She rocks a fringe like none other, with a Gin & Tonic in hand to boot. While we share the love of good food and spirited GinTos with Vandana Verma, it’s her flair of binding good food, wellness & fashion in holy matrimony that turns heads in the capital city. The Editor, Blogger & Food Critic has channeled Delhi with the likes of Time Out magazine and Motherland, and now juggles her passion for living well yet sans deprivation through Nicobar and her blog The Tonic. We charge up with bulletproof coffee and chat with Vandana on writing her way to food, wellness, and more.
How long back does your connection with food & wellness go?
Three years back I got tired of falling sick ridiculously frequently, and finally acknowledged the bad effects of what I was consuming on my body. It’s an ongoing process, I’m finding that what I put in my body directly affects my mood, relationships, ability to work and create, and obviously, my health. Food is life, pleasure, and ritual, and as I delve deeper into it all of these bonds are strengthened. For those who think that eating ‘better’ always means deprivation, it’s been the opposite. There is so much pleasure and delight in preparing and ingesting food that is as alive as it is flavoursome.
F&B, culture, and wellness are sister concerns, really. When I write about healthy food alternatives it’s from the perspective of someone who has “eaten food for three decades”, and know how it makes me feel. But I always recommend that you establish your own relationship with what you ingest, and not blindly follow my ways of eating. The emerging dialogue around wellness is super-interesting and important to me, and I like the idea of creating a little platform for people who feel the same way. The Tonic is my way of creating that in a manner that hasn’t been done anywhere else, that I know of.
From print to online, the written (typed) word has evolved drastically since you started out. According to you how has the industry changed, for the better and the worse?
The food industry is evolving into something new, where restaurateurs are masters of branding like never before. The reign of 5-star hotels is truly over, which is great to see because as much as I love hotels ( I do, I really freaking love hotels), that’s not where a city’s food scene should reside. There’s this new guard of proprietors and chefs who are nuts about their product, whether it’s people like Bani Nanda at Miam, or the Blue Tokai duo, or those lovely gentlemen at Perch, or Hana at Little Saigon…they know their shit and focus on making sure that their product is delicious.
As a veteran Food Critic, what’s your take on the new crop of social media food critics, who’re making or breaking restaurants with a single click?
Like everybody else, I use food reviews, whether in print, online, or word of mouth. Globally, there’s a radical shift towards blogger and amateur reviews over professional reviews. But honestly, the local scene was always murky: while few media outlets conduct anonymous reviews, that’s not how most of them do it here, which means the reviews were very far from the ordinary diner’s experience. The thing about food is that it is universal – there is nothing that qualifies me over anybody else to deem someone’s food better or worse than anybody else’s – both points of view are equally valid. Good or bad, there is a dialogue around food, and a sense of accountability for establishments: it isn’t only Vir Sanghvi that they need to impress, but every patron who walks through their doors. That said, there are awful food bloggers out there who use threats of bad reviews to bag free food, and that’s just vile.
Do you think the F&B industry is progressing in the right direction? What do we need to inculcate to match the culinary standards of food capitals of the world?
What is ‘right’, really? The F&B scene is evolving to respond to the needs of this market, and so it’s going where we’re demanding that it should. To match culinary standards, however, the need is consistency. Be as excellent on opening night as you are eight months later. I’ve seen far too many places open with such promise only to wobble and devolve into multi cuisine menus later. But I get it, you have to be nuts (the good sort of nuts) to want to open a restaurant these days. No amount of ability in the kitchen can guarantee longevity or success, the F&B industry is brutal, and I have insane amounts of respect for the people who work with/on/around food. India’s ridiculous licensing issues don’t make it any easier, so you need tenacity, mad amounts of hard work, and shitloads of luck, so good luck to all of them.
With the last swing of our bullet proof, we get down to the signature DSSC Rapid Fire before Vandana swishes off to bring us more secrets to the good life.
If not an editor & blogger, what would you be doing?
Yoga. Doing it, maybe even teaching it.
Last day on earth – which restaurant will you visit?
Any restaurant in Thailand.
One culinary trend you wish would end right now?
Unicorn anything. Blue and lilac food is just not appealing to me.
Favourite bar in Delhi?
I like Perch, and I have a soft spot for margaritas at the Delhi Gymkhana Club.
If DSSC were to offer you Rs. 10 crores, what will you do with those funds?
Move to Goa and open The Tonic studio. You know what, this might happen anyway.
A smoothie recipe you want us to try right now?
Half a ripe avocado, a handful of green grapes, a fistful of celery stalks, one peeled and chopped cucumber, the juice of two limes, one nub of peeled ginger, and blend.
This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace of base industry disruptors.