You’ve been introduced to the CAARA ladies before – Alice Helme and Ambika Seth, who have dedicated themselves to taking forward the cause of food since 2014. As they channel this passion through their Culinary Arts & Research Academy, CAARA is strengthening its roots in Delhi’s F&B landscape with each initiative, be it catering, a café, or their latest outing, cookery classes. As their kitchen in Saket serves up many a stellar suppers we get set to explore and speak with Alice Helme about this crackerjack space.
Speaking of the transition into their own brick & mortar space, Helme calls it the ‘heart’ of CAARA, sharing that it was always on the cards, “We always planned on a physical space, it’s like our private test lab.” With all the cooking for catering, tastings, chef’s table, and cookery classes being conducted at the CAARA Kitchen, she aptly terms it the ‘mothership’. Helme adds that the one element that has remained constant across all their verticals is high quality produce, “We’ve really focused on produce and try to stay ahead of the curve through extensive R&D.” We ask what made them pick Saket’s latest melting pot, Saidulajab, as their address of choice, “We needed a large space and even thought of setting up at our farm, but the want to be in town landed us here! With people like Blue Tokai, Jugmug Thela, Malini Ramani, and more around us, it’s an exciting space – we’re all slowly integrating with each other, which is quite a nice feeling.” CAARA having recently held a pop-up with Jugmug Thela, you can’t deny the refreshing bonhomie this hood offers to the capital’s F&B milieu.
As the space seamlessly transforms from a catering kitchen to a supper space to a cookery class, Alice tells us that it still connotes a singular meaning for the CAARA team – that of producing great food. “It’s just how we communicate. It sounds like very different things because the audience changes, but for us it’s the same message for all, i.e., bringing forth good food,” she says. “We definitely haven’t shied away from the fact that it’s a kitchen. Of course there’s the worry that will the people accustomed to polished dining experiences find Saidulajab gritty, and even then we’re asking them to sit in the kitchen!” However, they were uncompromising when it came to furthering their message of “come sit in our kitchen, have a great meal, talk, be involved”, and their belief has led to some super suppers over time. The focus is not solely on great external experiences, but also internal ones, “We not only spent a lot of time on lighting and music for the suppers and classes, but have also worked at providing nice working kitchens…if you go to any catering kitchen in India, these boys don’t get air conditioning in the summer, but we wanted to create hospitable and hygienic working conditions,” Helme shares.
With all that going for them, it’s no surprise that Delhi has taken to their cookery classes like fish to water, in a short three months. From ‘Le Petit Chef’, ‘Entertaining at Home’, ‘Domestic Staff’, ‘Health and Wellness’, to ‘Confidence in the Kitchen’ classes, they cater to a wide spectrum of learners. “We don’t take more than 16 people per class because we believe that it’s important for the chef to interact with everyone individually,” Helme says as she emphasises the involvement aspect of these classes. An example of their commitment is a Health and Wellness class starting with the nutritionist imparting knowledge about the purpose of eating healthy daily and a short meditation session before commencing. Another Health and Wellness class on wheat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and guilt-free diet was headed by Michelle Kalsi, Founder of Georgia Dakota, as Alice goes on to tell us that they only bring in people who they think are the best in the industry. While the top of the pops of the industry take over the cookery classes, the CAARA team and their head chef, Chef Lokesh remain actively involved in selecting recipes and the overall curation.
The kitchen also whips up demonstration classes, which aren’t hands-on cooking classes but educative talks to demonstrate the different aspects of the culinary world. Helme offers, “We recently conducted an English High Tea class where we spoke of when and how you drink it, which cakes and scones to pair with it, the proper way to serve it, its history, etc. – it’s a fun learning experience.” Taking this a notch higher, they’re incorporating the demonstration aspect into their seasonal Thanksgiving pop-up later this month, “You’ll have pumpkins, two full turkeys, cocktails, canapés – all the Thanksgiving trimmings.” With repeat sign-ups for classes already, the stove is certainly warm in the CAARA Kitchen, “I really love that our chefs work alongside the head chefs, and everybody says that it’s a much more enjoyable, casual experience than we imagined. It’s like a community is being built,” Helme beams.
Eight years in the Indian industry now, we ask Alice how has she seen the Delhi patron evolve over time, “People have this thirst for exciting, new experiences. The social media aspect of it is huge, people see stuff and they want to try it and post about it.” She also acknowledges that, “They are now giving a chance to standalone restaurants as opposed to the grandiose expectations of 5-star hotels. The consumer is really well informed right now.”
As she signs off, Alice shares that the two ladies intend to open restaurants in collaboration soon, the first one being with Ogaan at Malcha Marg, in March 2018. This splendid news in tow, we can’t wait to see more CAARA magic across the city!