Good food unites people. Vipasha Sinha on expats who donned the chef’s hats and found friends
Nasrin Karimi. Seo Jae Gul. Ciro Cattaneo. Certainly not Indian-sounding names. But, there is hardly any foodie in Chennai who is not aware of them.
These three expatriates spotted a dearth of restaurants that offer cuisines of their respective countries, and quickly moved in to fill the void.
The success of their initiatives – Bella Ciao, Shiraz Art Cafe and In Seoul – derives partly from a full-hearted effort at giving a taste of their countries in every sense of the term.
For instance, Shiraz Art Cafe, lays out a special spread for Nou Roz, the Iranian new year. In Seoul offers vignettes of East Asian culture through its interiors.
But their popularity is largely the result of their cosmopolitanism. They marry uniqueness to universality.
Ciro Cattaneo wanted to move out of Italy and strike root in a new place. And he could not look beyond Chennai, a city he had visited many times earlier as a tourist. A chef by profession, he settled in the city in 1998. “Back then, the city did not have any authentic Italian restaurant. What was being passed as Italian was not good enough. So, I started my first restaurant in a small room in Besant Nagar, where we served authentic Italian cuisine. The response was great and that encouraged me to move to a bigger space in Kottivakkam,” says Ciro, who manages the restaurant along with his sister and mother.
To introduce pure Italian cuisine back then wasn’t easy for Ciro. He says, “There were not many places in Chennai that sold spaghetti. Even finding olive oil was difficult. We had to import some of the ingredients and prepare hand-made pastas, but things have changed and it is much easier now.”
Bella Ciao is at No. 4, Shri Krishna Enclave, Kottivakkam. Ct: 24511130.
Nasrin Karimi, who comes from Iran, was encouraged by friends to start a restaurant in Chennai. “I came to the city 32 years ago as a student. The city gave me so many friends, who are like family. These are the people for whom I cooked regularly. They encouraged me to take my cooking seriously and start a restaurant,” she says.
Nasrin shares the warmth that she has received. She says that at her restaurant – Shiraz Art café at Cholamandal Artists’ Village on ECR – visitors are made to feel at home. She is alive to the fact that she is a cultural ambassador of Iran. During Iranian New Year – Nou Roz – the cafe wears a festive look. “I prepare a special meal that is cooked throughout Iran at this time,” she says. The restaurant also serves special Indian dishes.
Shiraz Art Café is at Cholamandal Artists, Injimbakkam, ECR. Contact: 9840572126.
Seo Jae Gul was into grocery retailing and catering service, when he began to look for a business opportunity in India. Learning about the substantial demand for East Asian cuisine in Chennai, he came to the city. “Because of the companies like Hyundai Motors, there was a rise in the Korean population in the city. However, there were not many restaurants catering to this growing group. I decided to do something about it,” says Seo.
In Seoul, which he started in 2002, serves not only Korean, but a variety of Japanese and Continental cuisines. “Our dishes Kimchi Bok-kkum-bap (Kimchi Fried Rice) and Kimchi Jji-Gae (Kimchi Soup) are extremely popular,” says Seo.
In Seoul is at No. 530 (S149 & 150), TTK Road, Above More Supermarket,Alwarpet. Contact: 42081998.