In an interview to Restaurant India, Chef Saby talks about his idea of opening an Armenian restaurant.
About 4 years back Chefs Saby’s father Mr. Sakti Gorai a literary scholar and an avid researcher published a book called the 200 years of the Coal mining history. One day as Saby was reluctantly flipping through the pages of his book, his eyes caught a picture of grave and an engraving on it. Suddenly his mind started racing, memory flashed and he went back to his earlier memories to Asansol a small town in West Bengal which was then home to Armenian culture in India. In the last two years he read and researched lot about the Armenian, its culture and food. ‘Lavaash (the bread)’is the result of his constant research. Not only this, Lavaash has found a permanent spot in the UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list (incidentally the only food item to make it to the list from around the world). A word that goes so deep, not just into the food history of the world, but also the culture that Armenia gave to the rest of the world. Till date we are baking Lavaash at Kashmir in traditional Tonir's after so many centuries. It is my small effort to tell a story as beautiful and age old as Armenia, rather Armenian's in West Bengal.
How was the idea born?
It was not an idea it was something that my father was always researching. It’s very long story from the time. It’s part of my life story where I have grown. The colonies and all were Armenian and that’s probably the connection. My father did a book of 500-600 pages talking about Armenian settlement so the idea came from there. Post there was too much of information and research.
How much time did it took to open the restaurant?
For the food concept we researched over a year but this story is part of my life since I was born. Asansol being part of Armenian culture, lots of my teachers were Armenian; lots of people living there were Armenian. Till 60s, 70s they were living in the region but slowly they started migrating to Australia and other such countries as they felt it was more nice to them to live.
What made you do an Armenian restaurant?
I thought let’s do something interesting, after Olive and Soda BottleOpenerwala I was trying to do something which was very close to my heart and story. I have been cooking, Europena, Italian, French, Japanese food but this seem very close to my heart and is also not done before. That’s why I took it as a subject.
Who has designed the menu? Who are other members who have contributed to make your restaurant a successful restaurant?
The menu is completely designed by me. Chef Megha who has done tremendous amount of research for the recipes, fact finding, measurement actually cooking them and maintaining the standards, running the kitchen and she is pretty much a face of Lavaash. Also, 100 per cent credit should be given to Viplov Singh and Svabhu Kohli for making my dream into a reality a beautifully designing the store. Due credit should go to Chef Megha for her deep research in this subject and putting the recipes together, and my sister Sarbani for her continous support and for the deft Bengali touches in the kitchen wherever desired.
As its been over a year now, how has been the journey so far?
The journey has been good; we are getting rave reviews from both critics and food connoisseurs. We have been covered in NDTVs top 10 restaurants in India, we got featured in Conde Nast’s list and I think there were only two restaurants in Delhi that got featured in the list. There were ample feedback about understanding of the cuisine or may be not ordering the right thing or service taking time.
What’s the average footfall at your restaurants?
It’s been very low in last two months. Lavaash is a 38 seater restaurants- we are doing 150 over the weekend and about 50-60 on week days. Last two months we have to close the terrace because the restaurants is divided into 20-18 seats that is on terrace and balcony.
How have you included the design part of the Armenian culture in your restaurant, menu?
We started the Armenian history very well. We realised that Peacock is their national bird, pomegranate is their national fruit. So, from logo to restaurant design you will see Peacock in it. If you see Lavaash it is made by combination of 8 peacocks. The doors are painted with pomegranate trees. We use Armenian and Iranian tiles on the wall.
From where did you supplying the raw materials?
We are supplying the entire raw materials from Kolkata and Asanasol. We use cherakota tiles. We are supplying the mud from Sunder ban. Everything is made with the Armenian history and which is originating from Kolkata. Our story is not Armenia in Armenia rather it is Armenia in India. They came to India 400 years back and then whatever happened in life.
Are you also buying things from other markets?
I have stopped buying anything exported; I am trying to buy indigenous products. I am part of the slow food council so I am trying to follow slow food and create that based on local ingredients.
How do you market your restaurant?
I believe that restaurants sell because of word of mouth.