Wine & Dine
Textual content and Images by Mallika Chandra.
Rehan Mehta, 31
East seventh Pizza & Deli
Speciality: Pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, puddings
Rehan, inform me about your journey as a chef.
The primary time I went to cooking faculty was after I completed my education in Mumbai. I had taken a niche yr in 2010 and I did a three-month course at Le Cordon Bleu London. That have truly made me not need to develop into a chef so I went to a liberal arts school within the US, the place I graduated in psychology.
In my third yr at school, I occurred to look at a video of Anthony Bourdain (the late movie star chef and journey documentarian) and David Chang (restaurateur and tv character) consuming at one in every of Chang’s New York eating places. That made me need to return to cooking. Actually, I felt like I simply couldn’t do anything! I enrolled within the cooking faculty David Chang had been to, which was the French Culinary Institute in New York. I had found a course that may permit me to take six months off from school, come again and nonetheless graduate on time. I cherished it there.
The way in which it labored in America on the time was that I had three months to discover a job after commencement. So I utilized to a bunch of locations. Lastly, through Craigslist, I bought a job as a pastry prepare dinner at Momofuku Milk Bar in New York (now known as Milk Bar), regardless that it wasn’t what I had particularly educated in. I used to be making cookies, truffles and bread and I nonetheless suppose it’s one of the best job I’ve ever had. Sadly, I needed to depart after a yr as a result of they had been unable to sponsor my work visa.
Once I returned to Mumbai in 2015, I used to be given a job within the pastry division wherever I utilized due to my expertise at Momofuku Milk Bar. My first job was in Colaba on the modern-American restaurant Ellipsis (now shut), headed by Chef Kelvin Cheung. Chef Kelvin was a Milk Bar fan so he was eager to have me onboard. Sadly, he left the restaurant six months after I joined.
Then, in September 2016, I joined Masque in Mahalaxmi in Mumbai. Chef Prateek Sadhu and co-owner Aditi Dugar bought in contact with me whereas the restaurant was nonetheless beneath development. Even on my first go to, I may inform the kitchen and the house had been going to be particular. The primary yr of Masque was actually fascinating however we had been struggling to determine our model or what may make it distinctive. Ultimately, Chef Prateek began digging deeper into his personal Kashmiri roots, and that’s when it actually took off. It made extra sense as a result of it was private and culturally related moderately than simply attempting to be like many different Scandinavian-inspired tasting menu eating places. What I loved most from my time there was the truth that the cooks would serve all of the dishes and bought to work together with the shoppers, who had been normally enthusiastic about meals, and that made it enjoyable. We additionally had plenty of freedom to work on new dishes which stored issues fascinating.
Later, I grew disillusioned with fantastic eating. I used to be eager on beginning one thing that might feed much more individuals. I thought of opening a sandwich store. I did just a few pop-ups and began in search of areas however nothing labored out. On the identical time, I heard concerning the legendary chef Rahul Akerkar opening a brand new restaurant (Qualia) and I utilized for a place within the sizzling kitchen. I used to be liable for the pasta part, which was superb as a result of I like working with dough and the pasta turned actually widespread.
What led you to begin a cloud kitchen and the way did you propose to face out?
Quickly after I left Qualia, the pandemic struck, which rekindled the concept of a sandwich store since individuals had been hungry for well-executed consolation meals. There wasn’t actually a Western-inspired sandwich tradition in Mumbai on the time however as a result of individuals bought into baking bread throughout the lockdown, a sandwich tradition was sure to comply with.
My authentic sandwich store concept advanced to incorporate pizza. My pondering was that pizza and sandwiches go hand in hand. I had eaten plenty of nice pizza throughout my time in New York, which bought me obsessed — and throughout the pandemic I began playing around with it, making it at house for my household. It was a no brainer to begin as a cloud kitchen on the time as a result of if there had been one other lockdown, you’ll be caught paying lease for a restaurant with out anybody coming in there. I discovered a spot in Colaba in December 2021.
How did you go about establishing your operations? What did you herald from previous expertise?
