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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Cloud Kitchens: Divesh Aswani, Commis Station

Wine & Dine

Textual content and Pictures by Mallika Chandra.

Divesh Aswani, 33
Commis Station
Location: Mahim
Speciality: Baked items, kitchen staples, condiments, confectionery, ice lotions

What led you to begin Commis Station?
I used to be 70 per cent down the road with my analysis and improvement for a restaurant when COVID-19 hit. The one factor that had been left to do was to discover a house. So, a yr after the lockdown, I sort of simply broke the menu down into its primary parts and determined to take off. The one mannequin that appeared to work on the time was the supply mannequin.

What was the idea of the unique restaurant?
It was going to be a really informal house with no particular theme. A spot the place you possibly can get a very good bowl of pasta, a pleasant noodle soup, a great roast rooster or sandwich.

And was that the sort of meals that you simply had been making even earlier than you ventured out by yourself?
I left Mumbai after I was 17 and I had the posh and the chance to coach at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. Throughout that course, I used to be working part-time. I lived in Australia for 10 years and labored at completely different cafes serving numerous cuisines. That’s the place I picked up most of my cooking fashion from. I additionally ate out quite a bit which sort of outlined how I cooked. Australia being a melting pot of cultures, there’s quite a bit on supply by way of meals and that simply opened me up creatively.

In order that range of delicacies has been carried into Commis Station?
It’s mainly what cooks would now outline as trendy Australian delicacies. They’ve taken influences from completely different sorts of cuisines and put it collectively as parts on the menu. I like that you would be able to go to a restaurant as a household of 4 the place a toddler might need a noodle soup, the mom may need a sandwich or a salad or a contemporary pasta and so forth. I needed to create an area the place there’s one thing for everybody, actually.

The title Commis Station itself is a nod to skilled kitchen buildings. An attention-grabbing selection as a substitute of one thing extra associated to your product. What was the thought there?
There was a whole lot of thought behind the title. Basically, a commis is probably the most junior particular person within the kitchen hierarchy. The primary function that you would be able to apply for within the kitchen is that of a commis and then you definately climb up the ranks.

Following that hierarchy, the thought was to inform our shoppers and friends that we’re your commis cooks. Everybody was cooking throughout COVID-19, however they didn’t essentially need to make contemporary noodles or baos or gyoza wrappers. We needed to be the place the place folks would attain out and say, “I really feel like consuming burgers tonight, what are you able to do for me?” And we’d say, “We are able to ship you the buns, the BBQ sauce, the pickled cucumber, the hand-cut fries and also you simply should put it collectively.”

In our emblem, you’ll see the stripes on the lettering. The stripes resemble these on the aprons that commis cooks would put on again within the day. The commis station is the place all of the mise en place will get achieved. So mainly, the commis station by no means stops. Even throughout service, they’re doing last-minute prep jobs and ensuring that the kitchen is absolutely able to serve.

Why supply simplified gourmand? What gaps are you filling?
The concept may be very easy. We use our talent set and supply one thing that can’t be simply achieved at dwelling. Folks realized quite a bit about cooking throughout COVID-19, however even then, they wanted to get staples and condiments. When you have a look at our sauce vary, we began with one thing acquainted — a Sichuan sauce. Certainly one of our top-selling dips is the Lebanese garlic unfold, which is actually a toum however we add confit garlic to it to offer it our twist. Every little thing needed to be elevated, contemporary and one thing that can’t be made or replicated simply at dwelling. It’s a fixed battle to do issues that different folks aren’t doing.

I used to be shocked to see how brief a time it took for a product to get created from scratch and get packed within the field.
Sure, however that does backfire typically. As an illustration, folks want to eat bagels for breakfast. However we begin our shift at 8 am and by the point it’s prepared, it’s like 10 or 11 am and by the point it reaches them, it’s midday. However it is very important me to create a really snug work surroundings for the crew. It was tough once we began as a result of we didn’t understand how a lot we might promote. Now we’re virtually sure that we’re going to promote X variety of sauces each week so these will be made in small batches. And we’re fairly vocal concerning the issues that we make in small batches, issues which can be made-to-order, issues that want 48 hours’ discover. It tastes completely different when it’s contemporary. Versus any fancy restaurant within the metropolis, which can nonetheless be serving parts that didn’t promote the day earlier than.

How did you go about establishing your operations and house?
Robust! It was very robust. I don’t even need to take into consideration these days. Every little thing that might have gone unsuitable went unsuitable. You sort of have to simply be prepared for it. We confronted a whole lot of points from licensing to water to the builders not exhibiting up, and we have been constructing throughout COVID-19!

I used to be scouting for offers throughout city as a result of so many locations have been shutting down. So, I used to be looking for a espresso machine from one place, choosing up somebody’s cabinets from one other a part of city, a second-hand oven from elsewhere. It was simply full-on hustle mode.

