Food Critic

An Exclusive Interview With Food Critic and Writer – Ameeta Agnihotri!

A food critic, writer and childbirth therapist, Ameeta Agnihotri is truly living her dream. Being a published writer for over 20 years, her work appears in various leading newspapers and magazines. As she had already tried her hand at cooking at a very early age, her cooking expeditions and experiments are quite eminent in her success.

What are the 7 habits of highly successful restaurants?

While there is no sure shot mantra for success, the following could help:  

1. Location matters. Choose your space carefully. I may be superstitious, but I’ve seen many restaurants that make their guests climb down a stairway into a basement, often fail. If you can afford it, get one at ground level, in a fairly prominent area. If rents on a ground floor are too high, get one on the first floor, with a view, even if it’s just the road below. Natural light during the day surely helps. At night, ensure your restaurant is well lit. People (like me) want to see what they are eating. Don’t go overboard with the decor. Keep it interesting, not overpowering. Keep it so clean that your guests notice and approve.

2. I once met a chef who was so bored of making the same cheese doused food, he came to me begging for help. Chefs need an outlet for their creativity. Encourage your chef to innovate. Give him or her time to try new foods. They have the foundation and instinctively know the tastes of guests. Let them enjoy their jobs. Let them add their individuality to the food.

At the Hyatt Culinary Challenge, which I recently judged, one of the contestants was busy throwing dramatic tantrums at his counter. He was sweating, getting angry, waving his arms in the air… the works. He was making Sushi. What’s so special about Sushi, you may ask. This one won the challenge. It was a bridge between Japan and India because he had used tamarind rice, complete with curry leaves. And his sushi was a fabulous harmony of South Indian and Japanese flavours. Even if your chef is the tantrum throwing type, and he turns out good food, in the end, does the tantrum matter? No. So long as nobody’s harmed. 

3. Close quality control is very important. This is food you are dealing with. You don’t want anyone to fall ill or hate your food.

4. Go local. Encourage local farmers and food producers. It is your way to support yourself in the long run and gives you the added benefit of lower food costs. When you source locally, you can control what comes into your kitchens.  

5. Do not get into the rigmarole of ‘importing’ ingredients just to show them off on your menu. Having said that, if your restaurant is an authentic Japanese one, don’t hesitate to bring in ingredients that would help your end product taste as close to the original as possible. You must know when to do that. How to balance cost and practicality.  

6. Use the best and freshest ingredients available.

7. Often, I have visited restaurants where, when I ask the service staff a question about something on their menu, they run to the kitchen or call the manager to answer me. Does this work? No. Educate your service people. Teach them the menu so that they, in turn, educate your guests.

How will technology affect the restaurant industry in the next 5 years?

Immensely. There is no end to technology’s reach. It is already helping in every area of the restaurant business by keeping tabs on inventories, stocks, high turnover days, low footfall times, etc.

A little example will explain my blanket statement. One time, we went to a restaurant that did not take reservations, for a reason. It was on a first come first serve basis. And it was packed. We were told to expect a wait of 25 minutes or more. We gave our mobile number and headed to the nearby mall. Before we got there, the restaurant messaged telling us our table was ready. From then on, every time they had a food festival or promo running, we were kept in the loop. We also got personalized messages and special treatment on special days. Knowing us and our preferences because of their software, we were served food exactly as we liked it. Sometimes the restaurant gave us treats like dessert or a glass of wine on the house.   

Which, according to you, are the top 3 restaurants in India today, and why?

Avartana at ITC Grand Chola in Chennai. It has elevated South Indian food, giving it an international appeal. Pure sophistication on each platter.

Bengaluru Oota Company in Bengaluru – it is traditional, authentic, no shortcuts and uses fresh ingredients.

Bukhara in Delhi – I love its no-nonsense approach to consistently great northwest frontier food and its simple, clean decor.