n the Catalonian city of Girona, I mean, by Indian terms, it can't even be considered a town. Just a lakh people staying. However, this little settlement is home to one of the best restaurants in the world, those of you who follow the gimps and glamour of the restaurant industry are no strangers to The Roca brothers who run El Cellar De Can Roca. Which, quite frankly is the current big thing in Spain after Ferran Adria, the pied Piper of contemporary cuisine, brought the culinary world to a standstill with El Bulli.
Let's take a pleasant 4 hour drive eastward to Menton, France. A community with just 30 thousand people. Home to Mirazur, awarded the world's best restaurant in 2019. Chef Mauro, an Argentine, practicing in France. Magic happens.
Another 4 hour drive east along the coast of the Mediterranean, you reach a town with 1 lakh people, now known as the Gastronomic Capital of the World. Yes, you guessed it right, Modena. My idol, my god, my inspiration, Chef Massimo Bottura. He runs Osteria Francescana with his Wife, and they were winning Worlds 50 best like it was nothing.
I mean, sure, Eleven Madison Park is in the poshest locality of New York. Narisawa is in Tokyo. Gaggan is in Bangkok. Bombay Canteen, Masque in Mumbai. Avartana in Chennai. The Veteran Indian Accent creates bliss in New Delhi.
But you do see where I am getting at, right? It is a horrendous myth that you need to be in a big city to have an excellent restaurant.
And these are expensive restaurants. So how does a restaurant, in a place of just a lakh people, go on to beat the big guns of Cosmopolitans with every possible ingredient at hand? It's simple, they don't depend on the local population.
We all read and see how Michelin stars are the gold standard for a restaurant.
This Michelin Guide was first released in France, for the executives of Michelin Tyres who would travel throughout the country and would need places to eat. This guide would award 1, 2 and 3 stars to a restaurant depending on how good their food, service and consistency was.
1 star meant "A very good restaurant"
2 stars meant "Excellent cooking that is worth a detour"
3 stars meant "Exceptional Cuisine that is worth a special Journey"
The New Yorker Café was started to be a stop-gap to bigger things for us. My brother and I were of the opinion that "One should first learn to swim at Gwarighat before swimming in the Indian Ocean". Weird analogy because we can't swim for shit.
Being first time restaurateurs we were trying to be extra cautious with everything. The entire vision behind what is now a haunt of the "Who is who" of the city was just meant to give us the required experience to run an operation as complex as a restaurant before we moved on to our actual plan, moving to Bangalore and open a full fledged restaurant there. But, it seems that destiny had other things in store for us.
We all know that Tourism and its subsidiary industries were some of the worst hit during the Pandemic. And all my plans went for a toss… twice.
My initial vision was to run the café for a couple of years, hire and train people and leave for a 3 Michelin star restaurant to work again to learn how these restaurants earn their stars. Maybe in another 5 years, I would open the restaurant that I have always wanted, worthy of being the best in the business.
So when the first lockdown announced, I didn't know what's going to happen, with the market looking extremely bleak, most of the restaurants and it's employees I was in touch with (Max, I am looking at you) told me that they wouldn't be hiring till the pandemic restrictions were fully lifted. I think my biggest problem is that I may be screaming in frustration, tearing my clothes and hurting myself… inside, but not showing it at all outside. I had signed off Jabalpur as a goner, I wanted to leave as soon as I possibly could. Leave and never come back. I have never ever told anyone about this, but now as my priorities and vision have changed this is just the stuff of legends you tell your kids at the fireplace.
Anyway, I didn't do much between June 2020 and March 2021. Despite my dad constantly bugging me to work to improve the business, and on a new menu, because I knew this was not over. I just focused on keeping the café afloat. Which also involved indulging in outdoor commitments. As the festive season began and business started looking up, other countries were hit with a deadlier wave, meaning India would be absolutely devastated this time. We kept on experimenting with what we wanted to do and by that time there was a 2nd lockdown across India.
Luckily, my frustrations and constant work fatigue along with a 2 month sickness had convinced myself and my family that it was time for a break. And I was on a flight to Bangalore to visit my brother. The 2nd lockdown was getting extended and the death toll, the shortage of supplies and hospital beds was worrying even the toughest of us. Two of my best friends had their run in with the disease, luckily all of them won the fight. Many couldn't. Rest in peace.
It was during the lockdown that I realized that while it was good to have aspirations of one day opening a contender for the best restaurant in the country, we still had a lot to achieve and a lot of work to finish. It was then that we actually pulled our weight and started working on a website that not only entailed what we were about, but what we wished to do. In an attempt to do something new, we decided that we wanted to be new… again.
After studying continental menus of almost all decent restaurants in the city, I realized, and apologies to my peers for saying this, that there was literally no imagination at all! There was lemon fish, grilled chicken, weird combinations of Lasagna, a few pastas (most of which were horrendously Indianized) and rarely, a mutton dish. Coffee is the Achilles's Heal in Jabalpur's restaurants and cafes. Everywhere you see, it's mostly instant coffees with different flavors. I still remember the horrendous ordeal of being served chocolate Nescafe in the name of Irish Coffee in one of Jabalpur's most known outlets before TNYC opened. Well, after almost two years, this hadn't changed.
So, we spent around 4 hours a day, for some 30 days and came up with this beautiful website. And straight up knocked 'em over with a 250+ item menu.
When it was announced that Jabalpur will lift the lockdown restrictions, I booked the next flight out. The sabbatical, I don't know, changed something in me. It made me hungry to work again. I came back and spoke with my dad about what needed to be done. We had used up all of the money we had left to run our household and gave some to the banks to make sure our credit score was up to the mark during the lockdown. That left us with very little to play with. There was only one thing in mind right now, to get the new menu going ASAP.
After about 15 days of working, we had squeezed in just enough to buy what was needed to get going.
2nd July, we launched The Best International Cuisine Menu this city has ever seen.
A little over a month later, this menu has helped us in more ways than one!
Earlier, we used to say to people "you can come anytime"
Now, we have to say "Please, for the love of God, call ahead"
Does that mean we have won? Nope. Not by a long shot.
We have always championed the cause of budding hoteliers and restaurateurs. So far having employed 15 interns who come from the pedigrees of some of the best colleges in India.
We are hiring, for the first time, a Management Trainee. Who will see himself being trained for a year before taking on the mantle of a Chef de Cuisine in a future outlet.
We are closing Frankie and Friends permanently. Don't worry, we will be happy to serve you its dishes anytime you want, with even better quality. It's just that we have decided that we want to focus on just one market segment and not all of them.
We will be taking some measures which may not be popular, but will indeed help us be more sustainable. Our commitment to the ecosystem is a serious one. Maybe all the restaurants in the city will take our example and move forward.
Our menu is going to get more and more refined as we move forward. Newer dishes will be added. Inviting more focus on Ingredients, innovation, instinct and our promise to pursue excellent professional standards.
While all of this sounds well and good, it won't be made possible without you! Yes, you. The reader, the patron, the friend, the family. You guys are the pillars upon which we have built TNYC and made it what it is today.
Hats off to you and to everyone else out there in this big beautiful world, who have supported us through thick and thin.
I was just a boy with a dream. Now I am a Chef with his own restaurant. And the time has come to show this city what I am made of.
I had a dream to open something in Jabalpur, something which could bring pride to this city. Something which could tell others that "Hey! Jabalpur is doing some seriously good food"
And if I have your blessings, together, we can make Jabalpur the best food destination in India.
Happy 2 years to The New Yorker Café.