from the city to a countryside hilly paradise. Away from the fast-paced corporate world as managing director of Resort Condominiums International, Bengaluru into the languid realm of relaxation and dreams come true. Radhika Shashtry did a ‘Carpe Diem’ in every sense of the word, seizing the moment, and discovering her inherent passion for cooking and food in the glorious hill town of Coonoor. “The decision to settle down in Coonoor was a no brainer, and for those who have visited this town, will understand why I say that. It still retains an old world charm and isn’t polluted by new-age malls and multiplexes—if we need, we get our shopping fix in Bengaluru or Coimbatore. The local community is a cosmopolitan mix of wonderful people from all over the country. People who have been there and done that—authors, artists, corporate achievers, people from three armed forces, retired businessmen and women, lawyers, bankers—Coonoor has them all. An eclectic mix that makes it an affable community to live with,” explains Radhika. From the lush landscape of Coonoor with its clean, crisp air to the temperate, year-round pleasant weather, there’s so much to love about Coonoor. And what Radhika particularly appreciates is the small town culture where everyone knows everyone and entertaining means meeting in people’s homes and getting together in gardens for elaborate lunches or cute tea parties or rendezvous at the club. Radhika admits, “For those of us who live in the Nilgiris, having house guests is a regular occurence. To take guests out to a lovely place for coffee or a meal was quite a challenge. There were a few places, but we could do with more. My passion gave me the impetus that I could create a space that people would love to bring their friends and guests to with pride, and be assured of experiences they would cherish long after they left.”

As with any transition, Radhika took her time to find her bearings in Coonoor. It was a remarkable shift from the busy, chaotic life to a more slow, peaceful day and night. She was looking for things to keep herself engaged. Bridge and golf, two extremely quintessential activities a part of Coonoor’s legacy, were up for contention, however with no understanding of either, she had to find something else that she would love to do, and thus came to life the idea of Cafe Diem. Furthering this prospect, Radhika had a beautiful backyard that would set the perfect scene for a quaint cafe where people could visit to have a nice meal whilst enjoying a great view—something that wasn’t the run of the mill and quite unique. The choice of location for Cafe Diem therefore came by default. The backyard was not developed at the time, but it had the most spectacular view of the Bandisholai Forest and the tea gardens beyond. Radhika knew she could create something here that would take people’s breath away. And she did exactly that. “Every aspect of Cafe Diem reflects my passion for travel and adventure. The eclectic interiors with pieces handpicked from across the world gives it character and a unique charm. There are several conversation pieces right on your table, from the table mats to the salt shakers, coaster and even the demure water bottles clad in dainty aprons. The interiors essentially reflect the quaintness of Coonoor and the quirkiness of my personality,” explains Radhika. Ask her her favourite spot in the cafe and she promptly retorts, “the cafe deck with its unmatched view of the Nilgiris— at the risk of sounding pompous, I have to say, that it has to be one of the best views in this little town.”

The name of the cafe stems from her own belief in the philosophy of ‘Carpe Diem’: that it is important to live in the present moment and enjoy it rather than brood about the past or live in past glory. Similarly fretting about the future serves no purpose either. Instead, do what your heart prompts, follow your passion and you can’t go wrong. And that is exactly what Radhika did. “I am proud to have created this little piece that is now frequently referred to as a ‘gem’ of the Nilgiris, both by visitors and locals alike,” quips Radhika. Cafe Diem is a unique gem indeed—it has even created a niche for itself by offering exquisite international all-vegetarian fare. One of the reasons to go down this route was Radhika’s extensive travels abroad, where she ate delicious vegetarian food. She realised that there is so much variety in vegetarian food that is simply unexplored because a large population of people believe that meat is tastier or required to complete a meal. But her opinion reigned that vegetarian food can be equally tasty, if not better. In fact, lately many people have been giving up meat, turning to veganism and other such lifestyle shifts for a variety of reasons. Another compelling motivation was that the Nilgiris was a haven for fresh vegetables and fruits, so much so that even hard-core self-proclaimed carnivores speak highly of the produce. And finally, most importantly, everything that is served at the cafe is personally tasted by Radhika, who herself is a vegetarian, “I empathise with fellow vegetarians who crave for international cuisine that is authentic. Some say that they are reassured that there is no possibility of cross contamination from a non-vegetarian kitchen. These concerns are real, and we have addressed them by providing the Cafe Diem option.”

Speaking about the food, some of the popular Cafe Diem favourites and the one’s you need to bookmark are:
1. The pumpkin coconut soup is a big favourite amongst the cafe’s patrons.
2. The thin sourdough artisanal pizzas, with exotic topping combinations like goats cheese, figs, honey and chilli oil, or bean curd, mushrooms, potatoes and olives or mascarpone feta and in-house produced sundried tomatoes, are standout winners.
3. Savoury cakes featuring pesto, feta, olives and roasted pimentos or goats cheese, walnuts and raisons is something most have never tried before. This is served with a salad on the side and can double up as a healthy dessert as well. Radhika excitedly reports, “I once had a senior corporate executive from Mumbai text me to check if I could send him a regular supply of our savoury cakes!”
4. The cafe’s pomegranate cheese cake is known to be able to give any cheese cake in the world stiff competition.
5. The homemade whole wheat pastas are fresh, soft and al dente.
6. And finally, Radhika’s personal favourite is the absolutely divine onion and cheese tart.

So, seize the moment, visit Coonoor’s Cafe Diem and bon appetite!

 

 

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