Expert eye/Farrokh Khambata
I remember the year 1995. It's a vivid memory. Budding chefs like me would do the rounds of Crawford Market, seeking unfamiliar ingredients. Our suppliers — the bhaajiwalahs, butchers and the dessert supplier, Arif — would be our best friends and lifelines to cooking good food. In 1997, it all changed like a food tsunami. Suddenly, there were 'exotic vegetables' like broccoli baby corn and bell pepper, aromatic herbs such as basil, rosemary and oregano.
This is when the real food movement began in India. As chefs, we would only dream of such ingredients. This tidal wave continued through the late 1990s and past the turn of the century. We coaxed our friends to import other produce such as gourmet cheese besides Kraft, seafood and meats. Free-standing, chef/owner-driven restaurants such as Indigo, Joss, Moshe's, to name a few, were slowly but surely pulling the crowds into their doors and away from the five-stars.
Barbeque Cottage Cheese
Mumbai has grown tremendously in the last two decades as far as the restaurant scene is concerned. The current trend has witnessed a rise in owners and chefs creating new ways to present food, experimenting with flavours, different techniques like molecular gastronomy, etc, to capture their guests' imagination. Of course, like any large city, everyday new outlets open and shut. Ever since AD Singh opened his first Olive, a heady mix of ambiance, booze and lifestyle, and a place to be 'seen' at, Mumbai's nightlife has never looked back.
Fire and Ice includes mango, jalapeno and Thai chilli, and comes with a flame that needs to be blown. Pic/Atul Kamble
Successful resto-bars and newer concepts such as Riyaaz Amlani's The Social and the most recent entrants to the scene, The Bombay Canteen and Monkey Bar are examples of being able to rake it in while capturing the Mumbaiwallah's imagination with their regional focus. Restaurants have even found ways into commercial office complexes, malls, old mills, which was not the case a decade ago. Industry captains like Atul Ruia have transformed a defunct mill space into a lifestyle hub; like High Street Phoenix in Lower Parel.
The Sunset Boulevard Tempura Prawns with Asparagus and Snow Crabs. Pic/Atul Kamble
In the next few years, I see many restaurants serving regional Indian cuisines including Bengali, Kashmiri, Hyderabadi and Goan since we don't have many good restaurants serving these in the city. We've been serving a lot of Italian, European and Oriental cuisine in the last 10 years. However, in the coming years, cuisines like Peruvian, Brazilian, South American as well as cuisines from Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway, will find their way. The Indian diner's palate is non-adventurous; they tend to seek out familiar tastes. So, to be monetarily viable, a restaurant needs to suit that taste even while serving authentic food, which can be improvised upon.
The main problem is that these niche cuisines require a certain kind of produce and ingredients, which are not readily available in India. Even if we import the produce, it often comes frozen or isn't stored properly. For instance, Australia not just imported Wagyu Beef but they started breeding Wagyu cattle too. If our laws are changed a bit, if and we're allowed to import livestock, rear it and breed it, as well as put an emphasis on organic farming, the restaurant scene here will definitely change.
Farrokh Khambata, Founder Catering & Allied (Joss, Amadeus, Umame, NCPA Cafe and Joss Catering)
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