When did you first join the Permit Room?
I have been here from before the opening.
I had sent my resume and they selected me. It was a trial period, before the opening. When I got the offer, I felt it was a very good opportunity for me, because they were doing something very different.
So I did the trial and joined because I felt this was a good call for my career.
What were you doing before that?
I have been in this field for the last twelve years, and for a decade before I joined Permit Room. I was in Dubai for all those years, and then I came back to my hometown and was looking for opportunities. I didn’t want to go back to Dubai, and wanted something specifically in South India, because it’s close to home.
I did my trials in Toit, and then I shifted to Permit Room.
Since you’ve always been a part of the industry, what made you shift from Dubai to India after all these years?
Basically, it was for my family. My sister got married and my parents were alone at home. I didn’t want to leave them alone. Because I was in Dubai, it was difficult to keep travelling back and forth. In case something happened, I wanted to be close by so that I can go anytime. That was the main issue.
Right now I’m just four hours away from home. And who will ever say no to work in Bangalore?
Have you always been passionate about cooking?
From childhood, I used to cook with my mom. And after I completed my degree, I felt the need to pursue this line. So I joined a culinary school and I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management.
After that I worked in some parts of Kerala and then I moved to Dubai. And from there, I came here. I always knew I wanted to work with food, and I always wanted to create something good. That is what I am doing now.
Do you remember what the first thing you cooked with your mother was?
My mother was my first teacher, she is a brilliant cook!
That’s the thing I enjoy most about working in Permit Room. I can work with my mom’s recipes and also present it in a different way. That’s why I feel like I’m coming in my home when I’m cooking here. It’s my safe zone and I really enjoy it.
Were you ever nervous before the opening whether the unique approach that Permit Room has to South Indian food would work?
I was never nervous, but I was very excited. I used to cook other cuisines before, but there is nothing like cooking my home food at the restaurant level.
I knew it was going to work, because it was South Indian home food being served with a twist, presented in a unique way.
You’ve been here for two years, and there have been so many additions to the menu and special menus since then. What is the thought process that goes into creating dishes like these?
See, actually when I got to know what the theme of the restaurant was going to be, I started researching and called a lot of my friends. I collected ideas and also came up with my own ideas of how South Indian food can be presented in a different way.
Some idea or the other will come to my mind, and I will do a few trials. Only after that will I present it to Kavan. (Chief Culinary Coordinator at Permit Room and Toit.)
After that we present it to the Directors, and once everyone approves it, we start working on it as a dish for the restaurant.
How do you overcome creative blocks? Especially when some dishes are approved and some are not.
I keep thinking about food. If something is not working, then we dig into that to rectify the problem. Whether it is something that needs to be replaced or changed. We also try to inculcate ideas from other cuisines.
The only way of overcoming creative blocks is by keeping on researching and trying new combinations. It is so much of fun!
Since coming up with these dishes is such a labour of love, you’re bound to be attached to them. How do you handle it then when you get negative feedback on them?
We have to accept feedback. My palette and your palette might be different, and I will serve something I love to you. But my job is to make the customer happy, so if people say something is not good, then I accept it and try to make it better.
Is that easy to accept? At one point, it was not. But I learnt to, because it is a part of the job. I take suggestions from other people, from Kavan, the Directors, the service people, whoever is tasting the food. And based on what they say, I put it all together and come up with something new and improved.
In the 12 years that you’ve been in the kitchen, is there any particular incident that comes to mind? A disaster or crisis situation?
No memory like that stands out, but I remember when we were trying to come up with vegetarian starters and we had a lot of restrictions. Like it couldn’t be fried, or it couldn’t be certain vegetables because we already had them in our menu.
I felt like I was in a box. I tried something with mushrooms, but it turned out to be disaster. Kavan literally spit it out. I was like “Wow, how did I end up doing this?”
At that moment I felt bad, but when I think about it now, it’s very funny.
Tell us something we don’t know about Chef Kavan.
Kavan is my good friend, more than my senior Chef. He will support you, no matter what. He will be there for you, if I do something wrong or something doesn’t go according to plan. He always tries and protects me, and motivates me to move on.
It’s very encouraging, his support.
Can you give us a less politically correct answer now?
*laughs* There is seriously nothing negative to say about him. The only thing I can think of is that whenever I talk to him, he will be on his phone. But don’t put that, I don’t want him to feel bad.
The success that Permit Room has seen must make you happy!
More than happy, it makes me proud. Because people are liking my food. And because of that, I have more of a responsibility. Once you set the standard high, you can have to keep pushing it higher and higher. And you need to think more creatively. It is seriously a challenge!
See, our theme is South Indian food and we need keep reinventing that.
When you’re not cooking, is there a hobby you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to ride my motorbike. I have a Himalayan Royal Enfield, and I like to do trips on that.
I recently rode to Goa with my friends, for a three-days trip, and that was a lot of fun. I frequently ride to my hometown in Kerala as well, because I really enjoy it.
Finally, if I had to ask you to pick your favourite and least favourite dish from the menu, what would they be?
See, if you ask me my favourite dish, it’s hard to pick just one. But if you’re really pushing me to name just one, I will always say it’s the Kerala Beef Fry, which I love to eat as well.
My least favourite dish would be a vegetarian dish I guess, maybe the Okra Podi Chips. The dish is great, but I’m not a fan of Okra in general. So maybe that, if I’m being forced to pick one.
What are you excited about for the future of Permit Room?
More and more people are hearing about Permit Room everyday, so we have to think about introducing new things.
I am personally excited about working on the Onam Sadhya again, because we got a very good response to that last time.
There is always something happening here, and something new to work towards.