After giving a molecular spin to Indian cuisine with Masala Library in Mumbai and Farzi Café in Delhi, restaurateur Zorawar Kalra's latest venture, Pa Pa Ya, which opens this month at Palladium in Lower Parel, reinterprets Asian cuisine with modern cooking techniques. "All the preconceptions that one may have about pan-Asian food need to be left behind when you walk into Pa Pa Ya," he says. Excerpts from an interview...
Asian food with molecular gastronomy sounds ambitious. Are we ready for it?
We've been working on Pa Pa Ya for eight months. We've gone through hundreds of trials. What excites us is that we're doing stuff with Asian food nobody has done before. While keeping the flavour authentic, we are introducing molecular techniques. Personally, I love Japanese food. Unfortunately, in India, you only get it at five-star restaurants, at prices that are unaffordable (to most). The idea is to bring better-than-five-star quality food, with far more innovation, but at a fraction of the price.
When you talk about 'innovation', what do you have in mind?
We are reinventing popular dishes. For instance, our Thai Green Curry Dim Sums have a burst of curry flavour. We also have a kind of sushi where the rice disappears (in the mouth) leaving behind flavours such as avocado and fish. Another interesting dish is the Edamame Slider where baos will come with a Sriracha-based sauce in the form of a sphere. You break it and smear the sauce on the bun before eating.
Zorawar Kalra creations.
How big an advantage is it to be able to bank on the legacy of your father?
I can put Jiggs Kalra on a box of mithai and manage to sell it as gourmet; that's his legacy. I cannot put into words how much we value his mentorship. He built the cultural DNA of Masala Library, gave us a culture of innovation, and helped us understand the importance of research and attention to detail. Above all, he is an encyclopedia on food.
Why did you pick Mumbai over Delhi for this venture?
People in this city like the strong and bold flavours of Asian cuisine. For instance, Japanese food has picked up in Mumbai. We also found a fantastic location.
Why pan-Asian cuisine?
Until recently, Asian food was getting better representation than Indian food because we didn't have Indian restaurants we could boast about. The quality of food has been high but the innovation have been low. We (the F&B industry in India) are going to be a $78 billion dollar industry by 2018, and 30% of that is the organised sector. People are eating out more, and will get jaded unless we innovate.
What is next?
We have found the hottest location in the city for Farzi Café in Mumbai; and it will be big, at least 4,500 sq ft. We plan to open that four months from now. I also want to reinvent sweets and patisserie - make sweets with elements of molecular gastronomy. The idea is to replace western desserts as the first choice for gifting and make Indian desserts hip.