Cloud Kitchens: Divesh Aswani, Commis Station

Wine & Dine

Textual content and Pictures by Mallika Chandra.

Divesh Aswani, 33
Commis Station
Location: Mahim
Speciality: Baked items, kitchen staples, condiments, confectionery, ice lotions

What led you to start out Commis Station?
I used to be 70 per cent down the road with my analysis and improvement for a restaurant when COVID-19 hit. The one factor that had been left to do was to discover a area. So, a 12 months after the lockdown, I form of simply broke the menu down into its primary components and determined to take off. The one mannequin that appeared to work on the time was the supply mannequin.

What was the idea of the unique restaurant?
It was going to be a really informal area with no particular theme. A spot the place you might get a extremely good bowl of pasta, a pleasant noodle soup, an excellent roast rooster or sandwich.

And was that the form of meals that you simply had been making even earlier than you ventured out by yourself?
I left Mumbai once I was 17 and I had the luxurious and the chance to coach at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. Throughout that course, I used to be working part-time. I lived in Australia for 10 years and labored at completely different cafes serving varied cuisines. That’s the place I picked up most of my cooking type from. I additionally ate out quite a bit which form of outlined how I cooked. Australia being a melting pot of cultures, there’s quite a bit on supply when it comes to meals and that simply opened me up creatively.

In order that range of delicacies has been carried into Commis Station?
It’s mainly what cooks would now outline as fashionable Australian delicacies. They’ve taken influences from completely different sorts of cuisines and put it collectively as components on the menu. I like which you could go to a restaurant as a household of 4 the place a baby might need a noodle soup, the mom would possibly need a sandwich or a salad or a contemporary pasta and so forth. I needed to create an area the place there’s one thing for everybody, actually.

The title Commis Station itself is a nod to skilled kitchen constructions. An attention-grabbing alternative as an alternative of one thing extra associated to your product. What was the thought there?
There was numerous thought behind the title. Primarily, a commis is probably the most junior particular person within the kitchen hierarchy. The primary function which you could apply for within the kitchen is that of a commis and then you definately climb up the ranks.

Following that hierarchy, the thought was to inform our shoppers and company that we’re your commis cooks. Everybody was cooking throughout COVID-19, however they didn’t essentially wish to make contemporary noodles or baos or gyoza wrappers. We needed to be the place the place individuals would attain out and say, “I really feel like consuming burgers tonight, what are you able to do for me?” And we’d say, “We will ship you the buns, the BBQ sauce, the pickled cucumber, the hand-cut fries and also you simply should put it collectively.”

In our emblem, you’ll see the stripes on the lettering. The stripes resemble these on the aprons that commis cooks would put on again within the day. The commis station is the place all of the mise en place will get finished. So mainly, the commis station by no means stops. Even throughout service, they’re doing last-minute prep jobs and ensuring that the kitchen is totally able to serve.

Why supply simplified connoisseur? What gaps are you filling?
The concept could be very easy. We use our talent set and supply one thing that can not be simply achieved at dwelling. Individuals discovered quite a bit about cooking throughout COVID-19, however even then, they wanted to get staples and condiments. In case you have a look at our sauce vary, we began with one thing acquainted — a Sichuan sauce. One in every of our top-selling dips is the Lebanese garlic unfold, which is basically a toum however we add confit garlic to it to provide it our twist. All the pieces needed to be elevated, contemporary and one thing that can not be made or replicated simply at dwelling. It’s a fixed battle to do issues that different individuals aren’t doing.

I used to be shocked to see how brief a time it took for a product to get comprised of scratch and get packed within the field.
Sure, however that does backfire typically. As an example, individuals wish to eat bagels for breakfast. However we begin our shift at 8 am and by the point it’s prepared, it’s like 10 or 11 am and by the point it reaches them, it’s midday. However you will need to me to create a really snug work atmosphere for the staff. It was troublesome after we began as a result of we didn’t know the way a lot we might promote. Now we’re nearly sure that we’re going to promote X variety of sauces each week so these could be made in small batches. And we’re fairly vocal in regards to the issues that we make in small batches, issues which might be made-to-order, issues that want 48 hours’ discover. It tastes completely different when it’s contemporary. Versus any fancy restaurant within the metropolis, which can nonetheless be serving parts that didn’t promote the day earlier than.

How did you go about organising your operations and area?
Powerful! It was very powerful. I don’t even wish to take into consideration these days. All the pieces that might have gone unsuitable went unsuitable. You form of have to only be prepared for it. We confronted numerous points from licensing to water to the builders not displaying up, and we had been constructing throughout COVID-19!

I used to be scouting for offers throughout city as a result of so many locations had been shutting down. So, I used to be purchasing for a espresso machine from one place, selecting up somebody’s cabinets from one other a part of city, a second-hand oven from some other place. It was simply full-on hustle mode.

