New Delhi, Sep 12 (IANSlife) Varun Tuli is a name to reckon with when it comes to the business of food; be it as a restaurateur, caterer or even when it comes to home delivery. Back in 2008, he set up Indias first restaurant in the capital with the concept of conveyor belt sushi; he has been an industry trend setter ever since.
Tuli is not one to follow the pack, he leads, and by example, the industry walks in his footsteps. In 2012 he set up Food Inc., a catering company, which quickly became the preferred choice for exclusive events and weddings.
In a rare interview, he speaks to IANSlife to give a pulse of which direction the food and restaurant industry in the country is heading towards.
Over the decade what are the changes you have noticed when it comes to dining?
VT: One of the biggest differences I can see about dining is that a decade ago people usually stepped out to eat when there was a celebration. Now it’s the way of the world. People are eating out four maybe five times a week.
When we speak of catering, the difference now compared to back in the day is that earlier people stuck to tried and tested cuisine and comfort food. Now they are willing to experiment and try new things. For example, you can very easily do an Indian wedding without ‘butter chicken’ and ‘dal’. People want regional cuisine, coastal food; they’re happy to have ‘appams’, ‘Parsi khaana’ like ‘beri palau’. People are shedding inhibitions and opting for niche instead of mainstream. Sushi is now very basic food. People order it for home delivery all the time, so it’s not exotic any longer, whereas maybe now Moroccan food is.
Do you find that restaurateurs should cater to millennial taste and can you define what that would be?
VT: Well I can’t speak for other restaurateurs, but I can speak for myself. Our target audience is millennials and even younger. Their taste is not European or Italian, it is now focused on where the food is actually coming from. They care about how it is grown, sourced and where it comes from. People are more conscientious about environment, sustainable farming and cruelty free products, so the market is changing dramatically.
When you say the market is changing dramatically, could you elaborate.
VT: When you cater to millennials or the clients of today, your prices need to be democratic. When I say democratic, I mean there has to be parity in what you charge for ingredients — you can’t keep different prices for vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes; or within non vegetarian dishes you can’t keep distinctions between chicken and duck. Even vegetarian ingredients like avocado, asparagus have to be at par with something as simple as potatoes. People who eat chicken aren’t going to eat pork all of a sudden and people who like potato also like asparagus. You cannot charge x for something and x into ten for something else. In our restaurants prices for dishes are all similar. There is a parity, that’s what I mean by democratic.
“Ultimately food is food, as long as it has quality. If customers know the restaurant and caterer they are willing to pay a good price, but they are not willing to be fooled”
Do you think restaurateurs get this?
VT: Everybody does not understand this, at least I don’t think so. People want to go out to eat, ultimately food is food and as long as it is quality food, they know the restaurant or the caterer they are willing to pay a good price, but they are not willing to be fooled.
When it comes to food trends what are your thoughts?
VT: There are three basic trends ‘Vegan’, ‘Gluten free’ and ‘Organic’ that are doing the rounds nowadays. So the first and most important is that people are willing to disregard processed food and they want it chemical free. People understand homemade sauces, different qualities of oil, whole grains, they don’t want artificially ripened fruit.
Vegan is something that is catching on, but Indians are heavily dependent on dairy; its an important part of their diet and culture so I’m not sure the momentum it will gain. Again ghee made of dairy is good and refined oil is poor, so I don’t think it will be a rage. Also people want to eat vegetables, so vegan to a point is good. People understand plant-based food but dairy is an important part of an Indian vegetarian diet.
Coming to gluten free, it’s a 10-year cycle; I don’t think it will last, one day we are going to hear gluten is good for you.
When it comes to sustainability and environment friendly choices, what are you doing as a brand?
VT: Well, we are trying to eliminate as much plastic from our supply chains and opt for sustainable packaging. It’s hard with food as there’s liquid and also there is a lot of things that need ice packs, but we are exploring various alternatives.
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