Did you know that people in India eat out just twice in a month as compared to people in Singapore who eat out 40 times in a month? However, given India’s population two meals out every month add up to a huge number. Also with rising incomes and a larger working population, things are going to change for the restaurant business, which is currently worth Rs 75,000 crore and is growing at an annual rate of 7 percent.
As things stand, the big question for restaurants is how to sustain business in the long run and build a brand that is not just synonymous with good food but also superior in quality and innovation to keep customers returning for more.
We spoke to Chef Priyank Chouhan, Senior Brand Chef, Shiro, about building a brand around Asian cuisine. Chef Priyank hails from Indore where he grew up seeing his grandparents host parties during his childhood and that’s when his love and interest for food began. Though he started his career in graphic design, he moved to hotel management and became a chef.
“Food, for me, is an art,” says Priyank, who is also the Senior Brand Chef for Hard Rock Cafe. Both these come under the aegis of JSM, a hospitality corporation.
Having spent eight years with Shiro, a pan-Asian cuisine fine-dine restaurant with branches in Bengaluru and Mumbai, Chef Priyank is quick to point out that disposable incomes and increased travels to Asia in the last five years have made Asian cuisine popular. “Earlier people favoured Western cuisine such as Italian, but not Asian cuisine that is in high demand across the rest of the globe,” he says.
To build something, there needs to be a demand and that’s exactly what Chef Priyank wanted to create. His plan has worked over time. “Today, this generation wants to have a similar global experience and taste, which we create,” he says.
When people are ready for global experiences, how do restaurants ensure that the brand walks the talk or serves the real deal? A lot of effort goes into this. From ensuring that the ingredients are authentic and fresh to making sure that the menu is varied and captures global flavours, there is a great deal of research and work that goes into the planning of their dishes.
“The range of ingredients used are sourced through imports from different countries and also procured locally. We offer a balanced menu by serving pan-Asian cuisines such as Thai, Korean, Malaysian, Cambodian, and Indonesian along with Japanese and Balinese. We try to keep the originality and the concept of the dish as authentic as possible. However, we do incorporate recipes to please the local palate, which can be experienced in our house specialties,” he explains.
When it comes to food, 'getting it right every time' is the main mantra with which top brands work. And that requires not just knowledge and skill set, but experience. He says,
One has to be quick to pivot and change when menus, dishes, and cooking styles don’t work out for the audience. So far, according to Chef Priyank they have adopted techniques and skills such as Teppanyaki, which is cooking on a big iron plate along with the live element of culinary entertainment. Robata or grills are popular in most Asian street-style food such as Thai, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian etc. Dimsums and sushi are some of other highly technical and skilled versions they offer; all of these have been a hit with their customers.
Like in any business to thrive and grow you need to innovate. If you don’t, you are probably not growing. In the case of food it is a bigger challenge.
The aim is to retain the authentic art of Japanese cooking but still play with contemporary combinations and provide some great maki, sushi, and ramen to connoisseurs of good food.
It sounds effortless but Chef Priyank points out that as in any other business you can’t rest on your laurels. Each day is a new challenge and you have to strive to do your best so that the value of the brand and the quality of the food is maintained.
He is quick to point out that he believes in “satisfying all the taste buds whenever creating or having a dish” but we did manage to get him to share a few of his favourites. “I usually end up having dimsums or Chilean seabass with chili lime,” Chef Priyank says.