Starting off as a preteen, being a part of the hospitality industry is all that Nachiket Shetye has ever known and wanted. The fresh faced 12-year old pursued his love for working in the kitchen by assisting his father at Nish, their family owned Chinese restaurant in Mumbai. Answering his calling, he went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, New York, and worked with renowned restaurants like Nobu and Pengang. Extensive experience in tow, Nachiket headed back, to set up base at home-and set base he did! Not only has he established himself as a Chef, but he’s also co-founded two pan-Indian culinary fests and an F&B consultancy. One of the fests, Restaurant Week, starts today. Over our morning bagel & cold brew we chat with Nachiket about this culinary heaven which lets us explore India’s finest dining experiences sans the standard price tags.
Launched in 2010 with an idea to, “Create an event that allows people to go out and enjoy themselves and lets them explore curated meals without putting a dent in their wallets,” Restaurant Week has grown by leaps and bounds – expanding to over 100 restaurants across six cities in six short years. In bringing about this change in the country’s dining habits, Nachiket partnered with Mangal Dalal, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate and Food Writer; whose boredom with Mumbai’s food scene led to him co-founding the Restaurant Week.
“We wanted to showcase the restaurants in the city that we enjoyed going to but a lot of our friends wouldn’t visit; not because pricing was an issue, it was more of ‘I don’t know what kind of food they serve’ thought process. But Mangal & I really appreciated it because we were in the industry, for us going out and exploring the restaurant scene was really exciting. We’d seen the New York and London restaurant weeks and wondered why does something like that not exist in India-and that’s how the idea came about,” Nachiket tells us.
That was the genesis of the first Restaurant Week in Mumbai. Now, the event is held twice a year, across Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune. “We want to take RW not only across the country but international too. We’ve added Pune this time, next on our list is Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Surat, and Chandigarh-but it’s all subject to the logistics! Internationally, we’re looking between Dubai and Singapore.” We’re chuffed to know that from the current line-up, Nachiket’s favourite city is Delhi! “The capital is more experimental, with the influx of diplomats & tourism there are a lot of speciality restaurants, like Korean, Brazilian, et al. You guys definitely have the best quality meat and a variety of interesting desserts – I would’ve never tasted something like Daulat Ki Chaat anywhere else!”
Talking about their stellar journey, he says, “What was fascinating for us was the response we got – we’d started it just for our passion, an annual affair, but the restaurants and hotels gave us feedback asking us to not restrict the event by making it a once a year thing and limiting it to Mumbai.” Soaking in the praise and deciding to take RW pan-India was exciting, yet they had a long way to go, Shetye says, “It’s been a great learning curve, Restaurant Week opened up our eyes to different Chefs, Hoteliers, how the system functions, hidden gems and so on. Travelling across the cities we realised that it’s not just the pricing that’s different, people’s perception about fine dining also differs from place to place.” He adds, “We also saw that a lot of events that were happening in the city were focussed on young people, revolving around cafes and the like. There was nothing to cater to the 25 & above audience – which is where RW comes in.”
Working behind the kitchen counter or in front of it, both are a part of the F&B business yet poles apart. Having played out both the roles, we ask him which one is after his heart, Chef Nachiket or RW Co-Founder Nachiket, he answers, “Chef Nachiket! While being in the kitchen allows me to be creative, it’s quite taxing. On the other hand, running the event means exposure, travel, and interacting & learning from the industry insiders. So, I’m happier doing what I do now, but my true passion remains being a Chef.”
While Restaurant Week strives to initiate people into exploring the culinary world they may have hesitated from trying earlier, it’s not just them bringing about a reform, the restaurants & patrons are evolving too, “One major transition we’ve seen is the shift from hotel restaurants to stand alone restaurants. When we started off our split was 80-20, respectively, and now it’s almost equal. Also, there’s a great change in terms of cuisines becoming more specific-at the beginning there was simply Asian, Indian and European, now we have to break it down to Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, etc.”
Spilling the beans on how they choose restaurants to be a part of this event, he says, “We rely on the feedback for the restaurants from the last RW, secondly we ask the diners what kind of restaurants would they like to see in the next event, thirdly we keep in touch with industry insiders who help us identifying the kind of restaurants we feature, and lastly we share a questionnaire with the patrons, restaurants & industry insiders-their responses help us engage the best of restaurants for our event.” And that’s not all, once the restaurants have been shortlisted, RW is involved in curating the menu from scratch, keeping in mind the best interests of both, the restaurants & the patrons. They make sure the menus feature interesting fare, maintain a balance between vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, and have a fine mix of regulars & special dishes- which lets the restaurants experiment while ensuring that when diners revisit, they’re greeted by a familiar menu offering the regulars and popular specials, and not one entirely alienated from the RW menu. “We’re proud to say that out of our team of six, at least one of us has dined at each of the restaurants at RW.” he adds. With such an exhaustive quality check in place, we aren’t surprised that Restaurant Week presents the finest dining experiences that exist in our country, consistently.
On that note, we wrap up our not-so-quickie breakfast, but not before posing some DSSC style rapid fire questions to Nachiket:
Q. If not working in the F&B industry, what would you be doing?
A. I would like to get into architecture, maybe because my wife’s also an architect and I’ve gotten to know quite a lot about it from her!
Q. As a Chef what has been the strangest experience with a patron?
A. One evening a customer called me out of the kitchen and said, “Hey, I just wanted to meet the guy who created my food and kiss his hands!” Yes, I let him!
Q. Your top three restaurants in Mumbai?
A. Swati Snacks, Trishna and Bombay Canteen. One Chef whose work excites me is Gresham Fernandes.
Q. Favourite dish ever from childhood?
A. Kalakand. I’m a big fan of Indian desserts and have been searching for the perfect kalakand since my favourite sweet shop shut down.
Q. In the event that you don’t find a replacement, will you recreate the dessert?
A. Well, now that you’ve put that idea in my head, I might just whip up some kalakand for DSSC!
Q. It’s your last day on earth-which restaurant will you eat at?
A. Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan. Ranked Asia’s best restaurant, and on the eighth spot in the World’s Best Restaurants list – it’s been on my bucket list for some time now!
Q. If DSSC offers you one crore rupees, how will the Chef in you spend it?
A. I’d set up a niche restaurant, which seats between 10-15 people, has great equipment, collaborations with chefs, and offers different cuisines & menus every night.
Restaurant Week will run from September 16 to 25, you can make reservations here.
Nachiket Shetye is a Co-Founder of Restaurant Week & Chef’s Table Week, two of the largest pan-India culinary events. Additionally, he is also a founder of Cellar Door Hospitality, a culinary consulting firm started with freelance Food Writer Mangal Dalal.
This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace of base industry disruptors.