Cloud Kitchens: Kunal Makhija, Arabisque

Wine & Dine

Text and Photography by Mallika Chandra.

Kunal Makhija, 27
Location: Mahim
Speciality: Middle Eastern

Kunal, inform me a little bit about your journey as a chef.
I developed an curiosity in cooking round 2007 because of my father’s restaurant in Dubai and after education there, I used to be fairly certain that this was what I needed to pursue. I accomplished the culinary speciality programme on the Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad after which interned at Taj West End, Bengaluru for a yr. I used to be fortunate sufficient to additionally intern at Gaggan in Bangkok (now shut) for 2 months, following which I labored at Indigo Deli in Colaba for a yr.

A batchmate, who had additionally been my roommate from school, referred to as me at some point and requested, “Do you want to come to Dubai?” I had been in search of a change at that time. So, I labored at a number of locations in Dubai, together with a Lebanese restaurant the place I learnt most of what I do in the present day. Before I moved to Mumbai, the final place I labored at was a fantastic eating restaurant by the identify of London Project.

How did you get into the cloud kitchen enterprise?
I had at all times needed to begin one thing of my very own. During the lockdown, I had seen quite a lot of dwelling kitchens arising and I assumed I’d give it a attempt. It was not a really calculated transfer, to be trustworthy. It was a leap of religion.

How did you set collectively the idea, the menu, the identify?
I need to give credit score to my household and to my girlfriend as a result of whereas it could appear as if I’m the one one who handles the model, they’re the spine.

My grandmother let me work out of her kitchen and offered me with a base for one yr. My mother and father, who stay in Dubai, had been very supportive. Loads of my elements nonetheless come from Dubai, like za’atar powder, sumac and fava beans which we use for our falafel and it was my father who discovered one of the best sources for these. My brother and sister-in-law look into the funds of the corporate. So everybody has helped me to get the place I’m in the present day. The identify was steered by my brother.

Does your loved ones nonetheless play a really lively function?
Whenever I need to add one thing new on my menu, my relations are the primary to style it. My grandmother was my official hummus taster, and I wish to consider that I by no means get any complaints as a result of she tasted each batch. I typically talk about future plans with my brother.

Despite the assist, it should be difficult to juggle each roles — of chef and proprietor?
When I used to be working for another person, I used to be accountable for a piece. Now, I’m accountable for your complete model — from sourcing of elements and prep to coaching of workers and advertising and marketing.

A giant facet of operating a cloud kitchen is having a stable social media presence.
I underestimated the facility of social media. I assumed I may concentrate on the meals and all the things else would fall into place. Two years in, I realised that it’s greater than 50 per cent of the sport. Personally, I’m not very lively on social media in order that’s been one change since my journey as an entrepreneur. Getting your identify out there’s troublesome. This is the place my girlfriend comes into the image; she has an excellent sense of aesthetics. I’ve achieved photograph shoots prior to now however individuals have instructed me to begin clicking photos in actual time. I concentrate on that now.

Cooking the meals, alternatively, has been simple. That’s what I’m skilled in. But once more, we maintain updating the menu. Sometimes, I attempt one thing on a Tuesday, get it tasted by Wednesday, and put it up as a particular by Friday for the weekend. It helps maintain me on my toes. But truthfully, that little area I’ve created wouldn’t exist with out the shoppers. They’ve been brutally trustworthy which I actually recognize.

What form of perception has interacting along with your viewers offered by way of the hole Arabisque fills out there?
I’ve achieved my education in Dubai and I used to be not proud of the Middle-Eastern meals that was obtainable in Mumbai. I did see an enormous distinction within the style and value factors in what was provided right here. There had been manufacturers that served rolls after which there have been fantastic eating Lebanese eating places. There was nothing within the center. I felt that was a very good phase for me to focus on. So that’s the place Arabisque suits in. It’s good-quality meals at good costs.

How do you preserve requirements across the freshness of the meals?
We produce in restricted portions. We can serve a lot of prospects if want be, however all the things’s made to order. We make hummus 5 – 6 occasions a day. We attempt to make all the things from scratch. Our breads — pita bread, the entire wheat pita, pide dough, manakish dough — are made in-house and to order.

Did you must do quite a lot of trials?
It took quite a lot of trial and error. Even although I had a recipe for the bread from my time in Dubai, I needed to tweak it to swimsuit the local weather right here. Loads of trials went into the hummus as effectively.

Does the delicacies swimsuit the supply mannequin?
Since the lockdown, I’ve noticed that folks have come to phrases with the truth that there’s going to be a distinction between consuming in a restaurant and having meals delivered to your own home. Since I get quite a lot of direct orders, I attempt to take into account the gap that the meals has to journey. For instance, falafel, which is fried, tends to get soggy. So, if an individual is at a distance from my kitchen, I ship it half fried, if they’re okay with ending the dish at dwelling.

Have you been in a position to handle a work-life steadiness?
I’m nonetheless making an attempt to determine a work-life steadiness. I’m not saying I’m a workaholic however work is at all times on my thoughts, which I’m not very pleased with. My work hours are pretty first rate — from midday to 10 pm. Sometimes it could imply that I attain late for a social dedication, however I do attempt to make it. It’s a part of the sport.

In culinary school, they inform you on day one that you simply’re going to be working when everybody’s having fun with themselves. You can say goodbye to celebrating all of the festivals. I do miss it and my household do miss me being there, however I’m more than pleased to be in my kitchen or at a catering occasion as a result of that’s the time that you simply get most of your small business.

How are you excited about the expansion and scale of your small business sooner or later? What are your metrics for achievement?
I do need to make a reputation for myself. If you consider Lebanese meals, I need to be among the many first 5 names that pop up in your head. So that’s the aim.

How are you influencing individuals’s concepts of what Lebanese meals is?
Even once we exit to eat in Dubai, I see nearly all of individuals ordering hummus and falafel, not a lot else. But there’s much more that the delicacies has to supply. What I’ve achieved with Arabisque is that I’ve stored the classics however I’ve additionally tried enjoying round with them. I’ve seven completely different flavours of hummus. Some of them — the truffle hummus, for instance — are usually not authentically Lebanese, however they’ve been doing effectively. Even the peri-peri hummus has appealed to individuals. Indian audiences love a little bit of fusion.

Given the present socio-political local weather in our nation, do you discover serving meals from the Gulf area to be a problem?
None of my dishes set off any non secular or political sentiments although I’ve chosen to not serve pork or beef in my kitchen. I can do lots with rooster, lamb and seafood. While I’m not a really non secular individual, I respect the viewpoints of others and anticipate the identical from them. If a buyer has an issue with the meals aside from the style then I can’t actually assist them. I can’t change the origin of a dish.

What is the right order from Arabisque?
If it’s a meal for one, I’d recommend a mezze bowl. We supply falafel, paneer, lamb and completely different preparations of rooster. It is the optimum amount for one individual and offers you the chance to attempt a number of components just like the hummus, tabbouleh and our breads. It’s an ideal pattern of what Arabisque has to supply.

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