When you fall in love with something as dynamic and intriguing as food, you just follow your heart! What started as culinary explorations in the streets of my hometown Lucknow, gradually grew into a passion. After graduating from the Institute of Hotel Management, Lucknow with top honours, I worked with the Taj group of hotels in my initial years, they were the place to be and learn. I became the youngest executive chef in the country and earned the reputation of a specialist in opening restaurants too. That zeal took me to Boston, where I worked with a fantastic team to open an award-winning restaurant. Sadly, a turn of events; and economy, forced me to return to India. But not before joining One World Hospitality group, one of the oldest restaurants in Boston and opening a slew of five restaurants, a food truck and setting up Boston’s first Indian catering company.
Back in my homeland, I joined the Accor group as Executive chef at Novotel, Mumbai. Television happened soon after, and the rest as they say is history! Food is still my first calling, I have since opened restaurants in India and abroad and more in the kitty, or might I say, apron!
What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship?
After opening restaurants across properties, which trust me, helped me gain priceless expertise in overall management, there was this hunger to do more with actual cooking, to explore cuisines, to develop and work on my style. I was in the US, representing India at the World Pastry Forum. I connected with a couple of enterprising restaurateurs and we hit it off instantly. They were chewing on some unusual and interesting plans for opening restaurants and I was intrigued. I literally had my head inside an oven I was building, back in India, when fate gave me a step up and I was called on board for a new restaurant in Boston, my first entrepreneurial venture.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
The biggest hurdles I would say were lack of capital, so the challenge was to look for strategic partnerships and joint ventures. The other initial hurdles were lack of knowledge of scalability and lack of growth experience. It helped to speak with people who had already been there and done it and plan the way forward from there on.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
Hailing from a family of landlords, you are expected to conform to the more ‘normal’ occupations. My declaration to be a cook was, to say the least, akin to lighting a match in a room full of hay! But the pull (of food) was stronger, I had to explore more, prove my passion to myself.
How did you handle it?
I was a bit of a rebel! I became an apprentice to a local kebab vendor, who was an unconventional teacher. I had to watch and learn and yet, his spice mixes and the proportions used were a closely guarded secret. After about six months I knew this was it; the path I wanted to follow. I needed a more formal education in this field, by this time my family understood and accepted my decision too. So, it all fell in place and I joined a culinary university.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
People. I owe my success to the people I have been associated with, people that have worked for me, people I work with.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
The knowledge I have gained from experience is to choose business partners very carefully and do my due diligence before starting any joint venture.
What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Believe in your idea, your vision. It’s important because no one else will believe in it till the vision materialises. So, it’s paramount to have full conviction in your idea first and foremost.