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Friday, February 23, 2024

Cloud Kitchens: Rehan Mehta, East seventh Pizza & Deli

Wine & Dine

Textual content and Images by Mallika Chandra.

Rehan Mehta, 31
East seventh Pizza & Deli
Location: Colaba
Speciality: Pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, puddings

Rehan, inform me about your journey as a chef.
The primary time I went to cooking faculty was after I completed my education in Mumbai. I had taken a niche yr in 2010 and I did a three-month course at Le Cordon Bleu London. That have really made me not wish to change into a chef so I went to a liberal arts school within the US, the place I graduated in psychology.

In my third yr at school, I occurred to observe a video of Anthony Bourdain (the late celeb chef and journey documentarian) and David Chang (restaurateur and tv persona) consuming at considered one of Chang’s New York eating places. That made me wish to return to cooking. In reality, I felt like I simply couldn’t do anything! I enrolled within the cooking faculty David Chang had been to, which was the French Culinary Institute in New York. I had found a course that may enable me to take six months off from school, come again and nonetheless graduate on time. I beloved it there.

The way in which it labored in America on the time was that I had three months to discover a job after commencement. So I utilized to a bunch of locations. Lastly, through Craigslist, I acquired a job as a pastry prepare dinner at Momofuku Milk Bar in New York (now referred to as Milk Bar), regardless that it wasn’t what I had particularly educated in. I used to be making cookies, desserts and bread and I nonetheless suppose it’s the very best job I’ve ever had. Sadly, I needed to depart after a yr as a result of they had been unable to sponsor my work visa.

After I returned to Mumbai in 2015, I used to be given a job within the pastry division wherever I utilized due to my expertise at Momofuku Milk Bar. My first job was in Colaba on the modern-American restaurant Ellipsis (now shut), headed by Chef Kelvin Cheung. Chef Kelvin was a Milk Bar fan so he was eager to have me onboard. Sadly, he left the restaurant six months after I joined.

Then, in September 2016, I joined Masque in Mahalaxmi in Mumbai. Chef Prateek Sadhu and co-owner Aditi Dugar acquired in contact with me whereas the restaurant was nonetheless below development. Even on my first go to, I may inform the kitchen and the area had been going to be particular. The primary yr of Masque was actually fascinating however we had been struggling to determine our type or what may make it distinctive. Finally, Chef Prateek began digging deeper into his personal Kashmiri roots, and that’s when it actually took off. It made extra sense as a result of it was private and culturally related somewhat than simply attempting to be like many different Scandinavian-inspired tasting menu eating places. What I loved most from my time there was the truth that the cooks would serve all of the dishes and acquired to work together with the shoppers, who had been often captivated with meals, and that made it enjoyable. We additionally had a number of freedom to work on new dishes which stored issues fascinating.

Later, I grew disillusioned with advantageous eating. I used to be eager on beginning one thing that would feed much more individuals. I considered opening a sandwich store. I did a couple of pop-ups and began searching for areas however nothing labored out. On the similar time, I heard concerning the legendary chef Rahul Akerkar opening a brand new restaurant (Qualia) and I utilized for a place within the scorching kitchen. I used to be chargeable for the pasta part, which was wonderful as a result of I like working with dough and the pasta turned actually well-liked.

What led you to begin a cloud kitchen and the way did you plan to face out?
Quickly after I left Qualia, the pandemic struck, which rekindled the thought of a sandwich store since individuals had been hungry for well-executed consolation meals. There wasn’t actually a Western-inspired sandwich tradition in Mumbai on the time however as a result of individuals acquired into baking bread in the course of the lockdown, a sandwich tradition was sure to comply with.

My unique sandwich store thought developed to incorporate pizza. My pondering was that pizza and sandwiches go hand in hand. I had eaten a number of nice pizza throughout my time in New York, which acquired me obsessed — and in the course of the pandemic I began playing around with it, making it at residence for my household. It was a no brainer to begin as a cloud kitchen on the time as a result of if there had been one other lockdown, you’d be caught paying lease for a restaurant with out anybody coming in there. I discovered a spot in Colaba in December 2021.