It took me three months to arrange the place. I used to be very finicky concerning the kitchen being a sure manner. I needed to discover the appropriate oven. I knew I didn’t need a wood-fired oven, I needed an electrical one. In New York, most of my favorite pizza locations used electrical ovens. Wooden fireplace could be very charming, however I don’t suppose it provides a lot when it comes to style. I really feel like when you’ve got the appropriate electrical oven, the pizza can style simply nearly as good and it’s much more constant, which is necessary. While you’re attempting to churn the pizzas out actually quick and have 10 to fifteen orders at a time, that wood-fired oven goes to be a ache and perhaps just a few aren’t going to be nearly as good as the remainder as a result of it’s so laborious to keep up and management the warmth, in contrast to electrical ovens.
Having mulled over the concept of the sandwich and pizza store for therefore lengthy, what has the menu improvement course of been like?
Once I began engaged on the recipes, I believed it could take perhaps just a few weeks or a month, however it took me 5 months simply to determine a pizza dough that I used to be pleased with. I did nearly 100 trials. I used to be simply making pizza day-after-day and attempting to determine it out. I by no means imagined how difficult it could possibly be, provided that it’s simply 4 substances that you simply’re working with. However, the best way you combine these substances, the proportions, how a lot water you add, which flour you utilize, how lengthy you ferment it — all these wanted to be discovered. Lastly, I settled on a dough after trial quantity 96. I needed to simplify the dough course of as a result of it’s necessary for my workforce to have the ability to execute it in addition to I might. That’s the reason I dominated out a sourdough pizza dough as a result of it has an excessive amount of margin for error. Now, we’re on pizza dough trial quantity 103. The pizza dough recipe remains to be known as a trial, regardless that we’ve been open for a yr. And we hold making changes in keeping with modifications within the climate to get that excellent mild and ethereal but crispy pizza crust.
Subsequent got here the sandwich bread. We had been outsourcing the bread initially however the numbers didn’t work out. It was simpler to decide on a recipe, however it nonetheless took a number of trials. We use a Vietnamese Bánh mì-style baguette. In comparison with a French baguette, it has a really skinny crust and a fluffy inside. The sandwiches bought rather a lot higher after we began making our personal bread.
The one factor I knew I had to determine was dessert. Most pizza locations serve dough balls with Nutella and stuff like that. However I needed one thing lighter. I believed an American-style pudding would match the invoice. Our lemon cheesecake and chocolate puddings do rather well. We had a strawberries-and-cream pudding and one with mango, which had been seasonal and actually widespread. We’re utilizing fancy vanilla beans, however apart from that they’re primarily fruity, creamy and crunchy.
You place out a job opening on Instagram someday again and it communicated rather a lot concerning the work tradition you are attempting to each desist from and construct. Was that intentional?
Most eating places I’ve labored at, the hours have been very lengthy, which has been the benchmark on this business for ages. However I knew I didn’t need to do this. If I used to be doing that and we had been profitable and being profitable, I might have nonetheless thought of it a failure as a result of an overworked workforce will not be an indication of success. To me, it makes monetary sense as effectively. Should you push individuals so laborious, they’re simply going to get burnt out and depart in just a few weeks or months, or a yr. I might moderately have individuals stick round for the lengthy haul, be comfortable, go house and never take into consideration work.
That’s why, in that hiring publish, I used to be express that our shift lasts 10 hours solely. In actuality, it’s solely 9 hours, however I’ve accounted for some further time ought to we often want it. Now, after operating this place for a yr and seeing how troublesome it’s to really earn money, I see why different restaurateurs demand such lengthy hours from their groups. If restaurant gross sales aren’t reaching their goal, the administration by some means feels that making individuals work longer hours will enhance gross sales. Nonetheless, whereas gross sales may improve within the brief time period, if targets aren’t met, it’s extra probably that there’s a drawback with the product or expertise.
Have been you additionally intending to provide your prospects an perception into what sort of cloud kitchen it’s and the type of individuals which can be making the meals?
That’s not why I posted it and I didn’t give it some thought on the time. I used to be simply attempting to rent candidate. However, after all, if I had been to see a enterprise posting one thing like this, I might be extra prone to strive the meals and would attempt to order typically. Our restaurant business doesn’t have one of the best status. So, anybody who is aware of something about what goes on behind the scenes could be comfortable for issues to vary for the higher.
Who’s your typical buyer?
Sadly, most of our orders come from Swiggy and so they don’t share buyer knowledge. It’s protected to guess that the general public ordering from us are type of like pizza nerds, which appears to be each third individual these days. Most of our meals is New York-influenced. Those that’ve by no means had this sort of meals are eager to strive it. And people who have been to New York or Philadelphia and have had a cheesesteak sandwich, for instance, may even need to relive that have.
