#DSSCPowerPackers is back! Every year we peek through Stevie’s monocle to curate our selection of the top of the pops folks in the Delhi culinary milieu. With many a scratch-outs, surprise additions, and ink stains on our hands, the annual list is prepared with much care and scrutiny. Those who made it – thank you for the acceptance speeches, those who didn’t – don’t lose heart, our monocle is ever-observant and if you keep working at it you may just find yourself to be our Power Packers 2017 Edition. With the Power Packers Men’s Edition 2016 (Part Un) we introduce you to our pick of ace gents painting a whole new picture of the capital’s food scene with their masterstrokes!
You’ve met the women who’re cooking up a storm in Delhi’s culinary cauldron, it’s time to raise the curtain and present to you the 12 men who’ve revolutionised F&B with never-before-seen concepts and don’t shy away from breaking barriers in the industry.
A bellowing salut to Rakshay Dhariwal, who literally changed the way we raise our glasses by ushering in the speakeasy way of life. A cocktail bar like PCO must have its roots in a motivation as quirky as itself, as Rakshay tells us, “I couldn’t find a good cocktail anywhere in the country, so decided to set up a place where I could get a stellar cocktail for myself.” Though he always wanted to get into hospitality, Rakshay initially wanted to start a nightclub. “That’s what got me into this line to begin with. I even signed up with the London Club Whiskey Mist to bring them to India but couldn’t find the right piece of real estate for that.” That clubbed with, “The internationally growing speakeasy culture and my sister’s (Radhika Dhariwal) idea for a similar concept in Delhi” is what culminated in Pass Code Only.
The brother-sister duo sure possess a sixth sense about the capital’s culinary needs, as PCO was promptly followed by the immensely popular private members club À Ta Maison and the chic Asian bistro, Ping’s Café Orient. On his journey from an F&B outsider to insider he says, “In the beginning there were certain challenges in getting to know a new business, but I’m a pretty quick learner and learned the ropes pretty easily.” If anyone has the determination to open anything in this industry then he can. He shares with us how he channels that grit, “Everything I do is for passion, I don’t fuss over the business angle of things.”
We rev up our trademark DSSC rapid fire before they swish away to their next culinary adventure:
Q. One word of advice for those looking to set foot in the F&B business?
A. Do the math & work out the numbers, make solid business plans. It’s a very glamorous industry, but a lot of work goes behind it – do that a 100%.
Q. What’s your go-to hangover cure?
A. A beer or a spicy bloody mary in the morning, I like to recover with alcohol!
Q. Most intriguing food experience till date?
A. Chicken’s testicles to crocodile head on the menu at a restaurant in China. Though I draw the line of adventurous eating at escargots!
Talking of tipples, who else to tip our hats to than ace mixologist Arijit Bose, who has curated some of the best cocktail menus of a number of bars in the country. Currently charming Singapore with his skills, his reign as India’s poster boy for bartending continues. Letting us on to a secret about his too cool for school career he says, “Very few people know this but I had left bartending for a bit to pursue more ‘respectable’ aspirations, but alas got drawn right back in and boy, was round two fun!” On what made his second innings as a bartender spectacular, he adds, “The industry was evolving, bars went from being side additions to the main feature of an F&B venue, brands like Bacardi and Diageo put good money behind hiring the right talent and getting in international expertise into the country. Upgrades in drink techniques, use of good glassware and thanks to the internet bringing us closer to global trends, we all strived to be better at this vocation. Not to forget the consumers have become knowledgeable and discerning post their international exposures which has in turn forced business owners and bartenders to improve drastically.”
Since then there’s been no looking back for the Master Mixer. “(I’ve) just focused on having a great time with bartending and let it rule my life, the rest was just a happy mix of coincidence, being at the right place at the right time, an ironhide, and supportive family and friends.” Speaking on the art of bartending getting its due within the Delhi drinks scene, Arijit opines, “The Delhi crowds have been amazing in accepting and propagating mixology, often expressing interest in learning & understanding this crazy mix of artistry, creativity and a large dose of hospitality.”
Q. If not a bartender, what would you be doing?
Q. Best pickup line used at you whilst you’ve been bartending?
A. Can you come home and teach me how to make a Black Russian.
Q. Best way to order a drink is___?
Q. Your fave bar in Delhi?
A. Grappa on weekdays & Hoots on weekends.
Giving the city its fix of rooftop restaurants is serial restaurateur Randeep Bajaj. “I first envisioned bringing the rooftop to the people when I opened Amour Bistro in Hauz Khas. Seeing the customers enjoy it as much as me, it became a conscious decision to incorporate the same in the following ventures as well.” He calls his hold over Khan Market with three standout properties a mix of strategy and fate. With Town Hall turning out to be the success that it is, he realised the potential of the location & its patrons, and capitalised on it with two stellar properties between Public Affair & Mr. Choy. Speaking on the maturing F&B scene in the capital he says, “We’re still a very nascent food market, those who’re willing to experiment are few and the vast majority doesn’t look beyond the typical Dal Makhni & Butter Chicken. It’s more of a drinking market than a food market, people will go out specially for drinks but not for food. Though we’ve come a long way, there’s a huge distance to go before calling Delhi an evolved food market.” He’s certainly doing his bit to power through the evolution, and gifting Gurgaon with its own Town Hall early next year!
