South Asian Association for Gastronomy is one-of-a-kind initiative, by Maneesh Baheti, that focuses on connecting the culinary heritage and history of various regions from across the world. South Asian Association for Gastronomy or S.A.A.G. believes in the authoritative representation of gastronomy at the regional level. It’s the love for various unexplored cuisines which Maneesh Baheti discovered during his travels at the SAARC region of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, that he came up with S.A.A.G.
In tête-à-tête with Restaurant India, Founder of S.A.A.G. Maneesh Baheti speaks about the importance of global regional cuisines and the long-term benefits of introducing them at restaurants in India.
What led you to start S.A.A.G.?
I am a hotelier by profession. My work depends on that. When I travelled around South Asia, I realized there is a huge curiosity about Indian food and culture among the people there. Likewise, in India, bigger chefs are popular but people know little about the bigger chefs from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. And I felt the gap has to be bridged. That’s how I came up with the concept for South Asian Association for Gastronomy or S.A.A.G.
I collaborated with noted chefs, leading hoteliers, restaurateurs and luminaries from the hospitality industry. At various events organised by S.A.A.G., Md Azharuddin, Bishan Singh Bedi, Virender Sehwag had talked about fitness and their diet regime. People want to know what celebrities are eating, what are their favourite stars’ diet regimes.
Through S.A.A.G., we brought royalty out of their palaces to share the knowledge of their culinary heritage with people. For example, at the recent Food For Thought Fest 2018 we celebrated the India-Indonesia friendship; a 16-member troupe from Indonesia came at the fest for cultural performance and the presence of Masterchef Iswarni MZ from West Sumatra gave us tremendous encouragement.
How Do You See Indonesian Food in India?
The Indonesian cuisines are regionally driven like West Sumatra has its own rich culinary culture. We just know typical Indonesian cuisines like Nasi Goreng and Gado Gado. There is much more to explore.
Expert Advice on How To Boost Sales at a Restaurant
If decisions are commercially driven, you could not experiment. My advice to the restaurants and the hospitality industry is to become experimental. Initially, to include regional cuisines may not be commercially viable but —
(a) The move will help the brand position well. Consumers will identify them as the brands which bring new cuisines and culinary trends to the forefront.
(b)If the positioning is right, it will help them commercially. My advice is - don’t see at the short-term gains in introducing the regional cuisines on the menu, look at the long-term benefits of positioning yourself as the pioneer brand that introduces new cuisines to people.
Gastronomy Trends in India
When I started my career in 1990, there were no social media. The internet boom has created a foodie in everybody. That trend will become even better.
Another trend is that of home chefs, which will be massive in the next few years.
The third is the global regional cuisines undiscovered in India yet. For example, we showcased Indonesian cuisine; we invited Masterchef Iswarni MZ from West Sumatra. Foodies want to know the authentic cuisines beyond the ones they already know. People want to know what is authentic whether it is an Afghani cuisine or from any other particular region of the globe.