Nevertheless it was a labour of affection and clearly we needed to be very cautious with what we spent. I wasn’t certain whether or not this was going to take off. Happily, issues labored out and Commis Station has been rising each by way of the companies we provide and the enterprise that we will tackle.

How do you handle to continue to grow?
It actually helps to have a really sturdy crew. My crew has supported my choices and backed me up with the lengthy hours, when wanted, or tailored to serving at catering gigs we tackle on the final minute. I attempt to lead by instance. I’m very pleased with the truth that I’m at all times the primary one in and the final one out, I’m very hands-on and that’s central in maintaining the morale of the crew up.

The truth that I communicate to all my clients and take their orders additionally helps. I really feel that individuals have gotten so used to ordering on apps that they’ve forgotten the old-fashioned method of ordering meals by calling a neighborhood restaurant man and asking what was out there that evening. I’ve this group of choose shoppers who simply randomly decide up the cellphone after they don’t actually really feel like cooking and say, “Are you able to kind me out tonight?” And I believe that’s a really good a part of the enterprise. I’ve constructed very sturdy relationships with my shoppers, a few of whom have even invited me over to their houses for particular events!

It should take time to take care of these sturdy relationships. Do you are taking out time to concentrate on advertising and marketing and social media?
It’s not as effectively deliberate or designed as you might suppose it might be. While you’re an entrepreneur and also you’re hands-on and also you’re cooking, managing a crew, doing gross sales and speaking to clients, you simply search for that five-minute hole and also you soar on Instagram and submit no matter is being achieved. Typically, I’ll be strolling by a pile of bread and suppose that it seems to be nice. And I’ll submit that. Quite a lot of it’s simply very spontaneous and really unplanned and I believe that’s what makes it stand out. It’s natural and never staged.

Provided that your providing is a lot about being chef-driven and elevating staples, do you are feeling just like the enterprise is carefully tied to your persona as a chef? How a lot of your self do it’s a must to put out on social media in terms of creating content material?
When you have a look at my profile versus Commis Station’s, I personally have extra followers. However I’m not a chef who’s always on social media. It’s not that I’m not a social particular person. However I’m not somebody who craves Instagram likes or thinks a lot about hashtags. I observe only a few folks. For me, being on Instagram for enterprise is sufficient.

What are a number of the challenges you face as a cloud kitchen?
The hardest half is determining the way to get the meals or the product to the consumer in the very best method. That’s at all times been the problem and at all times will probably be. Some days you possibly can pull off a dessert after which a number of months later it’s so sizzling that you simply can not serve that dessert anymore. There’s a whole lot of science behind cooking, but it surely’s very onerous to convey that to the shopper.

It is usually tough to remain motivated whereas doing the identical factor again and again for years. That’s why I just like the catering facet of the enterprise as a result of it breaks the monotony. We exit, we prepare dinner in entrance of individuals and we work together.

Do you are taking break day?
I don’t. It’s primarily due to work that I journey. I’ve been working with Ishka Farms and producing a condiment vary with them that’s caper-focused. So I journey to Kochi very often as a result of I’ve to be there for the manufacturing a part of it. I like pop-ups. I do a whole lot of collaborative dinners. As soon as the work is over, I spend an additional day or two for enjoyable and are available again. That’s at all times going to be the posh of being a chef — you possibly can go to any a part of the world and have a job.

How do you keep impressed?
It’s a course of in itself and it really occurs when there’s a lull. A quiet interval may really feel like one thing is unsuitable however often it’s nothing to fret about. It might simply be a festive weekend or perhaps persons are travelling. And so, each time there’s a lull, I take advantage of the time to create one thing new, submit about it and get eyes again onto Commis Station. An idle thoughts just isn’t at all times the satan’s workshop.

A few of your objects, particularly the tiramisu, have a cult following.
It does. I really bought the espresso machine for the kitchen considering that I’d be this cool man promoting espresso within the compound. That by no means occurred however due to that espresso machine, I began making tiramisu. Life works in mysterious methods. On common, we promote about 150 to 160 kilos of the dessert monthly.

What’s the excellent order from Commis Station?
It’s at all times going to be the tiramisu as a result of that by no means enables you to down and it’s within the sharing format, so everybody’s blissful. However we will additionally aid you put a meal collectively, so ordering one thing from the bakery, some sauces, some condiments, some staples, is an effective option to go. I wish to encourage folks to sort of combine and match. At any time when somebody requires baos, I’ll additionally recommend ordering the kimchi and sesame. Folks don’t at all times have the knack of placing issues collectively so the right order would at all times be to take the ideas of the chef.

Earlier: Kartikeya Ratan and Rishabh Doshi, Kiki & Pastor
Subsequent: Anushka Malkani and Nariman Abdygapparov, Masa Bakery

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