Cloud Kitchens: Rehan Mehta, East 7th Pizza & Deli

Wine & Dine

Text and Photography by Mallika Chandra.

Rehan Mehta, 31
East 7th Pizza & Deli
Location: Colaba
Speciality: Pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, puddings

Rehan, inform me about your journey as a chef.
The first time I went to cooking college was after I completed my education in Mumbai. I had taken a spot 12 months in 2010 and I did a three-month course at Le Cordon Bleu London. That expertise truly made me not need to turn into a chef so I went to a liberal arts school within the US, the place I graduated in psychology.

In my third 12 months in school, I occurred to look at a video of Anthony Bourdain (the late movie star chef and journey documentarian) and David Chang (restaurateur and tv persona) consuming at one among Chang’s New York eating places. That made me need to return to cooking. In truth, I felt like I simply couldn’t do anything! I enrolled within the cooking college 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 liked it there.

The approach 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. Finally, through Craigslist, I received a job as a pastry cook dinner at Momofuku Milk Bar in New York (now referred to as Milk Bar), regardless that it wasn’t what I had particularly skilled in. I used to be making cookies, desserts and bread and I nonetheless suppose it’s the perfect job I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I needed to go away after a 12 months as a result of they have been unable to sponsor my work visa.

When 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. Unfortunately, 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 received in contact with me whereas the restaurant was nonetheless below building. Even on my first go to, I may inform the kitchen and the house have been going to be particular. The first 12 months of Masque was actually attention-grabbing however we have been struggling to determine our fashion or what may make it distinctive. Eventually, 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 fairly than simply making an attempt 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 received to work together with the shoppers, who have been often keen about meals, and that made it enjoyable. We additionally had quite a lot of freedom to work on new dishes which saved issues attention-grabbing.

Later, I grew disillusioned with high quality eating. I used to be eager on beginning one thing that might feed much more individuals. I considered opening a sandwich store. I did a number of pop-ups and began searching for areas however nothing labored out. At the identical time, I heard concerning the legendary chef Rahul Akerkar opening a brand new restaurant (Qualia) and I utilized for a place within the sizzling kitchen. I used to be answerable for the pasta part, which was wonderful as a result of I like working with dough and the pasta turned actually fashionable.

What led you to begin a cloud kitchen and the way did you plan to face out?
Soon after I left Qualia, the pandemic struck, which rekindled the concept of a sandwich store since individuals have 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 received into baking bread in the course of the lockdown, a sandwich tradition was certain to comply with.

My unique sandwich store concept developed to incorporate pizza. My considering was that pizza and sandwiches go hand in hand. I had eaten quite a lot of nice pizza throughout my time in New York, which received me obsessed — and in the course of the pandemic I began playing around with it, making it at dwelling 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 herald from previous expertise?
It took me three months to arrange the place. I used to be very finicky concerning the kitchen being a sure approach. I needed to discover the suitable 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. Wood fireplace could be very charming, however I don’t suppose it provides a lot by way of style. I really feel like when you have the suitable electrical oven, the pizza can style simply nearly as good and it’s much more constant, which is essential. When you’re making an attempt 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 perhaps a number of will not be going to be nearly as good as the remainder as a result of it’s so onerous to keep up and management the warmth, in contrast to electrical ovens.

Having mulled over the concept of the sandwich and pizza store for thus lengthy, what has the menu growth course of been like?
When I began engaged on the recipes, I believed it will take perhaps a number of weeks or a month, however it took me 5 months simply to determine a pizza dough that I used to be proud of. I did nearly 100 trials. I used to be simply making pizza each day and making an attempt to determine it out. I by no means imagined how sophisticated it might be, provided that it’s simply 4 substances that you simply’re working with. But, the way in which you combine these substances, the proportions, how a lot water you add, which flour you employ, how lengthy you ferment it — all these wanted to be discovered. Finally, I settled on a dough after trial quantity 96. I needed to simplify the dough course of as a result of it’s essential for my crew to have the ability to execute it in addition to I might. That is why 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 remains to be referred to as a trial, regardless that we’ve been open for a 12 months. And we hold making changes consistent with modifications within the climate to get that excellent gentle and ethereal but crispy pizza crust.

Next got here the sandwich bread. We have been outsourcing the bread initially however the numbers didn’t work out. It was simpler to decide on a recipe, however it nonetheless took a number of trials. We use a Vietnamese Bánh mì-style baguette. Compared to a French baguette, it has a really skinny crust and a fluffy inside. The sandwiches received so much 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. But I needed one thing lighter. I believed 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 have been seasonal and actually fashionable. We’re utilizing fancy vanilla beans, however apart from that they’re primarily fruity, creamy and crunchy.

