Food

No more #saddesklunch

Four years ago, an anonymous group of people started what would become Mumbai’s most exclusive and successful underground supper club. Every month, an email would go out to folks who had signed up for it, informing them about the date and time of the next meal. Those who confirmed their presence would be summoned to the until-then-undisclosed location. Up to the time that the diners were seated, they would have no inkling of what they would be eating, or who they would be dining with. One early dinner featured foie gras in the Asiatic Library, between the gardening and autobiography aisles. Another had a badass bartender and cocktail programme consultant create libations in the middle of a dark, moody designer store on a hill.

Over the years, there have been dinners on terraces in friends’ homes, in art galleries, in furniture stores, in experimental kitchen spaces, in New York, Paris, and Belgrade. It took more than attending a couple of Secret Supper Project (SSP) meals to understand how they were orchestrated. SSP was a team of concentric circles. The inner one had five or six members who were involved in almost every meal. The outer one had about 50 people, who were more transient: servers, experimental cooks, suppliers who became customers and vice versa, florists, bartenders, one friend who eventually was inspired to open a restaurant in Goa, another couple who started an artisanal ice cream company, a French girl who waitressed at one meal and then offered her parents’ place in Paris to host another. Every dinner had a theme, but the overarching one in every invitation: “We look for those who enjoy surprise and wonder in their food as much as they do in their lives.”

No more #saddesklunch
 

Making lunch fun

The founder of SSP has since revealed his identity, mainly to launch a series of brand new ideas under the same philosophy. Kanu Gupta, an ex-Goldman Sachs investment banker, can finally tell us who he is and what his plans are. This is what Gupta wants to do: he wants to save lunch. Specifically, neglected weekday lunches consumed with one’s eyes focused on a screen. “We are such a celebratory culture; we love festivities. Dinner is such a big deal for us. But somehow, breakfast is super mediocre, and lunch is completely broken,” he says.

He describes a phenomenon that’s so pervasive that it has had its own hashtag since 2013: #saddesklunch. It is a lunch we eat at our desks; wan, lumpy food consumed while working or checking emails, without stepping away to take time for ourselves, without getting out to get some daylight, or to even call a friend. It’s a lunch that we eat mindlessly while, (according to a 2012 report) thanks to our keyboards, we expose ourselves to more bacteria than those found on an average toilet seat. And worse, we don’t really register what’s going into our mouths.

And hence, Gupta has started Savor, which serves Savor Lunch, to make people want to take a break in the middle of their workday, to make them pay attention to their food, to get them to enjoy it for both its nourishment and deliciousness, to make people really savour their weekday lunch hour. This is a lunch delivery service offering “surprise, efficiency and celebration all wrapped in a box”. One of Savor’s advisors — the investors in the company will continue to remain anonymous — asked if the venture was a health company, and then decided it was a mental health company.

No more #saddesklunch
 

Behind the scenes

At the moment, during the test run, lunch arrives in a white paper Savor bag with the customer’s name on it. The top of the bag is folded over with a red or green wooden clothespin to indicate if the contents are vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Inside the bag are minimalistic, well-designed containers holding food that has been ‘plated’ inside the box. Chef Sushil Multani, who was previously with Botticino at Trident BKC, heads the Savor Lunch kitchen. “In this case, the restaurant becomes the office, and the box becomes the plate,” he says. Joining him is chef Shashank Poojari, who was a commis chef at Trident BKC in the butchery section.

One of the old inner circle members of SSP, Tejal Choksi, is as much a part of Savor as Gupta. She is also the founder of The Cantonese Kitchen, a catering and condiments business. Choksi goes to the markets every Sunday, meeting vendors who have now become friends. She picks up the ingredients that go into Savor Lunch, often surprising Multani with cuts of local meat that he assumes are imported.

Savor is an idea that has been two years in the making, and under its umbrella are the now-rebranded Savor Secret Supper and Savor Experiences. The latter is an initiative that carefully curates events that fall outside the Secret Supper ambit.

Gupta says each member of the Savor team has to know how to cook. Every person is responsible for creativity and creation. Savor Lunch clients will get 10 cuisines through 30 different menus. No dish will be revisited within the month, and nothing will be cooked in advance. No cuisine occupies more than five per cent of the menus each month. There will be constant editing based on feedback, and 20 per cent of the dishes will be replaced by new ones. “As it was with SSP, now also with Savor, we want to cook simple things really well,” Gupta adds.

These are some of the conditions each dish must meet: does it taste good at room temperature? Does it travel well? Does it work for lunch? Does it have variety in colour and texture? Can it be made at scale? Will it maintain quality and taste until 3.30 p.m.? Are good quality ingredients for it available here? And most importantly, is it something the team would like to eat?

No more #saddesklunch
 

Creative cooking

To this end, the Savour team has tested and cleared about 70 menus, which will gradually be unveiled in the coming months. Every meal is weighed ex-box. The food must weigh between 450 and 480 grams, of which, for meat eaters, 150 grams is protein. It’s not attempting to be health food, but a balanced meal. One lunch we tried featured confit chicken with garlic mash and jus, Vichy carrots glazed in butter and honey, wilted spinach, and crème caramel.

“We want to have the rigour of a professional kitchen, and the creativity of SSP,” says Gupta. “Restaurants aren’t run creatively. For us, the ingredients and the people come first; and the business logic and math follow.” There is a recipe for a roast leg of lamb on a current menu that has received raves. They’ve decided to keep it on, even though it does not make financial sense. Other menus in the test run included katsudon, micro cabbage salad, sticky rice, and matcha cheesecake; frescarelli arabiatta, ribolitta (a Tuscan soup), pecorino rolls, coffee, and bitter chocolate biscotti.

This approach is what helped Multani take the scary leap from a large hotel kitchen to a start-up. “The focus here is on the plate, everything else is secondary. When we look for an egg tart recipe, we look for one from a Michelin-starred place.” Inspiration is taken from wherever it can be found — cookbooks, Instagram, suppliers — and is adapted to availability of ingredients and other conditions. Besides, if excellent burrata or avocados show up one day, the team can feature them in that day’s lunch, something few restaurants can do.

No more #saddesklunch
 

Soon, an app will give members the day’s menu, a photograph showing how to compose the meal, and the ability to rate the day’s dishes. At the end of the month, members will get a pictogram of all 30 lunches.

Gupta is working on a brass tiffin box to make the packaging more environmentally friendly. Deliveries are being done in-house and by a third party provider, but soon, the dabbawalas of Mumbai will get on board. While Savor is operating from a rented apartment in Prabhadevi at the moment, a large kitchen will be ready in the next couple of months in Gamdevi.

The team’s plan is to eventually take Savor and Savor Lunch across the country. “We’ll get a Michelin star,” says Gupta. When we point out that the guide has not yet arrived in India, he says, “We’ll make it come here. Well, at least that’s our goal, the standard to which we are trying to produce.”

Savor Lunch offers weekly and monthly subscriptions between Mahim amd Mahalaxmi for Rs. 600 and Rs. 450 per day, respectively. Details at savorexperiences.com

No more #saddesklunch
 

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 6:06:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/No-more-saddesklunch/article17046319.ece

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