Indian chefs don't feel the pressure of quality: Rahul Akerkar

Oct 04, 2015, 07:50 IST | Phorum Dalal

A new restaurant by Rahul Akerkar will come up only in 2017, but until then, there’s lots to ponder over, including what drives restaurateurs to up their game

Restaurateur Rahul Akerkar, who in February, parted ways with deGustibus Hospitality, the firm he set up to handle his hospitality business, is dressed in a light pink linen shirt and white pants when we meet him at his Breach Candy home. He gently slides into a grey couch and promptly says, “I am not planning anything right now. But, the blinkers are off, and I am seeing the world with new eyes.”

Rahul Akerkar wants to see more  food-focused places in Mumbai
Rahul Akerkar wants to see more food-focused places in Mumbai. Pic/Atul Kamble

The man behind one of South Mumbai’s most sought-after fine dine dens, Indigo, says his previous stint that lasted 19 years, doesn’t allow him to imagine a new restaurant for another two years.

Select excerpts from the interview:

Q. Any projects in the pipeline?
A. Nothing at all. I am loving it.

Q. Where is Mumbai’s food industry headed?
A. New places, both, mid- and lower-middle level, are opening every day. But they follow the same formula. I don’t see anything drastically different [coming up]. Funky, young, hip hop, exposed bricks — they carry the same stamp. After Social [Riyaaz Amlani’s bar-café-workspace] launched, several others copied the concept. But, the industry has reached some kind of critical stage.

Q. What change would you like to see here on?
A. I want to see more food-focused places open. Right now, they are  driven by experiential concepts. They are more bar-driven than food-focused. There is an opportunity to turn the spotlight on food and integrity of cuisine.

Q. Is customer demand driving this trend?
A. The customer is not interested in smoke and fluff. People are ready to spend on dining but in a strange way, it is a seller’s market. You can open anything, and it could just work. There is no pressure to open a high-quality product. Customers will get more discerning when they start understanding nuances. For example, why a dish requires a certain oil instead of another. An educated clientele is good for the industry; it forces restaurateurs to up their game. Right now, there is no pressure.

Q. How are you spending your time if not planning a restaurant?
A. I am travelling across India and outside, and reorienting myself with the way people eat. Recently, I spent a month in America. I was in Australia and France before that. I don’t want to say I am researching. I am genuinely going out and seeing what is happening in the space of fine dining, farm to table, street food. I am trying stuff without looking for anything. What I think is lacking here [in India], is seriousness of craft that we see overseas, where practitioners have been cooking for eons, they understand what they are doing, and why they are doing it.

Q. And what’s the lesson in there?
A. I wanted to get back to the time I was young and foolish. I am enriching the soul, even writing for myself a bit. When you are in the rat race, you operate with blinkers.  

Q. Are you anxious about doing nothing?
A. The force-sitting makes me antsy. I have been free since February, which is not long, but for someone who hasn’t sat still, it can be. I get to spend more time with my younger daughter and my wife.  We have been inviting friends over for meals too. But, yes, I am meeting people, listening to ideas, gestating, and doing spade work so I can hit the ground running in 2017.

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