The pandemic came with a mixed feeling for many youths, while for a few it was full of hustle, for some it gave the opportunity to introspect. No wonder, the last two years have been a roller coaster ride for the job market, witnessing the highest number of reverse migration, job attrition, layoffs, unpaid leaves and most importantly career switch. Talking about the food and beverages industry, last year in 2020, there was news of chefs returning back to their hometown as hotels started laying off or giving long unpaid leaves to their kitchen staff. Many returned and waited for hotels to reopen, many joined their home business, but few bloomed out to be an entrepreneur, stepping into the territory unknown, fulfilling a long awaited wish, opening a restaurant of ones own.
Nestled in the corner of Bir, Himachal Pradesh is a unique restaurant, named as G2 Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Chef Gaurav Gupta greets his guests with a gracious smile further explaining each and every detail of the menu. While he explains things so professionally, the wall around the restaurant with scribbled happy notes of the past guests resonates with the food he serves inside. Chef Gaurav is one of the lots who took pandemic as an opportunity, after serving in five-star hotels like Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort & Spa.
“For me, it was a decision made in crisis but of my choice. I always wanted to own a restaurant in my hometown and a pandemic could be the best time I had. Guests are enjoying the food that I serve, in such a small time, I have started having repeat customers. Not just the tourists but locals have also started dining in regularly. Because I have my expertise in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, I have tried offering the best I could collect from my past experiences. Although logistics is a bit difficult, I ensure that each and every ingredient is fresh and authentic,” he explained.
For Gupta, opening a restaurant in his hometown was much easy than taking the brand somewhere else. He now soon plans for another outlet in Billing tapping the upcoming tourist season in Bir. However, Gupta is not alone.
Many chefs have either started their own venture or have entered into a partnership with restauranteurs to start an individual brand. At the newly opened Pink Wasabi Chef Parvez Khan is the partner. Chef Khan has worked at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel Mumbai’s Wasabi by Morimoto where he mastered the art of Japanese cuisine. After over 15 years at Wasabi, he decided to dish out Wakai, a fresh and young take on a cuisine that has strongly intrigued Indian palates. “The cuisine chose me,” Chef Parvez believes.
“In an era when cross-border travel is nearly impossible, Japanese cuisine is riding a new wave of popularity as people embrace healthier eating options and go beyond standard dining options to more exciting alternatives. Since last year, the number of Japanese restaurants in India has climbed by 13 percent. We feel that by appreciating both Indian and Japanese cuisine, India and Japan gain a better understanding of each other's cultures on a more fundamental level,” he added.
At a time when food businesses were folding, some big names from the Chef industry too were venturing out of their own. Chef Vikramjit Roy launched his standalone cloud kitchen Hello Panda last year.
“Much before Lockdown, we were planning our own restaurant of a bigger size and a completely different concept for which almost everything was finalised. But unfortunately, all of that had to be deferred,” he had commented. However, pivoting from there to Hello Panda is seamless for Roy, who has 18 years of experience, and has been associated with establishments such as The Kimono Club, Whisky Samba, Antares, ITC and Taj hotels, and many more.
Such stories are in abundance, few who came into the limelight, while few kept unknown. But, the pandemic had surely swirled things up in the chef universe. While few have returned back to their base kitchens, tossing the sauces and screaming ‘service please’, few are happy to greet guests in their newly launched ‘passion projects’.