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Thin line between casual and fine dining diminishing

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Narayan Rao, Executive Chef, Marriott International

We have seen immense changes in the food service segment, some for good and some  bad. For instance, with the rise in fusion cooking, original recipes have taken a backseat. I am not against fusion cooking but I am worried about a lot of dishes becoming extinct, for example, the famous traditional Rajasthani delicacy ‘laal maas’ is now hard to find in Jaipur, and over the next few years, one might forget that such a dish was ever cooked. According to media reports, we have lost almost 200 languages in the last three years, similarly we will lose a lot of authentic recipes.

The good change is that the quality of ingredients has improved over the years. Today, we have a huge variety of herbs and spices, which were hard to find earlier, and we can now prepare even better food. Another notable change has been in the consumer behaviour, they have become demanding in terms of variety of food but have little understanding of quality. The concept of large portions being shared by an entire family is diminishing and the trend is for small, pre plated portions an individual consumption. Though blogging and writing food reviews has become a style statement, the sad part is that most of these bloggers have little or no understanding of food.

As an executive chef working in a fine dine restaurant, my role has been very satisfying, in terms of offering creativity thanks to access to ingredients from across the world, and the latest cooking gadgets and equipments. Today, chefs are respected more than before.

The fine dine format gives a personal touch to the guests and makes them feel special. The other formats are more mechanical. Plus fine dine has the advantage of customisation that other formats cannot match. Old family-run restaurants serving traditional recipes are doing well, and influencing chefs to revisit old, original recipes.

Vishal Atreya, Executive Chef at The Imperial, New Delhi

Indian food service industry has grown manifolds over the years and has become more organised and structured. Liberalisation of global trade and travel have facilitated the easy availability of ingredients, international brands, and adoption of cooking styles. Of late, one very strong trend being observed is of restaurants offering food cooked from local and seasonal produce grown using sustainable practices and within traceable limits.

Today, people do not prefer complicated techniques of cooking and presentation, they like simple plating and food combinations. It is being witnessed that the thin line between casual and fine dining is diminishing gradually, as the rustic concepts and home style traditional food is taking the front seat, even in a fine dining setup. I agree that today casual dining options in any city are posing a serious threat to fine-dine restaurants and restaurants in star hotels in terms of revenues and financial viability. In terms of changing roles and responsibilities of chefs, we are now required to be involved from the farm to fork journey of food ingredients, and are expected to make decisions at various ends.

Eric Khoo Thiam Haut, Executive Chef, Royal China, Nehru Place, New Delhi

In the last couple of years, a host of specialty restaurants serving authentic cuisines from all over the world have marked their entry in the Indian market and have been happily accepted by the evolving customers. Today, the Indian consumers have become more experimental than before and are very particular about the presentation of food. They are eating out at fine dining restaurants, with expectations of being served with authentic food, presented well with best service and a good ambiance. There is also a growing popularity for fine casual, QSRs and micro breweries, and they are all different concepts, serving different segments of clientele.

Head chefs don’t cook much now-a-days; they focus more on training staff, checking the quality of every dish that leaves the kitchen, and, most importantly, on the presentation of food.

Davinder Kumar, Executive Chef and Vice President, F&B Production, Le Meridien

The food service market has witnessed a sea change over the years with the advancement in technology and cooking infrastructure. Today, kitchens are well planned and strategised in terms of layout, ventilation, and cooking equipments. Presentation of food has changed too; people prefer simple food presented in a modern style. Unlike earlier times when kitchens used to be a hidden, back-end concept, we now have open kitchens that are beautifully designed and located in the centre of the restaurant, where live cooking entices the customers.

Food hubs are an evolving concept, and are located at specific destinations, and offer host of food outlets to cater to people with different tastes and food preferences. These are modern food streets, for example Cyber Hub in Gurgaon. Foodcourts in malls are also a new development and are driving footfalls. Consumers are better informed and aware of food, and their demands have become very specific with respect to dishes and the ingredients as per their taste palates. The fine dining culture is growing alongside fine casual and QSRs – all of which are different concepts in terms of service, menu and ambiance.

Deepak, Head Chef, Shraman, The Ashok

Today’s discerning consumers are more health-conscious and they look for food that is organic, gluten-free, and low sodium. Fine dining restaurants have gained popularity since they can customise their offerings to match the customer demand.

There is a spate of food service outlets in the market today – from QSRs to fine casual, from micro breweries to sports bars and cafes. All of these have their own target audience and are becoming popular as they cater to a wide segment of consumers. The variety of cuisines being offered here is also commendable. The food and ambiance may not match that of a fine dine restaurant, but the people come here to enjoy the experience of eating out at affordable rates and are not too conscious of quality. What is also changing is the availability of new and modern kitchen equipments, which is changing the way food is prepared and served. These equipments are bringing in quality and consistency in the taste of the dishes.

The head chef in a star hotel or in fine dine restaurant is also known as the executive chef or chef manager. He has a lot of duties and responsibilities. In the kitchen, he has to oversee the quality of every dish that moves out of kitchen. He has to offer solutions for various problems in day-to-day functioning of the restaurant. He also plans and designs menus and restaurant promotions. In addition, he performs administrative duties such as ordering supplies.

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