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‘Indian food deserves a better place on the global stage’

"Mostly, the cuisine has been subjugated to greasy takeaway, cheap places to go to after a night out and most of them serve a rather bastardised version of Indian food. But the new wave of Indian restaurants is doing a very good job in London," says Zorawar Kalra

Written by Damini Ralleigh |
April 25, 2018 12:40:31 am
Zorawar Kalra

With the haute-cuisine of Masala Library and the popular fare at Farzi Cafe, Zorawar Kalra’s Massive Restaurants has been at the forefront of innovation, particularly in Indian food. Its most recent venture, Bo Tai, is centred around Thai cuisine. We caught up with Kalra to talk modernity in culinary practices, the fine line between experimentation and contrivance, and the future of Indian fine-dining abroad. Excerpts:Tell us about Bo Tai.

This is our eighth concept and probably our best. It’s modern Thai with a completely new take on a cuisine Indians already love, but one that has largely been restricted to red and green curries. We have taken some Thai staples and given them a twist while trying to maintain their authenticity. The bar, conceived by Dare Hospitality, has a unique selection of liquors and wines. With the cocktails too, the flavours are reminiscent of Thai cuisine and have been thoughtfully crafted with restraint.

There has been a concerted shift, even at mid-level restaurants, towards progressive cuisine. What do you make of this shift?

Modern-Indian cuisine is now a buzzword in the restaurant business in India. It has become a mega-phenomenon and is here to stay. Farzi Cafe made progressive cuisine mainstream and a viable business. Before that, there was Masala Library but that’s a premium concept. Modern-Indian cuisine soon became a gold rush. Unfortunately, invention in the area is limited and there is more evidence of gimmicks than chefs’ own interpretation of a traditional dish.

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In terms of its future, it seems like a constantly moving goalpost. Restaurants will have to work much harder and constantly reinvent modern-Indian cuisine to stay relevant.

How much has your father, author-columnist J Inder Singh “Jiggs” Kalra, shaped your philosophy to food?

Everything I know comes from him. His knowledge of Indian food is encyclopedic, and the passion he pursues it with is remarkable. He is extensively involved with our restaurants that focus on Indian cuisine and his DNA is in everything we do. He has a warrior-like passion to put Indian food on the global map. We’re opening six more restaurants — we already have one in Dubai — we’ll be in London by June and GCC countries after Ramzaan.

What is your vision for Massive Restaurants?

I feel that Indian food deserves a better place on the global stage. We’ve not got too many good restaurants outside of New York and London. Mostly, the cuisine has been subjugated to greasy takeaway, cheap places to go to after a night out and most of them serve a rather bastardised version of Indian food. But the new wave of Indian restaurants is doing a very good job in London. I want Indian food to be considered one of the top three dining options in the world. Look at the way Peruvian cuisine has suddenly risen in the past five-six years. It’s about changing the perception and the marketing, but beyond that, just about creating kickass food.

What are the challenges of taking our food to a global audience?

We need to realise that it is not their fault that they know so little about our food. I don’t care much to educate people about Indian food, it’s not my job. But I take it upon myself to take the experience of Indian food to people. We don’t have Michelin stars in the country and even in the top Asia list, we are under-represented. There are only two Indian restaurants on it. Over the next five years, I want Indian food to be in major world cities and for it to be considered a dining option, like it is currently in the UK.

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