How did you go about establishing your operations? What did you usher in from previous expertise?
It took me three months to arrange the place. I used to be very finicky concerning the kitchen being a sure means. I needed to discover the appropriate oven. I knew I didn’t desire a wood-fired oven, I needed an electrical one. In New York, most of my favorite pizza locations used electrical ovens. Wooden hearth may be very charming, however I don’t suppose it provides a lot by way of style. I really feel like you probably have the appropriate electrical oven, the pizza can style simply nearly as good and it’s much more constant, which is vital. While you’re attempting to churn the pizzas out actually quick and have 10 to fifteen orders at a time, that wood-fired oven goes to be a ache and possibly a couple of aren’t going to be nearly as good as the remainder as a result of it’s so exhausting to keep up and management the warmth, in contrast to electrical ovens.

Having mulled over the thought of the sandwich and pizza store for therefore lengthy, what has the menu improvement course of been like?
After I began engaged on the recipes, I assumed it could take possibly a couple of weeks or a month, but it surely took me 5 months simply to determine a pizza dough that I used to be proud of. I did virtually 100 trials. I used to be simply making pizza daily and attempting to determine it out. I by no means imagined how sophisticated it might be, provided that it’s simply 4 elements that you just’re working with. However, the best way you combine these elements, the proportions, how a lot water you add, which flour you utilize, how lengthy you ferment it — all these wanted to be discovered. Lastly, I settled on a dough after trial quantity 96. I needed to simplify the dough course of as a result of it’s vital for my staff to have the ability to execute it in addition to I might. That’s the reason I dominated out a sourdough pizza dough as a result of it has an excessive amount of margin for error. Now, we’re on pizza dough trial quantity 103. The pizza dough recipe continues to be referred to as a trial, regardless that we’ve been open for a yr. And we maintain making changes in keeping with modifications within the climate to get that excellent gentle and ethereal but crispy pizza crust.

Subsequent got here the sandwich bread. We had been outsourcing the bread initially however the numbers didn’t work out. It was simpler to choose a recipe, but it surely nonetheless took a number of trials. We use a Vietnamese Bánh mì-style baguette. In comparison with a French baguette, it has a really skinny crust and a fluffy inside. The sandwiches acquired lots higher after we began making our personal bread.

The one factor I knew I had to determine was dessert. Most pizza locations serve dough balls with Nutella and stuff like that. However I needed one thing lighter. I assumed an American-style pudding would match the invoice. Our lemon cheesecake and chocolate puddings do rather well. We had a strawberries-and-cream pudding and one with mango, which had been seasonal and actually well-liked. We’re utilizing fancy vanilla beans, however apart from that they’re primarily fruity, creamy and crunchy.

You set out a job opening on Instagram someday again and it communicated lots concerning the work tradition you are attempting to each desist from and construct. Was that intentional?
Most eating places I’ve labored at, the hours have been very lengthy, which has been the benchmark on this trade for ages. However I knew I didn’t wish to do this. If I used to be doing that and we had been profitable and making a living, I might have nonetheless thought of it a failure as a result of an overworked staff shouldn’t be an indication of success. To me, it makes monetary sense as effectively. If you happen to push individuals so exhausting, they’re simply going to get burnt out and depart in a couple of weeks or months, or a yr. I might somewhat have individuals stick round for the lengthy haul, be completely happy, go residence and never take into consideration work.

That’s why, in that hiring submit, I used to be express that our shift lasts 10 hours solely. In actuality, it’s solely 9 hours, however I’ve accounted for some additional time ought to we sometimes want it. Now, after operating this place for a yr and seeing how troublesome it’s to really earn a living, I see why different restaurateurs demand such lengthy hours from their groups. If restaurant gross sales aren’t reaching their goal, the administration someway feels that making individuals work longer hours will increase gross sales. Nonetheless, whereas gross sales may improve within the brief time period, if targets aren’t met, it’s extra possible that there’s a drawback with the product or expertise.

Had been you additionally intending to provide your prospects an perception into what sort of cloud kitchen it’s and the form of individuals which might be making the meals?
That’s not why I posted it and I didn’t give it some thought on the time. I used to be simply attempting to rent a great candidate. However, after all, if I had been to see a enterprise posting one thing like this, I might be extra prone to strive the meals and would attempt to order usually. Our restaurant trade doesn’t have the very best popularity. So, anybody who is aware of something about what goes on behind the scenes could be completely happy for issues to vary for the higher.

Who’s your typical buyer?
Sadly, most of our orders come from Swiggy they usually don’t share buyer knowledge. It’s secure to guess that the general public ordering from us are form of like pizza nerds, which appears to be each third particular person these days. Most of our meals is New York-influenced. Those that’ve by no means had this type of meals are eager to strive it. And those that have been to New York or Philadelphia and have had a cheesesteak sandwich, for instance, will even wish to relive that have.

