Recently, I was privy to a very finely curated meal by the German Sühring Twins who run Bangkok’s top table. The two had been flown down courtesy of Raaj ‘Sanguine’ Sanghvi and they set up camp at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, from where they’d dole out a few very coveted meals (thank you German Tourism for the gracious invite). Definitely worth a trip to Bangkok for an encore. Sadly such experiences are few and far between because, in spite of all our rich cuisines and chefs, India is yet to go under the Michelin magnifying glass, while the rest of Asia gets dotted with stars-like constellations.
But even before the Michelins, Routards and Zagats can attack our outlets, the chefs and servers have the toughest challenge to contend with the Indian consumer. Few species in the organic world act as entitled. Here are a few peeves that I hold no reservations against them.
1. Relativity of Time: Reservations merely indicate one’s intent to turn up with no bearing on what time they’ll actually arrive. But they will still stake claim to the best seats in the house with threats to call up the owners, landlord, and supreme overlord. Coming late means they ruin not just their experience but even for those scheduled to arrive after, who will then resort to their own set of threats. Till time travel can be invented. Indian restaurants will not find a way around this.
2. Bespoke Meals: It isn’t enough to be fed by coveted chefs and their teams, we have to sprinkle it with extras and exclusions so that by the end, any resemblance to the original menu is purely coincidental. If ‘no onion and garlic’ to ‘chicken only’ weren’t bad enough obstacles to tackle, we now have a severe case of Americanitis in the forms of ‘no gluten’, ‘no carbs’, and nonsensical diets: even the Paleo man would have eaten better if they’d have invented fire. So chefs, park your imaginations and creativity at home and get ready to serve out meals no better than in a cafeteria.
3. Entitlement: This is, at best, a brown version of white privilege. At its worst, it includes people who are self-proclaimed foodies and bloggers, especially those with some online affiliation. They want special promotions, sharing portions, one into two and two into ‘parcel it for home’ notions, they want discounts, and photos of every plate put in front of them. This distracts not only other diners but even the chef who is now reduced to a personal Johnnie running errands for someone on an ego trip.
4. Discounts: An Indian diner will overeat to the point of being sick if it gets him/her a discount. Between the various apps that offer some form of lure or another (a free dish, a glass of wine, etc.), restaurants are left battling even higher food costs. As a result, they scale back the pork and lamb, leaving us the bland ubiquitous chicken as the only option. Same with exotic fish and seafood for all we have is the bottom-feeding catfish Basa as the staple, calling it the paneer of the sea world would be undue praise! Hard to make imagination fly with such.
Hence my point that earning Michelin stars might be tough but catering to the Indian clientele is even tougher. So, Indian restaurateurs, if you want to step away from the meaningless clutter of smug eateries and do something truly nouveau and worthwhile, apply for immigration, move to anywhere else in the world and do it there; you can earn your stars serving proper beef and other meats, wine will be cheap and aplenty. Even the average Indian diner, is more soberly behaved abroad. And then maybe we can request Raaj to fly you in for a special pop-up meal!
The writer is a sommelier. firstname.lastname@example.org