Chef turned entrepreneur Shankar Krishnamurthy is a veteran of the food and catering industry with over 25 years of rich and varied international experience.
In an exclusive interview, the chef turned entrepreneur spills beans on must-have attributes of a chef, biggest challenge in being a restaurateur and a lot more.
Tell us how your culinary journey took off and the path trodden so far.
It all goes way back to 1986. The journey started with the Oberoi’s in Delhi and Mumbai. Later, I did a eight year stint in Dubai and Kathmandu. Finally, in 2002, I settled on Hyderabad for my maiden venture. I had spent some time in the city and felt that it needed a restaurant that could bring European, American and other world cuisines. A decade down the line, all our restaurants under the banner of Fusion Hospitality have received countless accolades. Fusion hospitality has been a brand name for eight-nine of our restaurants, as well as for our business in outdoor catering and institutional catering, serving more than 30,000 meals a day.
From being a chef to becoming a culinary brand owner…how did the turning point come about?
Having been an executive chef with more than 20 years of experience, one feels the need to do more. The will to prove oneself further paved the journey from a chef to a culinary brand owner. Luckily, the city I chose – Hyderabad – was evolving at that time in 2002-2003. People were open to new concepts and it gave me the courage to experiment at multiple levels.
We see many chefs owning restaurants now. What qualities are essential for this transition?
One has to be a complete food person. One needs to have a mindset to keep constantly evolving on the food front and be intimately involved with global food trends and with the skills to adapt those trends to the requirements of your markets, as we have done in Hyderabad.
One also needs to have certain key strengths. An aptitude for team work and an ability for talent retention are great assets to have in a heavily people oriented industry. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, you need to have an attitude for constant self development and work for the betterment of your team.
Which are the must-have attributes of a chef?
One must be extremely passionate toward food. He/she should be demanding of maintaining a discipline in order to deliver and should have the ability to lead, understand the market, be willing to accept new concepts, and inspire the the team to sync with the needs of the guests.
Some innovative F&B ideas that you have implemented at your restaurants.
We were one of the first trendsetters in the Hyderabad market. With Fusion 9, we introduced global cuisine in the city, the Cinnabar Red was the first to bring in teppanyaki, and Deli9 brought to the city European bakery & cafes.
How do you look at fine dining evolving over the years?
The era of fine dining has mostly evolved towards smart casual dining wherein the look and feel is the same but you have a more casual approach.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in being a restaurateur?
One cannot look at running restaurants as a job. If you do so, then they are in the wrong industry. It’s a lot of hard work, both at the front and back of the house. It’s hugely an emotional and passion driven business.
Running a restaurant is a people oriented operation, and both the team as well as guests have to be in a happy state of mind to deliver and receive the experience. There are long hours spent standing on your feet, and one has to deliver the experience day in and day out. So to run multiple operations, the back-end systems have to be even stronger. And the team needs to believe in their capabilities and the ethos of the company, in order to deliver a similar experience across all brands.
Also guests have a huge level of expectation, when they move from one restaurant to another from the same chain, so it’s that more challenging to ensure uniformity in terms of high service standards across all our outlets.
What role do you identify yourself more – a chef or hospitality entrepreneur? Which role is closer to your heart and why?
Definitely first as a chef as that’s an engraved passion. As a hospitality entrepreneur, I have the opportunity to foray into a larger format and showcase my skills and understanding as a chef.
Many chefs turn into restaurateurs, is that a mantra to succeed in the foodservice industry?
A chef as a restaurateur is a definite plus point, as one needs food and beverage knowledge in this business. If one can use the skills of a chef with passion and team it with the overall administrative skills to deal with the restaurant business, then who better than a chef to run the business!
Which of these elements – food, service, ambience – do you think are critical to the success of a restaurant?
All these three elements play a pivotal role in the success of a restaurant. As a chef, food definitely plays the most important role. But without the right ambience and good service, a restaurant would definitely go unnoticed in a lifestyle place.
What is your mantra to keep customers happy?
We always keep pushing the bar on quality, consistency and personal touch. That way you cannot go wrong with your customers.
What is your assessment of the future of the food industry in India and how do you see it evolving?
India is currently in sync with the global food trends. As more international players are foraying into the market, Indian chefs are keeping up the pace with innovative styles and ideas.
What is the hallmark of your brand, Fusion 9 group, which makes it stand apart?
With over 30 years of strong fundamentals in place, the experience to do things differently, and move with the modern trends, we always work on what next and what best we can bring on the platter for the market. So, as a company, we have forayed into various verticals such as restaurants, bars, institutional catering, banqueting – both social and corporate, bakery, cafes, and bistros.
The learning that have come to us is to compile things correctly and enhance the guest experience all across the brands under the umbrella of Fusion Hospitality Private Limited.