I’ve additionally deliberately not marketed East seventh Pizza & Deli lots as a result of I’m nonetheless tweaking issues. I really feel prefer it’s all the time a piece in progress and I’m form of a perfectionist; and I say that within the worst attainable means. I’ll maintain procrastinating with the advertising as a result of I believe possibly pizza dough trial 104 or 105 would be the excellent one after which we will actually push our advertising. At present, advertising has primarily been by phrase of mouth.

Is that additionally a results of the title East seventh Pizza & Deli? Your official firm title can also be fascinating.
You possibly can say that. Our official firm title is Very Informal Meals. I got here up with that title after leaving Masque as a result of I used to be simply so uninterested in advantageous eating. It’s humorous to say that now, since Masque is among the finest eating places in India. I see myself sticking with quick informal or informal eating places with thoughtfully executed and ingredient-driven meals.

The title East seventh was impressed by the road I lived on in New York. Whereas I used to be in cooking faculty, I lived on East seventh Road between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, which is within the East Village. And that one road had a lot good meals! You possibly can stroll down the road in 90 seconds but it surely had a number of nice tiny institutions. And every of them specialised in only one or two issues. There was Luke’s Lobster, which made simply seafood sandwiches. There was a Venezuelan arepas place. The constructing I lived in had an Italian sandwich store referred to as Porchetta, which simply made a roast pork sandwich. Throughout the road was this soft-serve place referred to as Massive Homosexual Ice Cream, which offered actually funky gentle serve. After which there was a Chinese language teahouse the place I might sit and drink tea. That road actually impressed me.

How would you describe what a deli is?
Within the New York sense, it’s your native sandwich place the place you choose lunch up on a piece day but it surely additionally might be the place you go to get fundamental groceries, possibly even some baked items, with out having to make a visit to the grocery store. Inside that, there are the bodega-style delis, the place the sandwiches are made merely, utilizing simply packaged elements. Then there are the old-school delis, which make all the things from scratch, like Katz’s Deli, which is known for pastrami. Russ & Daughters is absolutely well-known for his or her smoked fish. The deli tradition got here from the Jewish inhabitants of New York. However now it has change into a pattern that has unfold the world over.

How do you construct belief as a cloud kitchen?
I’m very explicit about maintaining the kitchen tremendous clear, and in addition about ensuring that elements are at their prime. That sense of hygiene was ingrained in me because of all my earlier work locations. Clearly, our meals security legal guidelines aren’t as strict or as strictly enforced over right here in India, as in comparison with New York, however I implement those self same requirements anyway.

How has juggling the roles of chef and enterprise proprietor been for you?
I want I may simply prepare dinner and concentrate on the meals as a result of it could be a lot simpler. Half my time is spent managing individuals, regardless that I solely have a staff of 9. Simply attempting to maintain all of them on observe and coaching them retains me considerably occupied.

I’m horrible at advertising. In order that’s one other factor that I want I might simply not need to do. I maintain hoping that if my meals is sweet sufficient, I gained’t need to do any advertising and other people will simply come anyway. And that’s clearly the dream. In New York, you probably have a tremendous restaurant, even when it’s a tiny one, the phrase goes to unfold so quick that you just’ll have queues down the street. However over right here, I don’t suppose that’s attainable as a result of we’re providing a distinct segment product. Having stated that, I’m not essentially attempting to succeed in a large viewers. I’m simply looking for the appropriate individuals who need one thing scrumptious that’s made with care, consideration and good elements.

What ended up being simpler than you thought?
I don’t suppose something has been simpler than I assumed. Most issues have been more durable than I assumed. Nonetheless, when somebody tries your meals, particularly if it’s a stranger, and tells you that they beloved it, you’re feeling good and you are feeling prefer it’s all been price it.

What’s the excellent order from East seventh Pizza & Deli?
Our menu shouldn’t be very lengthy as a result of I would like each merchandise to be tremendous scrumptious. A Ray’s Cheese Pizza, our model of a margherita with additional buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese; a Pork Stomach Bánh mì, which is meaty and spicy; and a lemon cheesecake pudding!

Earlier: Kunal Makhija, Arabisque
Subsequent: Kartikeya Ratan and Rishabh Doshi, Kiki & Pastor

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