“I believe a brand with ethical practices, loyal customer has a bright future post lockdown”

Short Description
Talking to Restaurant India Chef Julia Carmen De Sa, Chef & Co-owner, TRES talks about her restaurant and way forward post lockdown.
  • Nusra Deputy Features Editor
Julia Carmen

While India has always been a food-loving country with each region having its special cuisine, Indians were not a big fan of eating out, back then. Restaurant Industry in India has undergone a radical transformation in the past 30 years. The cooking practices, cooking technology, style of plating, restaurant types and even the clientele have changed over the years.

In initial days, restaurants used to be family-oriented, now there’s a lot of concept restaurants, more places are now catering to the youngsters and executives. Earlier, restaurants were limited to traditional business, tourists etc but now the industry has broadened its horizon to entrepreneurial opportunities or an evening hangout. Even chefs in today's era are more innovative and experimental. They are curious to adapt and learn. They don't restrict themselves but think out of the box. “Chefs today are more courageous and not so inhibitive. The world has become smaller in this internet era, and global influence can be seen in every aspect. From plating, which used to be 10’o clock – 12’o clock portions, then moved to linear approach and now off-centred straight presentation has been adapted,” says Chef Julia Carmen De Sa. Excerpts from the interview:

Covid-19 has brought the whole sector to an halt. What is the future of restaurants like yours that are running under premium category?

I believe a brand with ethical practices, loyal customer base and ready to innovate as per the changing ecosystem definitely has a bright future amidst the uncertain times. The first step in the long crawl back will be slow but the key to roll back is to reinvent the SOPs, practice stringent hygiene and sanitization process and win the confidence of your regulars. Engage with the customers and understand the consumer behavior and keep adapting accordingly to stay in the business.

I believe that post Covid, customers will be much more selective and conscious going to a restaurant. How are you planning to beat this fear from your loyal customers?

We have managed to create a brand and our customers who have been our regulars will certainly expect us to deliver like always. But the difference will be that the new set of expectations would come in not only from the quality and taste standpoint but also how safe our work practices will be i.e. how safe and sanitized our environment would be. These will be some of the doubts our customers may have and our sole endeavor is to deliver in all these parameters.

The restaurant industry will see a complete change from cooking to dining conditions, with the number of covers, dining in slots to reinventing SOPs and CRM. We envisage an experience that’s 10 times safer, starting from ensuring safety, hygiene, quality checks, heavy use of local produce to ensuring the personal safety of our staff and customers. All the vendors have to follow strict sanitizing procedures and other guidelines issued by WHO & FSSAI.

Local and seasonal will be new normal post Covid

I think it’s the need of the hour. The world-wide breakout of a novel virus and nation-wide lockdown with limited resources have made people (general public) rethink & re-imagine food and their consumption habits. Low paying capacity across sectors and the decrease in imports will play a huge role in shaping up the hospitality sector.Restaurants and hotel kitchens will replace imported ingredients with local ones. At TRES, we have always followed zero-waste practices and I feel it’s going to be a new norm in the F&B industry. More focus will be on fresh produce, shorter and seasonal menus, anti-oxidant ingredients and going back to the roots. The new normal will make local produce a hero! And in exchange boost the local economy too.

USP of the restaurant

I am a very spontaneous and free-spirited person and that’s exactly how I am as a chef. I always try to inculcate consistency in the working system. My aim has always been to satisfy all the guests who walk in and we are always open to customization and adapt as per their request. I prefer slow cooking methods from sous-vide, 24hours cooking to Josper grill which also speaks for TRES uniqueness. These methods result in better textures, help achieve right tenderness and most importantly enhance the flavours in a healthy way. Food takes the centre-stage at Tres, the spotlight is on seasonal ingredients cooked with patience and right techniques and that is what set Tres apart from others. Handpicked ingredients, processing them delicately, using every part, allowing them to rest, growing our shrubs; making our own syrups, sauces, breads and even ice-cubes; all these small yet basic things are very important in order to serve the best to our customers.

Initiatives during the Covid period

At a corporate level Tres and Lite Bite Foods have been feeding the hungry and providing shelter home meal support since March 29th continuing till today. Till date we have served more than 1 lac meals to the needy.  This has been possible with our tie up with Swiggy, NGOs like Mobius Foundation of Mr. Burman and some internal initiatives.  We have also provided ration kits for almost 4000 families which can sustain a family of 4 for a week. We plan a balanced menu which is nutritious as well as filling.  We ensure minimum 600 calories per meal.  Some of the frequently served items are black chana curry, soya wadi curry, white mutter curry, steamed rice, vegetable khichadi, chapatis etc.

As for our Tres team, most of our employees are home-bound following the lockdown rules. However, we are constantly in touch with them, keeping them motivated and uplift their spirits in these incredibly dark times. We keep updating them about the times to come and engage them in the discussion regarding what changes our operations and businesses will go through and how to tackle them positively. We have also kept them busy by engaging them in our social media initiatives and sharing their talent with our followers. Since, managing finances is a challenge in such unprecedented times, there will be some setbacks we as a team have to go through. We are trying to keep them in a positive state of mind and warning them about the difficulty industry is facing.

Delivery is on card

We are not delivering at the moment if the new lockdown guidelines don't permit relaxation for restaurants, we will soon start with the delivery format. We are already working on the menu, guidelines for staff security and other nitty-gritty.

Future of Premium dining

These challenging times are going to lead to a more conscious diner as well as conscious chefs and restaurateurs. The biggest takeaway from this pandemic will be an increased focus on health and sanitation. The restaurant industry, in particular, will adopt more stringent practices and as I mentioned earlier if a brand manages to successfully convey its safety measures and win consumer confidence they have a long way to go. I believe the future of gourmet and premium dining is bright & shining, it will take some time but with careful measures and some modifications in dine-in setup, it will bounce back. However, the initial few weeks will see more demand for home deliveries, and having a good number of walk-ins is a long haul.

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