Forts, palaces, jewellery, the pink city is among India’s most popular destinations. And adding some zing with food is Dushyant Singh, a young restaurateur and founder of Gourmet Getaway festival
Words: Ambica Gulati
Rustic is a cosy, smart, casual eating place, offering many Indian delights and some innovative platters. The large coffee menu is impressive. With Jaipur being a hub for foreign and domestic tourists, beverages have mingled and palates have evolved. Coffee’s popularity has hit the pink city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides Rustic, Singh’s first restaurant OTH aka ‘On The House’ was a game changer in introducing world cuisine at a standalone restaurant in the city seven years back. Over lunch, he shares his love for coffee and festivals:
How did the restaurants happen?
I am a halwai (he laughs). I really wanted to get into the food business as coffee and food are my passion. We have famous traditional eating out places in Jaipur but when I floated the idea of a restaurant offering global cuisine, people said it wouldn’t work. But I trusted my instinct. It was a leap of faith. And now, we have a loyal fan following. OTH was the first restaurant in the city to open for breakfast.
Why do you call yourself a halwai?
We all cook, so we are all halwais. (another laugh—for Indians halwais offer the best sweets and comfort food)
You have been doing a lot of firsts, from restaurants to Gourmet Getaway… How did that journey happen?
My travels are my inspiration. I saw food festivals in Dubai, Copenhagen, other parts of the world. And I thought, we should do something like this in Jaipur. The city has everything and many enthusiastic entrepreneurs, some of the finest places to stay and dine out in. It is a perfect blend of the best India offers–royal and cultural.
I am also a food curator for the famous JLF or ‘Jaipur Literature Festival’, created by Sanjoy Roy, founder of Teamwork. The way he develops festivals is an inspiration. I thought, why can’t we bring out the old and new food in the form of workshops, masterclasses, tasting sessions, it fits in perfectly with the Jaipur I live in. Experience-based activities with quality are the focus of ‘Gourmet Getaway’.
I love Mediterranean countries but lately I have developed a fondness for everything Scandinavian. Everything is so fresh there. And that freshness is what I wanted to bring to our festival.
What makes Gourmet Getaway unique?
It is a place to share ideas, come together to enjoy good food, good ambience and see the delights Jaipur offers. It is an engaging platform for the food and beverage industry in Jaipur. It’s not about quantity. It’s about good living and good eating.
You would be surprised to know that the festival started as a sundowner, just an evening session at Nand Mahal Fort, with 200 people. Then last year, in the second edition, we increased it with masterclasses and workshops and it was spread over three days. The sundowner has become our signature. In the third edition, we had over 500 people. Sundowner with wine, special cocktails, food from different parts of the country and music under the sky is something all of us love.
What goes on behind the scenes?
You should see that next time. It takes many weeks to put this in place. We give out the kitchens to the chefs who have come over, as they need to prepare the speciality dishes for the sundowner. This time we partnered with five hotels for stay and events—ITC Rajputana, Golden Tulip, Shahpura House, Fairmont and Crowne Plaza Tonk Road. We held more sessions at good eat-out places across the city such as Ombre, Cafe White Sage and more. I have a young team who takes care of the logistics and social media and other arrangements.
What do you look for when organising something at this scale?
The festival is all about good food, good company, people who are expert in their domains and engage to help in the growth of this industry. I like to do things in a particular way and fuss a lot.
My aim is to make this festival into an IP, because Jaipur has the potential and the talent. It’s also an evolving festival; I will keep adding new and interesting elements.
It was spread across the city in different locations over five days. We roped in home chefs, bakers, experts from all over the country and had international chefs too. The legendary Chef Manjit Gill too came. We look for a theme in each edition. This year, it was ‘lost recipes and sustainability’. There was a session on sustainability at ITC, zero waste kitchen by Chef Vanshika Bhatia from Delhi. Baking session at Ombre by Gauri Rawat and Ratna Saluja, who are both trained at Cordon Bleu schools.
I personally took a masterclass on coffee. Then there was a single malt whisky class at ITC. There was a special mixology session at Akh Bar, Sarovar Portico, by Virender Singh. Chef and sommelier Barbara came from Tuscany and gave us a session on wines. There were sessions on Sindhi and Mughlai cuisines. The festival ended with a community table at Zarin, Fairmont. The team, headed by Chef Prasad Metrani, had prepared the lost recipes of northern parts of the country.
What is the ROI till now?
A lot of appreciation and support from the people who love food. But in tangible terms, we need the support of corporates and sponsors, people who are willing to go with us to the next level so we can scale it up and create quality for the industry. One step towards that is to fix the dates and keep the festival on those dates every year so that people put it on their calendar and wait for it. Most of our activities are in the outdoors and Jaipur has good season between October and March. So, we plan to keep it at this time for tourists can enjoy it too, besides the domestic market.
Your love for coffee… Have you trained yourself in this now?
The company which supplied coffee machines for our restaurants has courses. I took those. Then while my family enjoys their holiday in Copenhagen, I hunt for coffee. I did a course in roasting from there.
For my masterclass at this edition of the festival, I did a Tiramisu coffee with eggs. I enjoy trying new coffees. I like the egg coffee in Vietnam, Cuban coffee with cigars.
What else is in the pipeline?
I am opening a new restaurant which will have speciality and good teas. I will also launch my own coffee brand by the name of Sutra soon.
I know Dushyant from a long time and when he suggested a masterclass with Ratna Saluja from Delhi on cakes and tarts, I thought it was the perfect way to show baking as an art. I am trained at Le Cordon Bleu, London, with specialisation in cake decoration and pastry. Ombre is seven months old and we do everything that is sweet. Our USP is the cookie cake decorated with macaroons, fresh flowers. ”
– Gauri Rawat, owner, Ombre
Jaipur is an upcoming market for wine lovers. I enjoyed my session. I came last year too. I met Dushyant four years back in Tuscany where I was leading a wine tour.”
Eating balanced food in harmony with nature is the right way. Cauliflower grows in winter, so eating it in winter means you are getting the right nutrients. Everyone gets the opportunity three times a day to contribute to sustainability—choose the right food, the right practice and the right way. Food is a memory and the consumer must be aware of his/her choices too, along with the industry.”
-Chef Manjit Gill
We have put a lot of green practices in place in the hotel. We have our own solid waste management plant for manure. We encourage people to pour their own water on tables, as then they take the quantity they need. We promote dishes with local and seasonal produce. We have put signs on how to choose fish which gives full information about the fish—seasons it breeds in, whether it is on the verge of extinction, which region it is found in.”
-Eexecutive Chef Parul Kapoor, ITC Rajputana, Jaipur