I’ve additionally deliberately not marketed East seventh Pizza & Deli rather a lot as a result of I’m nonetheless tweaking issues. I really feel prefer it’s at all times a piece in progress and I’m type of a perfectionist; and I say that within the worst potential manner. I’ll hold procrastinating with the advertising and marketing as a result of I feel perhaps pizza dough trial 104 or 105 would be the excellent one after which we are able to actually push our advertising and marketing. At present, advertising and marketing has primarily been by means of phrase of mouth.
Is that additionally a results of the identify East seventh Pizza & Deli? Your official firm identify can be fascinating.
You may say that. Our official firm identify is Very Informal Meals. I got here up with that identify after leaving Masque as a result of I used to be simply so tired of fantastic eating. It’s humorous to say that now, since Masque is without doubt one of the finest eating places in India. I see myself sticking with quick informal or informal eating places with thoughtfully executed and ingredient-driven meals.
The identify East seventh was impressed by the road I lived on in New York. Whereas I used to be in cooking faculty, I lived on East seventh Avenue between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, which is within the East Village. And that one road had a lot good meals! You may stroll down the road in 90 seconds however it had plenty of nice tiny institutions. And every of them specialised in only one or two issues. There was Luke’s Lobster, which made simply seafood sandwiches. There was a Venezuelan arepas place. The constructing I lived in had an Italian sandwich store known as Porchetta, which simply made a roast pork sandwich. Throughout the road was this soft-serve place known as Large Homosexual Ice Cream, which offered actually funky smooth serve. After which there was a Chinese language teahouse the place I might sit and drink tea. That road actually impressed me.
How would you describe what a deli is?
Within the New York sense, it’s your native sandwich place the place you decide lunch up on a piece day however it additionally could possibly be the place you go to get fundamental groceries, perhaps even some baked items, with out having to make a visit to the grocery store. Inside that, there are the bodega-style delis, the place the sandwiches are made merely, utilizing simply packaged substances. Then there are the old-school delis, which make all the things from scratch, like Katz’s Deli, which is known for pastrami. Russ & Daughters is basically well-known for his or her smoked fish. The deli tradition got here from the Jewish inhabitants of New York. However now it has develop into a pattern that has unfold the world over.
How do you construct belief as a cloud kitchen?
I’m very explicit about protecting the kitchen tremendous clear, and in addition about ensuring that substances are at their prime. That sense of hygiene was ingrained in me because of all my earlier work locations. Clearly, our meals security legal guidelines aren’t as strict or as strictly enforced over right here in India, as in comparison with New York, however I implement those self same requirements anyway.
How has juggling the roles of chef and enterprise proprietor been for you?
I want I may simply prepare dinner and deal with the meals as a result of it could be a lot simpler. Half my time is spent managing individuals, regardless that I solely have a workforce of 9. Simply attempting to maintain all of them on monitor and coaching them retains me considerably occupied.
I’m horrible at advertising and marketing. In order that’s one other factor that I want I might simply not must do. I hold hoping that if my meals is sweet sufficient, I received’t must do any advertising and marketing and other people will simply come anyway. And that’s clearly the dream. In New York, when you’ve got a tremendous restaurant, even when it’s a tiny one, the phrase goes to unfold so quick that you simply’ll have queues down the street. However over right here, I don’t suppose that’s potential as a result of we’re providing a distinct segment product. Having mentioned that, I’m not essentially attempting to achieve a large viewers. I’m simply looking for the appropriate individuals who need one thing scrumptious that’s made with care, consideration and good substances.
What ended up being simpler than you thought?
I don’t suppose something has been simpler than I believed. Most issues have been tougher than I believed. Nonetheless, when somebody tries your meals, particularly if it’s a stranger, and tells you that they cherished it, you’re feeling good and you’re feeling prefer it’s all been price it.
What’s the excellent order from East seventh Pizza & Deli?
Our menu will not be very lengthy as a result of I need each merchandise to be tremendous scrumptious. A Ray’s Cheese Pizza, our model of a margherita with further buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese; a Pork Stomach Bánh mì, which is meaty and spicy; and a lemon cheesecake pudding!
Earlier: Kunal Makhija, Arabisque
Subsequent: Kartikeya Ratan and Rishabh Doshi, Kiki & Pastor