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IN CONVERSATION WITH RESTAURATEUR YUVRAJ KOHLI

Jasmeen Dugal  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Moti Mahal was established in pre-partition Peshawar, renowned for its tandoori cuisine and for inventing butter chicken made using tomatoes, butter and cream with a hint of cumin, salt and pepper. This brought about a revolution in the culinary corridor and moti Mahal experienced the patronage of world leaders Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy among others. Today, Moti Mahal Delux is a global chain of restaurants and the menu is an ode to its legacy; traditional, relevant and alive. The founders don't believe in banishing recipes to the family vault; it's about discreet transfer of knowledge down generations, vital in transforming near-extinct culinary traditions to living heritage. In conversation with Managing Director Yuvraj Kohli who is spearheading expansion nationwide and overseas.

 

''We give our customers heritage dishes right from the time the brand was conceptualized, otherwise, there is no point in "Moti Mahal" continuing its legacy. That's why we keep our recipes secret, and train staff stringently, so that there isn't a slightest change in any of the outlets — though it does happen at times. Some of our bespoke dishes are "butter chicken", "dal makhni", "rogan josh", "rarha meat" and these became famous in the Daryaganj restaurant during the Fifites; butter chicken was invented because tandoori or grilled chicken were so dry that it needed something to make it rich and creamy, and that is how the tomato base and a few secret ingredients came into existence. These dishes were relished by the likes of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Also, a little trivia, when the partition was underway, Kundan Lal Gujral tried cooking tandoori chicken by digging the grounds to make a fantastic cooking space along their journey, and that is how the tandoori chicken was invented!!

 

Today, after ten months of lockdown, Moti Mahal has managed to retain its place in the market; it's gone back to its usual numbers. Of course, the numbers had depleted at the onset of the pandemic and we were unhappy with the sales and revenue. I, however, observed a trend of people wanting to cook at home and that's where my spice mix comes into play; i.e. the masala developed by me as a substitute for the secret ingredients that go into our dishes. Just cook the dish at home and add the spice mix to get a "Moti Mahal" zest! If we speak of business, hospitality has been hit during this pandemic, but there are reasons for the downfall of certain brands. A. They may not have been in the market long enough to hold strong brand equity. B. Their food may have stagnated due to poor raw materials or other areas they should never have compromised. C. They disappeared from social media giving a feel of a broken connection with customers. However, restaurateurs who have been hit, have strategized intelligently by shutting shop for a while or strategizing on no-touch menus, buffets, excellent raw materials, cutting staff and improving dine out options — while improvising on safety. Restaurants which are still suffering need to work towards a lower customer capacity and staff-run restaurant. To keep the bar high, focus on utmost quality, provide safety and develop an uncompromising attitude towards food management. By that I mean no-touch menus, excellent staff and their hygiene, anti-bacterial cleansing, double masks and sterilisation of the restaurant, raw materials, crockery and cutlery, social distance maintained on the tables, tripled cleansed packaging of the dine out section and top safety from the delivery point of view. We're taking every measure to ensure top quality and service. But even after trying to keep the bar high, we experience days of low sales, which is normal because the news they're reading or watching reflects in their actions.

 

Now that we're in January 2021 and the vaccination is relatively close, the diners trend has changed again. They're now comfortable visiting restaurants, sitting at a slight distance and slowly the graph is becoming normal and we're pleased that along with our main branches our franchised units have increased business, helped by heavy marketing towards safe home delivery. Moti Mahal takes every measure for increased sanitisation and even if our costs have increased towards sterilisation, we don't treat it as increased costs. More staff has been hired to keep washrooms safe and sanitised and the restaurant staff cleans up after each service. The idea is to make the customer feel safe by showing that our staff members wear double masks at all times and sanitise both themselves and the customers at every point of service. That said, I feel the government should support independent restaurateurs in the form of a reduction in taxes since we're already spending so much on procuring products to keep the customer safe. As I mentioned above, the costs towards excellent raw materials, hygiene, packaging material, gloves and masks have shot up. Along with that, the marketing game has changed which also costs money for independent and franchised outlets. So I definitely feel the government can remove some taxation or add some leniency towards the billing, where there is gain instead of a loss…''
 

Yuvraj Kohli, MD, Moti Mahal Delux
Yuvraj Kohli, MD, Moti Mahal Delux
 
05-JANUARY-2021
 
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