Chutney’s Etc: Nearly Three Decades of Flavor
For 28 years, Denise May has served her signature chicken Masala and tomato curry entrée to a solid fan base in Sarasota’s Southside Village.
In such a transient, seasonal city—with its ever-increasing restaurant turnover—May and her husband, Ash Shukla, have made Chutney’s Etc. a household name and an independent culinary staple.
“I was a mere 24 years old when I started the restaurant. I came to Sarasota on a mission to be self-employed and in the restaurant business. Success is built on consistency. I can’t stress that word enough,” May says. “Too many restaurants do not remain true to food quality or service. My husband and I have been completely dedicated to not only food preparation but also table service. We are the dining room staff as well as the food innovators and spice developers.”
Because of the couple’s creativity, the Chutney’s menu is rich with Middle Eastern, Greek, and Indian fare. Much of the cuisine is inspired by Shukla’s global travels, and May has been an experimental wiz in the kitchen since her youth. Patrons get hooked on specialty items, including the peanut chicken, which is “like a drug to many,” May says.
“Our hummus is made fresh daily (and very garlicky) and it is a rather notorious dip in the neighborhood,” May says. “At nighttime, we offer lamb vindaloo, which is probably hotter than anything in town but extremely popular. Really good spicy food is hard to come by in Sarasota. Even when restaurants say a dish is spicy, it is often pedestrian for many discerning palates.”
There is chicken Korma with ground cashews, cardamom, saffron, and raisins; stuffed cabbage; lamb kabobs; curried lentil soup; and mango juice to drink. Mixed in with these exotic delicacies are desserts like the authentic Big Easy–style bread pudding with whiskey sauce.
All of Chutney’s food suppliers are local, as the restaurant owners are not fans of “big truck” deliveries, May says. May and Shukla shop daily for meats and produce, and on weekends they peruse the inventory at the Sarasota Farmers’ Market. Keeping the exchanges community-focused ensures that the restaurant will always serve the highest-quality, homegrown ingredients. This level of consistency, as May says, is what distinguishes the eatery.
“I married my husband in 1992 and, together, we have created the business that we have in 2015,” May says. “Our unique brand and polar opposite personalities have only accented what I initially began in 1987. We have employed the same staff for over 15 years. Respect, hard work, and a family environment are essential to our success. We could not do what we do without our incredible staff.”
And Chutney’s would not be what it is today without the tenacity and integrity of May and Shukla.
“We stand out because my husband and I still ‘mind the store’ exclusively,” May says. “We are always serving and always cooking, always onsite. Not many restaurant owners can say that.”