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Mumbai Food: Bridging an idea gap over food

A father and son pair -- Anjan and Avik Chatterjee of Café Mezzuna -- create an equilibrium in which the settled and the disruptive forces can get together to create food for a new palate. And now, the two are also work-BFFs!


The millennial and the veteran: Avik and Anjan Chatterjee. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Avik Chatterjee walks in first. Donning black aviator and dressed in a smart, casual shirt and trousers, the millennial — he is 24 years old — speaks to us about his dream of becoming an architect and produce music.

We are sitting at Café Mezzuna at Infiniti 2 mall in Andheri West. The façade of green and transparent glass panes, a smoking room and napkin holders with the brand name are touches the young innovations head has added.

“When I was studying business administration at London’s Kingston University, I would study the bars I’d visit in the city. I guess I got that from dad,” he says, adding that when he finally joined his dad Anjan Chatterjee’s Specialty Restaurants — which runs the popular Oh! Calcutta chain, Mainland China, Sweet Bengal, Hoppipola (Avik’s brainchild) and Café Mezzuna — once he returned to India, he’d make it a point to leave work at 6 pm every day so he could go out with his friends. “Today, there is no fixed time. I enjoy what I do,” says Avik.

Anjan walks in 20 minutes later, a sherwani covering a classic blue-denims-white-shirt look. While the son noticeably straightens up to greet the father, there’s no denying the camaraderie between the colleagues who break into a smile the second their eyes meet.

The father calls the son the disruptive force that’s providing fresh perspective and Avik on his part is thankful for the basics that his dad has led him through. In an hour long conversation the two talk about their three-year journey together and what lies ahead. Excerpts:

A new equation
Avik: When I was 18 years old, I independently launched a midnight food delivery service called Mad Bites which ran for a year and a half. That was my first experience in the food industry and I am so glad I failed — it taught me a lot early in my career.
I joined dad three years ago, when I turned 21. Initially, he played the strict coach. Today, we have built a friendship that one usually sees between work colleagues. I went through the training and management programme in almost every department of the company.

In the beginning, it took me some time to convince dad to let me implement my ideas — from giving up table space to accommodating a smoking area in a restaurant to the presentation of dishes and music levels. While it was an added cost to him, for me it was a marketing expenditure. I told him to try it for a month and it worked. Now, he leaves me alone and comes only for final tastings. When I told dad that I wanted to do something of my own, he asked me to present the idea to his board. That is how Zoodles and Hoppipola happened.

Father son rapport
Avik: He is always going to want more from his son, and I am glad I have a mentor in him. Off work, we are total buddies, doing our research together and grabbing a drink. But you know, the boss is always around then. (Smiles)

Learning from each other
Avik: He has this one quote he strongly believes in: Everyone can work hard and earn a PhD, but to earn respect you must have passion, hard work and discipline.

Anjan: Every human being must have someone in his life that holds up the mirror to him. Avik’s ideas bring something new to the table and I attempt to assimilate and understand that space through him. Even if there is resistance in the beginning from my end, he teaches me new concepts.

Serving a new generation
Anjan: We were the first to introduce the concept of specialty dining to a multi-cuisine restaurant industry in 1993. Things have changed since then and today, the hospitality space has become more dynamic.

The target today is the upwardly mobile generation that doesn’t think of tomorrow. Avik understands the psyche of this space, and what youngsters his age want. I like to put it this way: Khaana to bahana hai, daru to peena hai (eating is an excuse, we want to drink).

New ideas meet old
Anjan: Any change meets with resistance due to the baggage we carry. We think what we are doing is right. But it is important to accept that bottomlines are changing.

Avik: You should have seen his reaction when we entered Mainline China at Saki Naka after it underwent a makeover. ‘What’s going on here?’ he asked me, when he saw the black and metal grunge interiors.

Anjan: We have debates, no dissent. We are still trying to figure each other out. But we are getting there.

Work on the dinner table
Avik: My dad has always been the kind to discuss work at home, but now, he tells me to shut up. I use the time to get him to check things he did not have time for in office.

When we go out for dinners, dad and I are busy noticing the staff, what they are wearing, and the cutlery. Dad will check the menu and quietly tell me to take pictures for reference. We’ll be engrossed in our sign language and mom has to bear the burden.

Anjan: I was never adamant that Avik should join me, and an elaborate brief was never given. But the atmosphere was there. He was learning 24/7, listening to me and my wife Meenu discuss menus and carpentry on the dining table. It is the DNA of an entrepreneur, to carry things home. Avik is a chef at heart, and he likes disruptive modern food presentation like me. Though, he doesn’t have the same volume and mass and has maintained himself well (grins). There are no wonderful children, only wonderful parents.

On new projects
Avik: I want to take dad’s fine dining Asian concept forward and give the chain a new look. In March, we are introducing Gong, a modern Asian cuisine restaurant in Pune followed by POH at Kamala Mills in April. POH stands for Progressive Oriental House, where we will be experimenting with fusions between two flavours, like Thai and Vietnamese. This year, we will also introduce an American diner with a focus on burgers and an Indian cuisine restaurant that revisits flavours from colonial India.

You’re likely to differ on
Avik: Loud music and a DJ playing in a fine dining restaurant

Anjan: It takes me time to understand, but I am a sharp learner.

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