New Delhi-born star restaurateur and T+L A-list member, Zorawar Kalra is the brain and heart behind the fine dining scene of the capital city. His brand, Massive Restaurants, has a slew of iconic restaurants like Masala Library, Farzi Café, Pa Pa Ya, Made in Punjab, etc. He talks to us about the cities that have inspired him to innovate, the challenges he has faced, and his new ventures. By Adila Matra
1- Massive Restaurants has changed the way we see Indian food. What is your global vision for the cuisine?
My vision for Indian food is to position it as one of the leading cuisines around the world, just like Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. I think Indian food is incredible, with an unmatched culinary philosophy, variety, and depth that is unparalleled, and a sophistication that is a class by itself.
2- What inspired you to get into the restaurant business, apart from your father’s legacy?
I have always been intrigued and infatuated by the restaurant industry, though I was exposed to it through my father [Jiggs Kalra]. What really drives me every day is my love for Indian food, and I believe it is our responsibility to showcase it in the best possible way.
3- From the time you began the company till now, how has Indian cuisine evolved?
The Indian foodie’s palate has become jaded. They are now exposed to great food from across the world. The adventure factor has exponentially increased. People have begun to move away from butter chicken and ‘Chinjabi’ food, to try authentic and new flavours. The foodie is evolving so rapidly that what you think is ahead of the curve today becomes right on the ball in six months.
4- Which is your favourite restaurant in the world?
Paradise Pup in Chicago. It is several years old and serves the best burgers in America. They source their ingredients from specific vendors. Two brothers run it with a lot of passion, and that is what I love about it.
5- What role does travel play in your business?
Apart from Indian cuisine, I have restaurants serving other cuisines too, so it is very important to travel to the country of origin. For instance, when I was opening Pa Pa Ya, I went to Japan. For my recently opened restaurant, Hotel Shanghigh, I have been making multiple trips to China, Japan, and Dubai to study high-quality Chinese restaurants. Travel exposes your palate and inspires you, gives you access to great dishes and ingredients. The country that inspires me the most from the perspective of food is Japan—their culinary philosophy is incredible. They have huge respect for ingredients and a beautiful sense of simplicity.
6- You have introduced concepts such as molecular gastronomy in Indian food. You are also one of the pioneers of fusion food. What are the challenges you faced when you decided to bring these trends to India?
One of the biggest challenges was access to ingredients. Another one was to find qualified people. In 2019, you launched Farzi Cafe in London.
7- What’s next in the pipeline?
More expansion is on the cards, specifically in India. We are already in nine cities in India, and we expect to be in four more by the end of the year .
8- Out of all the dishes in your restaurants, which ones are your favourite?
It is impossible to choose from. But when it comes to repeatability, two restaurants of mine that I go to are Made in Punjab for the butter chicken, paneer tikka, and biryani, and Hotel Shanghigh (opened in Mumbai in January 2020) for the spare ribs, prawn and chives Cheung fun.
9- Who are your favourite chefs in the world, and what aspects of their work impress you the most?
Chefs Sriram Aylur and Atul Kochhar are my favourite Indian chefs. When it comes to international chefs, I loved the work of the late Joël Robuchon, from whom I learned a lot.