From quite early, Anaida Parvaneh, once famous as the pop-singer in the 90s and now the Chef and Partner at SodaBottleOpenerWala in Powai in Mumbai, started doing the pop-ups for “fun”. She sought peace in cooking while going through a rough phase in her life. “I started doing the pop-ups to distract myself,” reveals Anaida.
Spilling the beans on the expansion of SodaBottleOpenerWala, Anaidah says, “We are already in nine cities and now planning to open new outlets abroad - New York and Dubai.”
In a candid conversation with Restaurant India, Chef and Partner Anaida Parvaneh reveals her unconventional style of kitchen management and the promotion strategies at SodaBottleOpenerWala, Powai in Mumbai.
Cooking is More Powerful than Music or Art
I used to do many cooking pop-ups, earlier. It was during one of the pop-ups in Delhi that I realised that cooking was way more powerful than the music or art. No one will say if your song is bad but with food the reaction is instant. People were sceptical about my cooking, at first, especially the media persons. I am talking specifically about one of the pop-up cookery shows in Delhi. As soon as they tasted the food, their perception changed. With food, it was that session, that day, when I knew I will go ahead. My chef at the pop-up events showed confidence in me, too.
The Chef Behind Launching Baklava at SodaBottleOpenerWala
I was fed up of Baklava everywhere else. The eateries then would give 250 gm of Baklava for Rs. 800 with hardly any pistachios or almonds in it. I felt the need for introducing the authentic Baklava to the people. Initially, I launched Baklava as Diwali gift at SodaBottleOpenerWala in Powai, Mumbai. It went flying. I could have priced it really well as it was three times better quality from what we were already getting in the market (laughs off).
The work was not done till yet. My research and development happened by just observing people at the restaurant and it was instant. You can do a fabulous job with a little bit of observation. I found people needed to break the Baklava, and that’s how I realised I have to make it a bit smaller.
The people’s reaction got me hooked. My food made them so happy. The fact that you create art on the plate and people take it in a positive way by feeling good - is a big honour.
People would come to me and say, “I have never had a meal like this.” For people in India who are addicted to chillies and spices, it takes a lot of guts to serve food that has no chillies in it. I am also serving a riceless biryani; the cuisine had no rice originally.
It needs a lot of guts to serve that kind of food and seeing it become a success. It can’t be more delicious than this!
Being Rigid on Cooking Authentic Iranian Cuisines
It might not be as commercial as a tandoori chicken but I have stuck to making Iranian food. There are enough people in India who understand Iranian food. People know they won’t get these cuisines elsewhere. Therefore, I stayed authentic to stay true to that particular lot of customers. Besides, I also do fusion and slightly add an Indian touch to the food I cook. But my cooking will always remain Persian, primarily, because that’s my foundation and I understand it from every bit of my soul. Right now, I am serving Persian Spice Sizzlers at SodaBottleOpenerWala in Powai, Mumbai. The food has remained very much Persian but I have added a twist. I am serving a sauce along with Persian Spice Sizzlers. If anyone needs spicy sizzlers, they can add the sauce. The food in itself will remain authentic with a few alterable tastes. That’s a big challenge but I am able to manage.
Marketing Strategy at SodaBottleOpenerWala Powai
There are a couple of things that I do at my outlet in Powai in Mumbai and it has received a good response from the guests.
- One of them is – We have a very good live band named Pratibimb. They are smashing. You have to see how good they are and literally, I have guests who come to listen to music. Even if there won’t be any place to sit, we have guests who would sit on the table in the corner with food on their lap just to enjoy the music.
- We started Ladies Compartment on Wednesday. The Wednesdays are dedicated to ladies, with a lot of things – from discounts to meditation, free workshops to book readings. If a woman walks into SodaBottleOpenerwala Powai on a Wednesday, she will feel that she is being celebrated.
- Another important thing for me is to make sure that my kitchen is happy, and the food served is good. Then, I make sure my service staff is good. I know that people go to restaurants as they want to spend some quality time with their family and friends. And if my staff is not in good mood, no matter how much they pretend – I am an energy worker – it will show up. I am very happy that SodaBottleOpenerwala, at all the outlets, is a pro-staff and treats them well. Being in the business, of course, we have to be strict but the spirit is such that we are pro-staff. That makes a very big difference for me. My idea of doing business is very unconventional. People might not agree on my working style at the moment but later they do agree and ask about it.
Deciding the Kitchen Staff
I do not interfere in the operations that much. But then I select from the selected few for my kitchen.
Food Trends in India
When I moved to India, in Mumbai per se, I wouldn’t get anything that was not spicy anywhere other than on a five-star continental menu. Eating was a big problem back then. That is why I started to cook. Indians were not experimental earlier – you had Indian food and then you had Chindian (Chinese + Indian). After the satellite TV came to India, people started experimenting. But the new generation, now, is all about creating new experiences. I find the new generation being a lot more experimental and opened up. And, hence, I find the food trends further going to the experimental cuisines.
People have started to get health-conscious, not in a diet manner. If you study statistics, dieting works only 2% of the time. If you ask me, I would say no diet actually works. You need not suffer or starve. I believe in the traditional ways of eating food. What my grandmother would suggest eating I will have it. I believe in local cuisines and healthy food. At SodaBottleOpenerWala in Powai, I had launched Chef Bowls. It has seven elements like a Budhha bowl – curry, dal, rice, two fried potato sticks. The fried is not considered healthy but I look at it in a way that if you enjoy food, a small portion isn’t bad for you. Ghee or coconut oil, if taken in small portions, are good for health.
People are growing health conscious in a more healthy way. The kind of direction where food trends are going is the kind I am adept at. I have been doing this for the longest time. People are going more holistic in their diet and eating habits.