“As far as I can remember, food has been a very important part of my life,” shares Chef Chiquita Gulati of Spice Market who started cooking alongside her mother and grandmother from a very young age, she loved eating, cooking, entertaining and the whole nine yards around it. Luckily for her, she was always encouraged and supported in everything she wanted to try and experiment. Back in 2006, when she and her husband returned to India they travelled extensively exploring different cuisines and its nuances. “When we were starting our new venture we wanted to incorporate all that along with my overall interest and knowledge of regional cuisines as I was from Mumbai which is a melting pot of various cultures,” she says smiling. Excerpts from the interview:
How challenging it was for you to be a woman restaurateur as this sector is highly male dominated?
When I started out it was difficult as I was the only women heading our team and I was younger than most of them. But eventually seeing my work and what I was made of everyone not only came around to following instructions but also respected me. Nowadays, it’s not such a rare sight at all, many women dominate the kitchens and excel in every area of hospitality.
Why Saket as Location?
When we were location hunting Saket Malls were just couple of months away from opening and these were the very first proper malls with multiplexes in the South Delhi neighbourhood. Additionally lots of corporate buildings with multinational companies and four hotels made this area the most apt choice for capturing maximum footfalls.
How have you seen Delhi’s nightlife changing in all these years?
Yes, Delhi’s Nightlife has evolved to a great extent. From live jazz bars, stand up comedies, live music and vocal bands, wine bars, etc we’ve got it all in the last couple of years. A lot of fests and food groups have also become a sizable part of the changing food and nightlife scene.
Going by the ideology, how have you designed your restaurant?
The design elements at the restaurant are quite modern and contemporary but very earthy and warm at the same time. We play music that is appealing, modern enough for urban crowd with ethnic base and touch of Bollywood Jazz. We have an exciting bar menu with various in house infusions, excellent wines and cocktails. We have also tried to incorporate various ethnic touches like handmade tiles, martabans and traditional design elements to make the overall feel very warm and elegant.
Since, you are Indian cuisine in Modern Avatar. How much are you focusing on localization of the menu? How is it different from Gulati?
Gulati’s is a completely Punjabi traditional and Mughlai experience. It is a 60 year old legacy of flavours and recipes that have been passed on through generations. Patrons from all walks of life frequent Gulati’s as a tradition since generations. At Spice Market, we have retained our family legacy through various traditional dishes in addition to a wide range of regional gems which are also very popular and sought after. I love exploring new ingredients and experimenting different combinations to come up with new dishes to keep it fun and exciting for our well-travelled and urban patrons. But at the same time I maintain the aesthetics and ethnicity of our culture and cuisine to bring about satisfaction and comfort at the end of every meal.
Who all are your regular clients?
We get a lot of families who come to us for celebrations, corporates from the offices around us, movie-goers and international travellers from the hotels around.
What tips you would like to give to woman entering the restaurant biz?
First and foremost, you have to be well researched about what kind of a restaurant you want to operate. The concept must not only be exciting for you and your known, but also make business sense in terms of a larger group. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to have a USP that can be sustained over a long period. Most restaurants find it difficult to generate buzz after the honeymoon period is over. With the delivery market exploding in the last few years, you do not only compete with other restaurants, but also with ordering at home!
Who do you see as your competitor?
In such a huge country with ever increasing working population and demand for food in the various formats there is enough work and opportunity for all. That said, every restaurant in a 10km radius, that generates enough interest in a customer so they feel like driving specially to it, is our direct competitor.
What’s the most important part of running a fine dining restaurant?
Freshness and long term relevance of concept is the key for a fine dining restaurant. For me, it is also important that I enjoy dishing out the food that I serve at my restaurant. If it doesn’t excite me, how can I expect my patrons to be happy! At the same time, trends come and go, the need for comfort and relatability is largely constant.
Lastly, anticipating needs and going the extra mile always makes customers come back for more!
What is your expansion plan?
We meant to test the viability of a boutique modern Indian bistro over the last one year. Extremely happy with the response, both in terms of customer feedback and numbers, now we plan to expand this model to other localities in Delhi-NCR. In the medium to long term, we plan to take Spice Market to other cities as well.