However it was a labour of affection and clearly we needed to be very cautious with what we spent. I wasn’t certain whether or not this was going to take off. Fortuitously, issues labored out and Commis Station has been rising each when it comes to the companies we provide and the enterprise that we will tackle.

How do you handle to continue to grow?
It actually helps to have a really robust staff. My staff has supported my selections and backed me up with the lengthy hours, when wanted, or tailored to serving at catering gigs we tackle on the final minute. I attempt to lead by instance. I’m very happy with the truth that I’m at all times the primary one in and the final one out, I’m very hands-on and that’s central in preserving the morale of the staff up.

The truth that I converse to all my clients and take their orders additionally helps. I really feel that individuals have gotten so used to ordering on apps that they’ve forgotten the old-fashioned means of ordering meals by calling an area restaurant man and asking what was accessible that evening. I’ve this group of choose shoppers who simply randomly decide up the cellphone once they don’t actually really feel like cooking and say, “Are you able to type me out tonight?” And I feel that’s a really good a part of the enterprise. I’ve constructed very robust relationships with my shoppers, a few of whom have even invited me over to their houses for particular events!

It should take time to take care of these robust relationships. Do you are taking out time to concentrate on advertising and social media?
It’s not as nicely deliberate or designed as it’s possible you’ll assume it could be. Whenever you’re an entrepreneur and also you’re hands-on and also you’re cooking, managing a staff, doing gross sales and speaking to clients, you simply search for that five-minute hole and also you soar on Instagram and publish no matter is being finished. Typically, I’ll be strolling by a pile of bread and assume that it appears to be like nice. And I’ll publish that. Lots of it’s simply very spontaneous and really unplanned and I feel that’s what makes it stand out. It’s natural and never staged.

Provided that your providing is a lot about being chef-driven and elevating staples, do you are feeling just like the enterprise is intently tied to your persona as a chef? How a lot of your self do it’s important to put out on social media with regards to creating content material?
In case you have a look at my profile versus Commis Station’s, I personally have extra followers. However I’m not a chef who’s continually on social media. It’s not that I’m not a social particular person. However I’m not somebody who craves Instagram likes or thinks a lot about hashtags. I observe only a few individuals. For me, being on Instagram for enterprise is sufficient.

What are a few of the challenges you face as a cloud kitchen?
The hardest half is determining the way to get the meals or the product to the consumer in the very best means. That’s at all times been the problem and at all times will likely be. Some days you possibly can pull off a dessert after which a couple of months later it’s so sizzling that you simply can not serve that dessert anymore. There’s numerous science behind cooking, however it’s very arduous to convey that to the client.

Additionally it is troublesome to remain motivated whereas doing the identical factor time and again for years. That’s why I just like the catering facet of the enterprise as a result of it breaks the monotony. We exit, we cook dinner in entrance of individuals and we work together.

Do you are taking time without work?
I don’t. It’s primarily due to work that I journey. I’ve been working with Ishka Farms and producing a condiment vary with them that’s caper-focused. So I journey to Kochi very often as a result of I’ve to be there for the manufacturing a part of it. I like pop-ups. I do numerous collaborative dinners. As soon as the work is over, I spend an additional day or two for enjoyable and are available again. That’s at all times going to be the luxurious of being a chef — you possibly can go to any a part of the world and have a job.

How do you keep impressed?
It’s a course of in itself and it really occurs when there’s a lull. A quiet interval would possibly really feel like one thing is unsuitable however normally it’s nothing to fret about. It might simply be a festive weekend or possibly individuals are travelling. And so, each time there’s a lull, I take advantage of the time to create one thing new, publish about it and get eyes again onto Commis Station. An idle thoughts isn’t at all times the satan’s workshop.

A few of your gadgets, particularly the tiramisu, have a cult following.
It does. I really received the espresso machine for the kitchen pondering that I’d be this cool man promoting espresso within the compound. That by no means occurred however due to that espresso machine, I began making tiramisu. Life works in mysterious methods. On common, we promote about 150 to 160 kilos of the dessert monthly.

What’s the excellent order from Commis Station?
It’s at all times going to be the tiramisu as a result of that by no means permits you to down and it’s within the sharing format, so everybody’s comfortable. However we will additionally assist you put a meal collectively, so ordering one thing from the bakery, some sauces, some condiments, some staples, is an efficient approach to go. I prefer to encourage individuals to form of combine and match. At any time when somebody requires baos, I’ll additionally recommend ordering the kimchi and sesame. Individuals don’t at all times have the knack of placing issues collectively so the proper order would at all times be to take the options of the chef.

Earlier: Kartikeya Ratan and Rishabh Doshi, Kiki & Pastor
Subsequent: Anushka Malkani and Nariman Abdygapparov, Masa Bakery

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