Dressed in a casual navy blue jacket and distressed jeans, celebrity chef Ranveer Brar flashes his camera-ready smile (the one perfected for television) as soon as he sees us. It is something he is used to doing, almost like reflex. He was last seen as one of the judges on MasterChef India. But this stardom didn’t come easy.
We meet 37-year-old Brar in Lower Parel’s Kamala Mills compound, the location of his newest project — TAG Kitchen and Cellar. Bare walls at this split-level space will soon adorn artworks by young artists and the menu will feature “world food in small plates paired with single malts and fine wine”. Think dishes like nachni upma arancini or French onion soup with a cheese and onion chutney bao (instead of the traditional bread) and tea-smoked tofu with a ponzu emulsion. Yes, it will be a vegetarian restaurant that comes with a library and an art space, which will turn into a bar by night. “There is a lot of scope for vegetarian food in Mumbai, but the representation has been very Indian,” says Brar. All the ingredients will be locally sourced and the wines on the menu will be organic. “We want to break the myth that only non-vegetarian food pairs well with alcohol,” he adds. TAG, which stands for The Amateur Gallery, is slated to open in March.
However, it is an India-inspired patisserie called English Vinglish that’s next on his list. Set to open by the end of this month in Juhu, this will be the first of three
outlets to open this year. On the menu are desserts like shondesh soufflé, boondi eclairs, and kalakand or dhodha (popular north Indian sweet) tarts. “Indian mithais are becoming very occasional, event-based things and the younger generation is not interested in them anymore,” he says. In his attempt to keep Indian sweets relevant, Brar plans to package traditional desserts in contemporary moulds.
The struggling years
As a 24-year-old executive chef (one of the youngest head chefs in a commercial kitchen) at the Radisson Blue in Noida, he was responsible for five restaurants. He then moved to Taj’s Goa property and opened three restaurants. “I was the Midas touch guy. All the restaurants that I opened were successful, and are up and running even today,” says Brar. And like any young, ambitious 20-something, when Brar got the opportunity to work in the US, he moved to Boston to open a restaurant called Banq.
“The real learning began during my stint in the US. The restaurant did well for a year-and-a-half till the recession hit us and we didn’t know how to cope with it,” says Brar. Though Banq had won several awards including the best new restaurant in the world by Wallpaper magazine, it couldn’t survive the economic downturn. “As chefs, a lot of the times we lose sight of the fact that we are in the food business and that it needs to make money to survive,” says Brar talking about this incident in hindsight.
Armed with this learning, Brar is all set to enter 2016 with a host of new projects. His first book, called Cook With Me, will come out in May. “The book will be a collection of recipes along with a short autobiography to establish my cooking philosophy,” he says.
Apart from TAG Kitchen and Cellar and English Vinglish, Brar is involved in two other restaurants in Boston — Indian DaVinci and Soul of India. “I’ve also collaborated with Viacom 18 to help them commoditise channels like VH1 and MTV,” says Brar. Flyp@MTV, a newly opened space in Delhi, is the result of this collaboration. Soon to open in Mumbai (August) and Bangalore (October), the menu at these MTV-themed cafés will feature Delhi street food in a global avatar.
So, what is it about Indian food that is suddenly attractive to young chefs? “Today, the youth has time to think about culture and food habits because they don’t need to worry about the basics like making money or feeding a family like their fathers and grandfathers did,” he says. According to Brar, curiosity is driven by culture. “When I see a 20-year-old interested in Kathiawadi cuisine, I know that this trend is here to stay. Finally, we can stop complaining about the fact that Indian food is not being archived,” he adds.
Favourite thing to eat in the city: Misal at Aaswad, Dadar
Favourite café: Stadium Restaurant, Churchgate
Favourite bar: Monkey Bar, Bandra
Favourite Irani: Koolar & Co, Matunga
Favourite restaurant: Vinay Health Home, Charni Road