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A man in an apron’s chef standing behind a counter before two diners. Minnie Morklithavong

How Nashville’s Tailor Tells a Family Story Through South Asian Flavors

Through it all, chef Vivek Surti’s dishes hail from the heart, not the head

The food blogger boom from the early 2000s not only gave self-proclaimed foodies and self-taught recipe developers a platform for sharing their favorite dishes and restaurants, it upped the culinary ante inside home kitchens across the country. The internet, and later, social media, would reveal how persuasive home cooks could be — launching a new food-influencing era.

Around 2009, one Nashville-based blog launched in an effort to share recipes and restaurant spotlights around town. Vivek’s Epicurean Adventures gained popularity with the local community and eventually evolved into a supper club. The blog was run by Vivek Surti, a Vanderbilt University graduate with a political science background, who, while not a chef himself, harbored a deep passion for restaurants. Surti remembers watching a show on the Cooking Channel called The Four Horseman, where a group of friends would visit a farm, pick fresh vegetables for dinner, and share a meal with the farmer. “I wanted to go to that,” he says. After a quick search for similar concepts in Nashville came up empty, Surti decided to do it himself.

Despite having little experience as a chef, in 2011, Surti began hosting dinners out of his parents’ house, where he ran the kitchen with his family’s support, using local ingredients for his meals supplied by Bells Bend Farms. “I didn’t know anything about cooking, I had never worked in a restaurant, I just wanted to share the story and build community,” Surti says, noting his cooking abilities were springboarded by celebrity chefs on cooking shows — Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay, in particular — with his Gujarati cooking influences honed by his mom. The supper club snowballed into monthly gatherings at the Nashville Farmers Market, a craft cocktail program in partnership with a local liquor distributor. It also hosted pop-ups at Nashville hotspots (among them: Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Hattie B’s, Bastion, and 404 Kitchen).

Soon, Surti was looking for a space to make his supper club permanent. The restaurant would be called Tailor, named for both his family’s history working in textiles and as a nod to his paternal grandfather, N.M. Tailor. He partnered with Tandy Wilson, Nashville’s first James Beard Award winner and owner of City House, to split a space in Germantown. As both chef and owner, Surti would run Tailor on the lower level and Wilson would operate his restaurant, Mop and Broom, up top.

In 2019, Tailor nabbed an impressive list of accolades, including Bon Appetit’s The Hot Ten and Thrillist’s Best New Restaurants, with Surti himself becoming a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef Southeast.

A round beige bowl filled with candied fruits, flower petal leaves, a scoop of ice cream, and a leaf-print wafer
The fall cobbler at Tailor.
Minnie Morklithavong
Various Indian dishes and appetizers on white plates set on a green tablecloth
Thepla, tagda pattis, fafda, and murcha
Minnie Morklithavong

As a child of immigrants, Surti thinks of his food as “first-generation American.” The menu at Tailor fuses South Asian American flavors, formative meals and traditions from Surti’s childhood, and influences and ingredients plucked from the region. Dishes seamlessly straddle the line between Surti’s heritage and his upbringing in Nashville, like the traditional Gujarati pairing of dhal (lentils), bhat (rice), shak (vegetables), rotli (flatbread). During Tailor’s opening night, his aunts called him crazy for serving dhal. “To them, it was a dish they never thought of as something special because they ate it every day,” Surti says. “There is beauty in the things that you do every single day. The things that we crave when we’re away from home are those things that we had every day.”

While South Asian flavors are a throughline in many dishes, Surti also nods to his childhood in Nashville. Tailor featured a dish on the summer 2023 menu that many Southerners find nostalgic: a classic tomato sandwich. Its rendition features homemade bread layered with mayonnaise and tomatoes sliced at the peak of their season. Despite its simplicity, it became a standout course thanks to its relatability and nostalgic, emotional tie that Surti describes as a “warm hug” that many Nashvillians, himself included, grew up enjoying.

When you walk into Tailor, which now fittingly has a home on Taylor Street in Germantown, you become Surti’s guest. With two seatings nightly, the dining experience is communal, allowing Surti and his team to share stories behind the dishes when each one is served. His mother’s catfish recipe, for example, merges a Southern staple with South Asian flavors. As it is served, Surti, who visits the dining room with each course, shares that the dish is inspired by the fish fries his mother attended after first moving to the U.S., but that her recipe adds a layer of Indian spices to the fish before searing it on the cooktop.

Nodding to Music City, Surti compares Tailor’s dinners to a songwriter’s night, a Nashville tradition where renowned singer-songwriters perform and tell stories about their work, but for food. “The song becomes so much more meaningful because now you understand the context of where the person came from when they wrote it,” he says.

While the menu rotates seasonally, each service ends with house-made chai. Surti shares that his family’s days revolved around chai, making it a resonant conclusion to a meal at Tailor. The recipe, a careful combination of Gujarati tea, a secret blend of spices, and fresh ginger, took Surti’s father 10 years to develop and perfect. “Being first generation, we’re the direct link to our families that came from India. For me, it’s very important that we capture those memories and we share those memories,” Surti says. “Because now we’re able to really showcase what it’s like to be in an Indian person’s home.”

Two small cups of chai on a black plate with two shortbread cookies in the middle
The recipe for Tailor’s popular chai took 10 years to perfect.
Minnie Morklithavong
Four buns on a round pink plate surrounded by a pool of green sauce
Tailor’s Kachori.
Minnie Morklithavong

Surti is a far cry from his days sharing recipes through Vivek’s Epicurean Adventures, but his imprint on Nashville’s food scene was felt both then and now. This month, the team at Tailor will celebrate its fifth anniversary, and Surti teased the possibility of entering the retail space with their famed chai “soon.”

“These are not dishes that come from the head, these are dishes that come from the heart,” Surti says.