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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Cloud Kitchens: Rehan Mehta, East seventh Pizza & Deli

Wine & Dine

Textual content and Pictures by Mallika Chandra.

Rehan Mehta, 31
East seventh Pizza & Deli
Location: Colaba
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 12 months in 2010 and I did a three-month course at Le Cordon Bleu London. That have truly made me not wish to turn out to be a chef so I went to a liberal arts school within the US, the place I graduated in psychology.

In my third 12 months at school, I occurred to look at a video of Anthony Bourdain (the late superstar chef and journey documentarian) and David Chang (restaurateur and tv persona) consuming at certainly one of Chang’s New York eating places. That made me wish to return to cooking. In actual fact, I felt like I simply couldn’t do the rest! 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 will permit me to take six months off from school, come again and nonetheless graduate on time. I beloved 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, by way of Craigslist, I obtained a job as a pastry cook dinner at Momofuku Milk Bar in New York (now referred to as Milk Bar), regardless that it wasn’t what I had particularly skilled in. I used to be making cookies, desserts and bread and I nonetheless suppose it’s the most effective job I’ve ever had. Sadly, I needed to go away after a 12 months as a result of they have 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 obtained in contact with me whereas the restaurant was nonetheless below development. Even on my first go to, I may inform the kitchen and the house have been going to be particular. The primary 12 months of Masque was actually attention-grabbing however we have been struggling to determine our model or what may make it distinctive. Finally, 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 slightly 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 obtained to work together with the shoppers, who have been often keen about meals, and that made it enjoyable. We additionally had quite a lot of freedom to work on new dishes which stored issues attention-grabbing.

Later, I grew disillusioned with advantageous eating. I used to be eager on beginning one thing that might feed much more individuals. I considered opening a sandwich store. I did a number of pop-ups and began searching for places 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 scorching 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 standard.

What led you to begin a cloud kitchen and the way did you plan to face out?
Quickly after I left Qualia, the pandemic struck, which rekindled the concept of a sandwich store since individuals have 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 obtained into baking bread through the lockdown, a sandwich tradition was sure to comply with.

My unique sandwich store concept developed to incorporate pizza. My considering was that pizza and sandwiches go hand in hand. I had eaten quite a lot of nice pizza throughout my time in New York, which obtained me obsessed — and through the pandemic I began playing around with it, making it at dwelling 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 suitable oven. I knew I didn’t need a wood-fired oven, I wished an electrical one. In New York, most of my favorite pizza locations used electrical ovens. Wooden fireplace may be very charming, however I don’t suppose it provides a lot when it comes to style. I really feel like if in case you have the suitable electrical oven, the pizza can style simply nearly as good and it’s much more constant, which is essential. If 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 a number of are usually not 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 a number of weeks or a month, but it surely took me 5 months simply to determine a pizza dough that I used to be proud of. I did virtually 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 might be, on condition that it’s simply 4 elements that you just’re working with. However, the best way you combine these elements, the proportions, how a lot water you add, which flour you employ, how lengthy you ferment it — all these wanted to be discovered. Lastly, I settled on a dough after trial quantity 96. I wished to simplify the dough course of as a result of it’s essential 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 referred to as a trial, regardless that we’ve been open for a 12 months. And we hold making changes consistent with modifications within the climate to get that excellent mild and ethereal but crispy pizza crust.

Subsequent got here the sandwich bread. We have been outsourcing the bread initially however the numbers didn’t work out. It was simpler to decide on a recipe, but it surely 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 obtained 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 wished one thing lighter. I believed an American-style pudding would match the invoice. Our lemon cheesecake and chocolate puddings do very well. We had a strawberries-and-cream pudding and one with mango, which have been seasonal and actually standard. We’re utilizing fancy vanilla beans, however in addition to that they’re primarily fruity, creamy and crunchy.

You set 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 wish to try this. If I used to be doing that and we have been profitable and earning money, I might have nonetheless thought-about it a failure as a result of an overworked workforce shouldn’t be an indication of success. To me, it makes monetary sense as nicely. If you happen to push individuals so laborious, they’re simply going to get burnt out and go away in a number of weeks or months, or a 12 months. I might slightly have individuals stick round for the lengthy haul, be completely satisfied, go dwelling and never take into consideration work.

That’s why, in that hiring publish, I used to be specific 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 12 months and seeing how tough it’s to truly become profitable, I see why different restaurateurs demand such lengthy hours from their groups. If restaurant gross sales are usually not reaching their goal, the administration in some way feels that making individuals work longer hours will increase gross sales. Nevertheless, whereas gross sales would possibly enhance within the brief time period, if targets are usually not met, it’s extra seemingly that there’s a drawback with the product or expertise.

Have been you additionally intending to offer your prospects an perception into what sort of cloud kitchen it’s and the sort 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 a great candidate. However, in fact, if I have been to see a enterprise posting one thing like this, I might be extra more likely to attempt the meals and would attempt to order typically. Our restaurant business doesn’t have the most effective repute. So, anybody who is aware of something about what goes on behind the scenes can be completely satisfied for issues to alter for the higher.

Who’s your typical buyer?
Sadly, most of our orders come from Swiggy and so they don’t share buyer information. It’s protected to guess that most people ordering from us are sort 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 attempt it. And people who have been to New York or Philadelphia and have had a cheesesteak sandwich, for instance, may even wish 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 all the time a piece in progress and I’m sort of a perfectionist; and I say that within the worst doable manner. I’ll hold procrastinating with the advertising and marketing as a result of I believe perhaps pizza dough trial 104 or 105 would be the excellent one after which we will actually push our advertising and marketing. Presently, advertising and marketing has primarily been by means of phrase of mouth.

Is that additionally a results of the title East seventh Pizza & Deli? Your official firm title can be attention-grabbing.
You possibly can say that. Our official firm title is Very Informal Meals. I got here up with that title after leaving Masque as a result of I used to be simply so tired of advantageous eating. It’s humorous to say that now, since Masque is likely 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 title 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 Road between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, which is within the East Village. And that one road had a lot good meals! You possibly can stroll down the road in 90 seconds but it surely had quite a lot 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 referred to as Porchetta, which simply made a roast pork sandwich. Throughout the road was this soft-serve place referred to as Huge Homosexual Ice Cream, which offered actually funky comfortable 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 choose lunch up on a piece day but it surely additionally might be the place you go to get primary 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 elements. Then there are the old-school delis, which make every thing from scratch, like Katz’s Deli, which is known for pastrami. Russ & Daughters is admittedly well-known for his or her smoked fish. The deli tradition got here from the Jewish inhabitants of New York. However now it has turn out to be a development 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 elements 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 are usually not 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 cook dinner and concentrate on 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 observe 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 should do. I hold hoping that if my meals is sweet sufficient, I received’t should do any advertising and marketing and folks will simply come anyway. And that’s clearly the dream. In New York, if in case you have a tremendous restaurant, even when it’s a tiny one, the phrase goes to unfold so quick that you just’ll have queues down the highway. However over right here, I don’t suppose that’s doable as a result of we’re providing a distinct segment product. Having stated that, I’m not essentially attempting to succeed in a large viewers. I’m simply looking for the suitable individuals who need one thing scrumptious that’s made with care, consideration and good elements.

What ended up being simpler than you thought?
I don’t suppose something has been simpler than I believed. Most issues have been more durable than I believed. Nevertheless, when somebody tries your meals, particularly if it’s a stranger, and tells you that they beloved it, you’re feeling good and you’re feeling prefer it’s all been value it.

What’s the excellent order from East seventh Pizza & Deli?
Our menu shouldn’t 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

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