The Vasaikar who was never late

Updated: Apr 16, 2020, 07:42 IST | Phorum Dalal, Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Mentor Chef Hemant Oberoi and patrons at Wasabi, Zodiac and Rendezvous remember Taj Hotels' captain Ronald D'Mello who passed away on Tuesday

Ronald D'Mello with Gauri Devidayal's daughter, Dia Yousuf; Chef Hemant Oberoi and Anandita De
Ronald D'Mello with Gauri Devidayal's daughter, Dia Yousuf; Chef Hemant Oberoi and Anandita De

I would joke with people that my staff who lived in Vasai or Ambernath would be the first to report for duty while those who resided in Colaba would be the last," veteran chef-restaurateur Hemant Oberoi recalls his days at the Taj Mahal Palace & Towers. Chef Oberoi made this observation while talking about his colleague from the five-star hotel of over 30 years, Ronald 'Ronnie' D'Mello, who passed away on Tuesday. He was 60.

D'Mello had been struggling with kidney ailment. A doctor from Riddhi Vinayak Hospital in Nalasopara West told Mid-day that all dialysis patients are tested for COVID-19. D'Mello was, too, and he tested positive.

D'Mello's punctuality and sensitivity to every regular patron is what Oberoi remembers the most. "When we opened Wasabi in 2004, Ronnie was the first I handpicked because it was a prestigious property. For Ronnie, the customer and the hotel mattered the most. 'Guest is God' was his and the team's philosophy," shares Oberoi, who would interact with him daily not just at Wasabi, but at his earlier stints at Zodiac Grill, which opened in 1988, and before that, at Rendezvous.

"He was a fine human being, an amazing chap. I never saw him argue with a colleague; he always kept his cool and would be the first to own up if he made a mistake; such qualities are rare to find these days," Oberoi reminisces.

He understood guests
D'Mello worked for four decades at the landmark hotel, and his attention to detail was top-notch; food writer and entrepreneur Vir Sanghvi, who was a regular at these restaurants, vouched for it: "I remember Ronnie — and two other staffers, Dominic and Netson — from Rendezvous and Zodiac Grill days. Wasabi was an expensive restaurant and service was key; Ronnie was an asset because he understood the guests. He was from an era where staffers served an organisation until the end of their careers. Over the years, even if the food of Zodiac Grill or Wasabi wasn't up to the mark, we still went for the service."

On Tuesday, across social media platforms, it was the endearing frame of D'Mello with restaurateur Gauri Devidayal's daughter Dia that triggered countless messages by Taj patrons of their connect with the old-time captain.

"I cried when I heard the news because it feels like he has been part of our lives in a way," reveals Devidayal, recalling a time when her own restaurant, The Table, and Wasabi were on the same restaurant awards list. "On our next visit, he told us: 'You beat us; we were three places after you.' At the end of the meal, they brought us a cake; all this happened because Ronnie knew us. I told him to visit our restaurant with his family but he only smiled," she shares.

Attention to detail
Chocolatier Zeba Kohli echoes this attention to detail during a visit: "One afternoon, I was there for a business lunch, and wasn't really focusing on the order. Half-way through our meal, Ronnie came to our table with Spinach with sesame. I looked up and asked whether we had ordered for it. 'No ma'am, but you always order it. I know it is your favourite.' This will remain a stinging memory in my heart."

"Ronnie and that team would train the juniors but when it came to service on the floor, they would take the onus, especially for high-profile restaurants like Wasabi. They'd be in constant touch with the kitchen for fine details about patron's preferences," says Oberoi of his star colleague.

Another regular, Anandita De, recounts her 30th birthday celebration, "My mum (Shobhaa De) had taken over the Princess Room as a birthday surprise. The evening was incredibly memorable. There were dishes from Wasabi specially crafted for me such as the hand-rolled sushi rolls and the prawn tempura. This was possible with the help of our darling friend, Ronnie."

"'Service with a smile' was Ronnie's mantra. Guys like him understood hospitality and have worked their way upwards from scratch. They make you feel at home, even in a restaurant, and that's what makes all the difference," Oberoi signs off, paying the ultimate tribute to D'Mello.

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