In 2006, Zorawar Kalra opened his first restaurant, Punjab Grill, in Delhi. Now, a decade later, the restaurateur proudly shares that he is on his way to making Indian cuisine popular outside the country.
He says that his Dubai outlet of Farzi Café is currently trending at No. 1 on Zomato in UAE. “We are vindicated by the fact that Indian food has the legs to travel and dominate any part of the world, as long as you present, package and market it properly,” he says.
Kalra is now all set to inaugurate the third outlet of the same café in Mumbai. Ahead of the launch, he talks to us about how his father Jiggs Kalra is his biggest inspiration, the future of molecular gastronomy in India, and more.
What kinds of challenges did you face when you launched Farzi Café in Dubai?
You face a lot of challenges when you set up anything outside your country. Selling modern Indian food in India is easy. But when you go overseas, you do not know how that market will react. Finding the right local partners and staff is a challenge. But, in Dubai, we had the best opening ever.
Are there any major differences in the eating habits of people in Delhi and Mumbai?
Both the cities have people with both complicated and sophisticated palates. They’ve travelled extensively, they eat at the best restaurants, and want the same experience back home. In Mumbai and Delhi, a restaurateur gets the opportunity to introduce more cutting-edge concepts.
However, there are a few minor differences in the eating habits. People are a little more patient in Mumbai, as opposed to those in Delhi, who want faster service. Customers in Mumbai are also a little more value-conscious, whereas people from Delhi don’t look at the right side (the prices) of the menu as much.
In a recent interview, you said you wanted to lobby for copyright laws in the food industry. What was that about?
Masala Library, in Bandra (E), was the first restaurant to feature molecular gastronomy. The concept was new to us, and we did not know how people would react to it. But it was a success. Even today, Masala Library has a three-week waiting period. However, not everyone could afford it, and that’s when we decided to open Farzi Café. It was cheaper, and therefore, more repeatable. But since its launch in Delhi, there have been so many copycats, and several of them are in Kamala Mills itself. But you cannot control that. Imitation is the best form of flattery.
Having said that, there are certain key features that have to be trademarked. We have multiple lawyers protecting our intellectual property. But if I don’t do that, who is to prevent someone from opening another ‘Farzee Café’? For instance, an ex-franchisee has opened a replica of the restaurant in Singapore. They even use the same cutlery and crockery (laughs). So, four years of research just goes out of the window for us.
MasalaBar has opened here at a time when molecular gastronomy is on the down slide. What is the future of this cooking technique?
Molecular gastronomy around the world is on a downward trend. But in India, it is rarely done. Moreover, how many people are doing it right [in India]? When molecular gastronomy is used sensibly, it is an amazing tool. But now, the concept will play second fiddle to the food.
All my restaurants use molecular gastronomy as an add-on, and not as a key feature. The food’s flavour is maintained. If you use the technique without concentrating on the food, then you are going to lose the battle. At MasalaBar, in fact, we don’t use foam. We use scientific equipment like rotary evaporators. This concept is now called post molecular.
Does being Jiggs Kalra’s son make things easier for you?
It definitely does. Attaching my father’s name to anything gives it instant credibility. But, more than his name, it is his passion for food that he has passed on to me. Also, your father’s name may help you get customers to walk through that door once, but not the second time.
What are your future plans?
By the end of 2016, I plan to launch eight restaurants, and in the next three years, we will have 20 restaurants in India and across the world. The goal is to become a company with a turnover of Rs. 500 crore. We are going to take all our brands overseas.
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