Shashvat Dhandhania is the young Le Cordon Bleu graduate trying to change Kolkata's dining culture for the better
Shashvat Dhandhania was 21 when he opened his own restaurant in Kolkata. “It was a way of proving that I could make a living from cooking,” the Le Cordon Bleu graduate tells us. His trattoria-style all-vegetarian diner To Die For has a pathbreaking menu, doing away with the monotony involved with most European spreads in the city.
Dhandhania plans to bring about some significant changes in the city’s fine dining culture and and if you’re one of the lucky ones who have had his pumpkin ravioli or his fettuccine, you’d listen to everything the young culinary expert has to say:
You've tried to break away from the family-style dining that’s so popular here...
Yes, it took people a while to understand what I was trying to do, here we just order for the table; most of the food I serve here is not meant to be split up. Ordering individual portions is something that's not widely popular here.
For instance, when I make an eggplant fettuccine, it has an eggplant pate that goes on top, black pepper cheddar cheese and tomatoes, and the idea is to bring all these elements to create a one-of-kind flavour profile. As soon as you start splitting it up, you may lose the essence of the dish, it’s been difficult to convey this to people.
How challenging has that been?
One of the main challenges has been getting people interested in the kind of food that we are preparing. With our menu, I really wanted to express myself and feature numbers that I believed in, not what people expected me to serve.
For example, there are only a few pastas people will order when they walk into an Italian restaurant like a carbonara or aglio e olio, or of course they'd go for the pizza, I didn't want to do the same thing.
Beyond that I've wanted to educate my audiences in certain aspects. For instance, personally, I do not understand the concept of adding chilli flakes or oregano to your food; I always want people to experience what I'm trying to create.
You started cooking when you were 8. What was one of the first things you made?
I would read all these Tarla Dalal books, I think any Indian home has those. Her recipes were easy, and so interesting; I made this chocolate gateau cake. In fact, the name To Die For emerged out of this cake; back when I first started the joint, one of my uncles tasted this cake and said, 'this cake is to die for.'
How would you say the palate of Kolkata has evolved?
It has changed for the better, people are open to newer things, they are ready to move past the aglio e olio, they know exactly what kind of coffee they want, thanks to this rich coffee house or cafe culture in the city. I love that the concept of small plates has been introduced here, and that people are warming up to it, the idea of superfoods and other global trends are picking up.