In an exclusive interview to Restaurant India, Chef Michael Swamy talks about his idea of opening a restaurant at par with global standard in India.
It was in 2015 when Chef Michael Swamy thought of doing a restaurant as suggested to him by Vikrant and Sharad Batra, the owners of Cafe Delhi Heights. Chef Swamy whose life is full of journeys and travels unfolding new culinary stories, after debating and brainstorming on as to where and what, he decided to come up with South American cuisine as this was something which was missing in India. From the world of food styling and food media to step back into the politics of restaurant life was a big step. It meant again having to give up one’s freedom and one's space. NUEVA began to emerge in September of 2016 when a space came up in Sangam Courtyard in Delhi. “We took it and work began. The decision was to have a unique space and the design had to be classy, with that plush feel to it,” shares Swamy who believes that the decor doesn't play a major part in the style of cuisine. With a fine tune of design, art and colour where the crockery and cutlery is unique and a masterpiece reflecting stories, the restaurant started as a fine dining experience in mid March. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
How much time it actually took to frame the whole concept as everything in the restaurant is so unique- the cutlery, menu and the ambience?
The journey was of about two years from the very first conceptualization to the present day space you see and experience today. Even the food trials were done over a period of three months.
The menu at Nueva is a mix of different cultures from the Latin American region. How difficult/easy it was for you to bring the authenticity in it?
The difficulty factor was in educating the staff about the cuisine. We took the help of the expats and chef friends. My small foray to Florida in 2016 greatly helped me in learning the nuances of South American food and culture because it is abundantly available there.
From where did you source the raw materials and ingredients as I have seen that the food served was a mix of international cuisine and local flavours?
A majority of the ingredients is from India and local farms that are specializing in organic produce. The meats are imported and then processed in India and some of the fish like the cod and sea bass is imported.
You have used lots of super foods in the menu? What is the idea?
Well, I like to think that chefs have an equal role to play in ensuring that one feeds good food to one's guests. The health quotient is important as we as chefs have a role to play similar to that of doctors. Food heals the soul and one's bodies. So, the super foods are also interplayed with super foods from India as well. Although, when we selected the ingredients we did not think of them as super foods. It was pure luck and coincidence that the indigenous grains turned out to be today’s super foods.
Chef- your restaurant is at par with Michelin star and global restaurants as you have looked into every single details. What was the key learning while researching about the restaurant?
My goal and aim is to have a series of Michelin style driven restaurants. When you build a brand on perfection you have to deliver every nuance perfectly time after time. From the quality of ingredients to a well researched menu, it’s all about giving class. One key learning is that one has to "stand up for one's food and one's creations" the moment you change your recipes to suit your audience the battle is lost. Then you become a mere cook and no longer an artist and creator. People must come to have the Michael Swamy experience and wallow in it.
Talk to us more about menu designing, getting the best of the ingredients on table?
Menu designing is not as simple as one thinks it is especially a seasonal menu like ours. It keeps changing. The main factors in deciding a great menu is to give great comfort to a guest. The moment you put something alien on a plate you have lost the plot. The percentage of signature dishes is just 10% of an overall menu. The dishes are designed so that there is an equal workflow through the kitchen. No single section of the kitchen must get over burdened during the rush hours. Chefs need to step out and meet the farmers and vendors. Most chefs rarely step out of the kitchen… they need to reconnect with the source. Only then can you achieve a great menu that’s balanced, doable and gives customers a sense of belonging and feeling to return.
As it’s been almost three months for Nueva in Delhi. How do you see the response? What is the clientele look like? What is the average footfall?
The response has been great. It’s all about educating the guest and the footfall will increase. The clientele has been a mixed crowd so far. The tapas and lounge bar area sees a younger crowd. They love the Latin music and pretty much engage with the food and the vibe of the place.
Fine dining used to be a hotel affair till the likes of stand-alone restaurants like Indigo give it a shape. What’s catching this trend as there is a boom in stand-alone fine dines restaurants?
People want that sense of class and style. If you give them boring they get used to "boring". They want to be pampered and taken care of, that’s the key element to fine dining. Small menus and great service bring back customers. With fine dining, the customer is more mannered and the very ambience drives the customer to remember that he is the guest of the Chef and of the restaurant and not the other way round. Hotels still overwhelm people and the service even today has a coldness that makes people uncomfortable.
How are you marketing the brand when it comes to gaining ground on social platforms?
I follow the old school of thought where I don’t believe in aggressive marketing. I believe in the power of word of mouth. Restaurants have made it big and lasted decades and have gotten awards long before social media or any kind of marketing strategists hit the scene. Yes, we do post on social media platforms but I take written reviews and direct feedback from my guests more seriously.
Why RK Puram as location?
It’s pretty much a central location, close to an area that houses our target audience and it’s a mall that is very food centric and not shopping specific.
How about expansion?
I get bored easily in the sense I can put down roots. The plan is just one Nueva in India and one each in the major continents. Let’s see where the wind blows and the journey of this traveler begins again…