You put out a job opening on Instagram someday again and it communicated so much 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 business for ages. But I knew I didn’t need to try this. If I used to be doing that and we have been profitable and getting cash, I might have nonetheless thought-about it a failure as a result of an overworked crew shouldn’t be an indication of success. To me, it makes monetary sense as effectively. If you push individuals so onerous, they’re simply going to get burnt out and go away in a number of weeks or months, or a 12 months. I might fairly have individuals stick round for the lengthy haul, be glad, go dwelling and never take into consideration work.

That’s why, in that hiring put up, I used to be specific that our shift lasts 10 hours solely. In actuality, it’s solely 9 hours, however I’ve accounted for some further time ought to we often want it. Now, after working this place for a 12 months and seeing how tough it’s to truly earn a living, I see why different restaurateurs demand such lengthy hours from their groups. If restaurant gross sales will not be reaching their goal, the administration by some means feels that making individuals work longer hours will increase gross sales. However, whereas gross sales may improve within the quick time period, if targets will not be met, it’s extra probably that there’s a drawback with the product or expertise.

Were you additionally intending to offer your clients an perception into what sort of cloud kitchen it’s and the type 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 making an attempt to rent a superb candidate. But, after all, if I have been to see a enterprise posting one thing like this, I might be extra more likely to attempt the meals and would attempt to order usually. Our restaurant business doesn’t have the perfect popularity. So, anybody who is aware of something about what goes on behind the scenes could be glad for issues to alter for the higher.

Who is your typical buyer?
Unfortunately, most of our orders come from Swiggy they usually don’t share buyer information. It is secure to guess that the general public ordering from us are type of like pizza nerds, which appears to be each third individual these days. Most of our meals is New York-influenced. Those who’ve by no means had this type of meals are eager to attempt it. And those that have been to New York or Philadelphia and have had a cheesesteak sandwich, for instance, may also need to relive that have.

I’ve additionally deliberately not marketed East 7th Pizza & Deli so much 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 type of a perfectionist; and I say that within the worst attainable approach. I’ll hold procrastinating with the advertising and marketing as a result of I feel perhaps pizza dough trial 104 or 105 would be the excellent one after which we will actually push our advertising and marketing. Currently, advertising and marketing has primarily been via phrase of mouth.

Is that additionally a results of the identify East 7th Pizza & Deli? Your official firm identify can also be attention-grabbing.
You may say that. Our official firm identify is Very Casual Foods. I got here up with that identify after leaving Masque as a result of I used to be simply so uninterested in high quality eating. It is humorous to say that now, since Masque is likely one of the greatest eating places in India. I see myself sticking with quick informal or informal eating places with thoughtfully executed and ingredient-driven meals.

The identify East 7th was impressed by the road I lived on in New York. While I used to be in cooking college, I lived on East 7th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, which is within the East Village. And that one avenue had a lot good meals! You may stroll down the road in 90 seconds however it had quite a lot 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. Across the road was this soft-serve place referred to as Big Gay Ice Cream, which bought actually funky delicate serve. And then there was a Chinese teahouse the place I might sit and drink tea. That avenue actually impressed me.

How would you describe what a deli is?
In the New York sense, it’s your native sandwich place the place you choose lunch up on a piece day however it additionally might be the place you go to get primary groceries, perhaps even some baked items, with out having to make a visit to the grocery store. Within that, there are the bodega-style delis, the place the sandwiches are made merely, utilizing simply packaged substances. Then there are the old-school delis, which make every thing from scratch, like Katz’s Deli, which is legendary for pastrami. Russ & Daughters is admittedly well-known for his or her smoked fish. The deli tradition got here from the Jewish inhabitants of New York. But now it has turn into a development that has unfold the world over.

How do you construct belief as a cloud kitchen?
I’m very explicit about holding the kitchen tremendous clear, and in addition about ensuring that substances are at their prime. That sense of hygiene was ingrained in me because of all my earlier work locations. Obviously, our meals security legal guidelines will not be 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 cook dinner and concentrate on the meals as a result of it will be a lot simpler. Half my time is spent managing individuals, regardless that I solely have a crew of 9. Just making an attempt to maintain all of them on observe and coaching them retains me considerably occupied.

I’m horrible at advertising and marketing. So that’s one other factor that I want I might simply not must do. I hold hoping that if my meals is sweet sufficient, I received’t must do any advertising and marketing and folks will simply come anyway. And that’s clearly the dream. In New York, when you have a tremendous restaurant, even when it’s a tiny one, the phrase goes to unfold so quick that you simply’ll have queues down the highway. But 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 making an attempt to succeed in a large viewers. I’m simply looking for the suitable individuals who need one thing scrumptious that’s made with care, consideration and good substances.

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

What is the proper order from East 7th 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 further buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese; a Pork Belly Bánh mì, which is meaty and spicy; and a lemon cheesecake pudding!

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