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How a Chennai vegetarian restaurant is making even meat lovers drool

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Meet restaurateur Tarun Mahadevan, whose vegetarian, pan-Asian restaurant Eastern Wedge has made fans out of even steady meat eaters

A restaurant’s kitchen is a place for adrenaline junkies, believes Tarun Mahadevan. “When the restaurant is full, standing in the kitchen is exhilarating. It’s full of energy and I love it,” he says. The 22-year-old is the son of M Mahadevan, one of Chennai’s well-known restaurateurs who brought us Sera The Tapas Bar, Copper Chimney, Hot Breads, Writer’s Café, China Town, Benjarong...

The latest addition to the list of their growing empire is Eastern Wedge, a vegetarian pan- Asian restaurant in Poes Garden. It has Thai, Malaysian, Chinese and Japanese food, with chefs from Japan and Malaysia dropping by to get things started. “I am a meat eater, but this was dad’s idea,” he smiles.

How a Chennai vegetarian restaurant is making even meat lovers drool

Tarun was working with a private equity bank in London before moving back to Chennai three months ago to set up this restaurant and handle operations. He is the business development manager of Cool Cream Milano, the parent organisation that manages Writers Café, The Marina, Sera, Ente Keralam, VA Pho, Benjarong, Teppan and China Town.

The idea with this new place is to change the way people perceive vegetarian cuisine. “The key thing is, in India we have a demanding customer base that wants new things. Constantly challenging customer palates is what I find interesting,” he says.

To the point

The menu is just three pages long. “Initially we had 80 to 90 dishes, now there are around 50. But during our food trials we filtered them out based on ease of ingredients, and preparation,” says Tarun. And if you happen to look at the shortened menu at China Town, you may either want to thank or blame Tarun for it. “I stripped it down from 20 to four pages,” he grins and adds, “Menu curation is important. It can either make or break the place. People want to read concise menus.”

How a Chennai vegetarian restaurant is making even meat lovers drool

Some of the stars of the menu are the barbeque buns (filled with shitake mushroom grilled peas and barbeque sauce), glutinous rice in lotus leaf, dimsums, kushiyaki (skewered and grilled vegetables), chanko nabe with udon noodles among others. The barbeque bao is Tarun’s favourite. He says that during the testing phase, he tried enough of it to have put on five kilograms.

The team had to tone the spice levels up and down for some of the dishes. Localisation, along with providing consumers with a unique concept, is what’s really challenging about operating the F&B industry in India, he says.

“Sauces are important in Japanese cuisine. Our team spent a lot of time learning how to make them,” says Tarun, adding, “We have at least 25 types of sauces here.”

It’s been a little over a week since Eastern Wedge started. Customer feedback is the only proof they have of how it’s working out. “We have had customers telling us, even though they are non vegetarians, they did not miss meat in their food here,” says Tarun.

Smells like team spirit

Though Tarun is taking care of Eastern Wedge and other restaurants, he says the entire team reports to one boss, his father. “One thing is clear, he’s the employer and I am his employee.” Given that Mahadevan is rather iconic in the food scene in the city, Tarun feels that he has a sword hanging above his head. “He has a strong brand name in the market. I have to meet expectations,” he adds.

Tarun opines that while earlier it was an industry-driven approach, today today it is a consumer-driven one. And that is one of the key differentiation factors in the way Tarun has to operate. And just like his father, he believes the staff and team is one big happy family. There are people who have been with them for decades right, from Cascade or even Bombay Brasserie. “We have 500 employees in Chennai alone, and I try my best to memorise their names. What I like is the way the chefs and other employees run the place, like they own it.”

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:54:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/how-a-chennai-vegetarian-restaurant-are-making-even-meat-eaters-drool/article25871028.ece

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