Q. One current food trend you wish would die already?
A. Mediocre sushi.
Q. What’s the one aspect of this industry that you hate?
A. Hate people trying to sell alcohol at dirt cheap prices.
Q. Favourite restaurant for a date night in Delhi?
A. T.K’s at Hyatt.
A name to be reckoned with when it comes to artisanal produce and forgotten cuisines, the vibrant Rahul Dua tells us what made him go for regional cuisine restaurants with Café Lota earlier and now the Blue Tokai kitchen & Rustom’s, “Being an outsider in Delhi I didn’t want to take on anybody for making the best Dal Makhni or Butter Chicken in the city. The idea was to showcase something that’s different from things already on offer & bring something new to the food scene.” While with Café Lota he explored the world of artisans produce, forgotten crafts and cuisines in sync with the realm of National Crafts Museum, Rustom’s had him pairing up with Kainaz Contractor (also on the Women’s Edition of the Power Packers 2016 list) to have Delhi feast on authentic Parsi dishes taken from her family’s recipe book.
On working with his ladylove and keeping the restaurant working like a well-oiled machine Rahul says, ‘(We) divide work clearly, and are slaves to to-do lists, which keeps things sorted!’ Having found success in the industry as an outsider, he quips, “None of us trained to be chefs, we don’t recognise any outside pressure, the only pressure is the one we build for ourselves. Eventually it’s about figuring out what works for you and following your gut feeling.” On that note he tells us to expect another regional cuisine project and curated catering from the dynamic team of two in the near future.
Q. Your go-to comfort food?
A. Chhole Bhature.
Q. One ingredient you wish you could use in every dish & drink?
A. Pumpkin. And curry leaves too!
Q. One current food trend you wish would die already & one you’d like to bring back?
A. Indian fusion cuisine should end ASAP, and would love to have old stereotypical Italian restaurants back.
Q. Most intriguing food experience till date?
A. Restaurant patrons asking to taste a curry before ordering it.
The half-Indian man who lived in a small town in Wisconsin, moved to India five years back with the idea of working for a year and then moving on. Life had different plans for him and he ended up getting married and starting a business to eventually settle here. Nope, we’re not talking Bollywood – that’s Matt Chitharanjan of Blue Tokai for you! On how he came up with the idea to open a cafe-cum-roastery in a city where people mostly understand instant coffees, he says, “Namrata and I started roasting out of a small room in her parents house with just an intuition that there were more people like us who wanted to drink good coffee. We’re grateful to how people have received our brand and enabled us to grow to where we are today.” As appreciating indigenous and quality cuppa joes is catching up, he talks about the Delhi cafe goer being open to new things, “We do get people who have very specific preferences (piping hot coffee is a common one) but the great thing is that we can explain to them why we serve the coffee the way we do and two-thirds are willing to try it out.”
Q. One coffee related trend that you wish would die already?
A. Instant Coffee.
Q. Your impress-the-guests dish?
A. I make a pretty good pizza.
Q. The one piece of advice for a young entrepreneur entering the food industry in Delhi?
A. Know what you are getting yourself into. 90% of your time will be spent running a business which will be the same no matter what you are selling. You should enjoy that process or get a lot of satisfaction out of the remaining 10%.
The Economics graduate from Warwick University was all set to become a Chartered Accountant until he changed notes with destiny and co-founded one of India’s largest food festivals. Finance was not the sole career Chaitanya Mathur had going for him- starting work as a teenager he already had a body of work to show for before venturing out with The Grub Fest, “I started my first ‘event venture’ EME in 2007 when I was 18. Since then it’s been a journey of trying out new spaces-from banking & finance to Banging Beats to Business Manager at Vir Das’ comedy company – but it was the entertainment industry that always pulled me back. And so, Grub Fest happened when I met my current partners in 2013 and we realised all four of us had a vision to create an event larger and grander than anything we’d ever worked on.”
Completing two years next April, the fest has grown by leaps and bounds and will have hosted its 7th edition by then. Speaking on his formula for a successful food business he says, “(The key is) identifying what the customer wants. You may have some great ideas but those may not be the need of the hour.” Having covered that, he’s looking to start off 2017 with a bang by putting two brick & mortar gems on Delhi’s food map by January.
Q. Last day on earth-one restaurant you’ll visit?
A. Ping Pong, London.
Q. Go-to comfort food?
A. Big Chill!
Q. What’s the one aspect of this industry that you love & hate, respectively?
A. Love the rate at which it’s growing, on the flipside, hate people churning out restaurants without any concept.
Stirred listening to the life plot lines of these game changers, we knew how we’d like to show our appreciation and made an offer to them individually: “If DSSC were to invest Rs 10 crores in you, how would you use those funds?” Here’s what they had to say,
Rakshay: I’d use it in three different ways – equipment for a beverage catering venture, three to four concept restaurants similar to Ping’s, and a nightclub that’s a quick money-churner.
Arijit: 5 cr for opening a proper F&B unit, with a training institute for bartenders across India with a 12-room hotel. 1 cr to develop a responsible drinks service certification program in India for all professionals, complete with health and safety considerations, like the one that exists in Australia. 1 cr for bartender’s education and travel experience, language skills school & provide skills to the less fortunate (impaired, freed convicts). 2 Cr to develop my Indian rum and Indian Vermouth. The last 1 cr to set up a team to lobby for the improvement of the liquor policies in india, and buy a comic book store & travel the world!
Randeep: I’d like of take one of our brands outside of Delhi.
Rahul: I’d love to take the cause of wines forward!
Matt: I’d begin by giving DSSC a coffee subscription as a way of saying thank you, open up a roastery in Bangalore and more cafes so that having a great cup of coffee becomes more accessible.
Chaitanya: I’ll take a fancy vacation, maybe buy an island somewhere…even gift one to DSSC perhaps!
Meet the other Six Power Packers here.
Photography for DSSC: Arshdeep Kaur
Photography for Matt: Behzad J Larry Photo
Location Courtesy: Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters