Service Bar’s Avishar Barua teams up with ClusterTruck on new dishes

Columbus Business First

COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — Central Ohioans in the Dublin area can now get their hands on new creations from Columbus’ very own Top Chef.

Avishar Barua, executive chef at the acclaimed Service Bar in the Short North and a competitor on this season of Bravo’s popular Top Chef show, has teamed up with ClusterTruck to create a trio of new menu items now being offered through that virtual kitchen’s Dublin operation, which is inside a Kroger Marketplace store.

“I wanted to do things that were unpredictable but with an anchor of familiarity,” Barua said.

The creations, which have a South Asian Twist, include the following:

  • Sichuan Hot Chicken sandwich. Twice-fried, spicy and “numbing” is how it’s described. Kimchi is infused in the breading. It’s topped with spicy Ma La aioli and three-cabbage slaw.
  • Sesame Broccoli Salad with bacon. Flash-fried broccoli and roasted broccoli with hints of chili oil dressed with a creamy roasted sesame dressing and topped with bacon and sesame seeds.
  • Pimento Cheese and Veggie Poofs. It’s a vegetarian dish made with smoked cheddar, mild white cheddar, pimento peppers and spices. The veggie chips (the poofs) are made from tapioca. Barua said it’s akin to pork rinds though there isn’t a shred of meat involved.

“You’ve had a broccoli salad before, but not like this,” Barua said. “I wanted to do a hot chicken sandwich, but in a different way.”

The goal was dishes with big flavors that reflected Barua’s interests and tastes, but nothing that was going to overtax the ClusterTruck team.

Barua said he’d been asked to collaborate with other platforms in the past but said no. He was even hesitant when ClusterTruck approached him a few months ago.

But after talking with ClusterTruck CEO Chris Baggott and touring the operation, Barua was sold in part by the speed at which the operation functions and its commitment to deliver food within 10 minutes of its preparation.

That eliminated one of the biggest concerns for Barua: freshness.

“I was impressed with what they’re able to do,” he said. “They’re almost more of a customer service company.”

Delivery and carryout was something he, like many chefs and restaurant operators, was forced to learn about on the fly. Service Bar wasn’t intended to be such an operation, but was forced to do in the past year.

“We always wanted people to come in and have the full experience,” he said.

They’re working on a plan to reopen dine in at the restaurant arm of Middle West Spirits, though that hasn’t been finalized yet.

In the meantime, Service Bar continues to benefit from the raised profile of Barua being on TV.

“Thursdays are busy for sure. I think people like to get carryout and watch (Top Chef),” he said. “I feel like we’re having more of a dialogue with customers now. I definitely think a lot more people are aware of us.”

Service Bar offered a special menu earlier this month inspired by fellow chef-testant Shota Nakajima. Barua also went to Nakajima’s Seattle restaurant to team up on a pop-up.

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