Starting his journey as an Executive Chef at Hotel Guestline in Mumbai, he has immensely contributed towards the growth of several restaurants including Olive Qutub, Olive Beach, AI – The Japanese Restaurant, LAP -The Club and The Moving Kitchen by Olive.
We caught with Chef Saby to know more about Lavaash, the story behind the unique cuisine and his plans for the future.
One day, on an idyllic afternoon, as he was reluctantly flipping through the pages of his anthropologist father’s ‘The 100 Years of the Coal Mining History’- a book talking about India’s coal and steel belt that thrived around his hometown Asansol, Chef Saby’s eyes caught a picture of a grave and a carving on it. “Suddenly my mind started racing and took me back in time, to my childhood, the colonization of my hometown and the subsequent string of thriving Armenians bakeries and food joints that I grew up eating at.”
“The Armenian–Bengali fruit cake is something that I still can’t get over!” reminisces Chef Saby.
Months of research, reading through piles of old newspaper cuttings and several visits to the Armenian Church in Kolkata and the Armenian College at Park Street gave rise to the launch of Lavaash by Chef Saby. “While assimilating the Armenian story I also took into consideration the influences of other foreign settlers in Bengal – like the Portuguese and the French. My grand-mum’s solo cookery book from 1938 passed on to my mother and my mum’s handwritten recipe notes have also provided a great deal of inspiration and influence,” he adds with excitement.
To soak in all of that history and culture, we sit down at Lavaash and order for their Mutton Rezala (yeah, we just needed an excuse) — a fragrant and extremely popular mutton and yoghurt stew at Lavaash. Seeing us stare with guilt at the Rezala, Chef Saby tells us, “Our Mutton Rezala is very light as it doesn’t have any butter or cream. The main flavour comes from the delicate spices such as mace and star anise and from the yoghurt.” We dig in happily.
As we devour this almost guilt-free mutton masterpiece, we can’t help but ask Chef Saby if he ever faced sleepless nights with the fear of launching a lesser-known fusion cuisine restaurant in a city that finds solace in all things butter and chicken? “Yes, I was quite apprehensive about the kind of response that we would receive as it was a pretty much an unknown concept and cuisine. Especially, since the notion is that Delhi people only love North Indian food like tikkas and butter chicken! In fact, a lot of people even recommended that my first restaurant should be a safe bet like European or Mediterranean.”
And what is it that still made him go ahead with a risky choice of cuisine like this one? Chef Saby responds, “Before opening the restaurant I did do menu tastings for bloggers and chefs, and the response was truly overwhelming!”
Of course, the innumerable customers pouring in from day one and leaving the restaurant with a happy tummy and rave reviews about the food and the ambience, made him even more confident about his decision. With an extensive menu full of innovative, drool-inducing dishes, each promising to be better than the other — how do guests manage to go back happy and content? (Because, we wouldn’t be able to, for fear of missing out on some of their signature dishes.) Chef Saby, tells us that they also curate menus to include their best picks, so customers don’t have to worry about which dishes to pick. One such menu at Lavaash by Saby is in association with WowTables– a web and mobile-based platform that provides unique dining options in Delhi and other cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune.
In fact, we hear that Chef Saby has himself hand-picked the dishes and curated the WowTables five-course experience. He elaborates, “Yes, I did curate the menu and made sure that no key ingredient is repeated on the menu. The set menus usually have all of my star dishes from the main menu, so that the guest feels that the experience is value for money.” He further shares his expertise, “The menu is the first point of guest interaction with the chef/restaurant and it’s the first thing that can make or break a guest’s experience. So yes, menu curation is extremely important to me.”
A five-course experience including salads, soups, appetisers, mains and even desserts, that too hand-picked by Chef Saby himself! Sounds too good to be true, we think. But it is! Having hit all the right notes — a unique fusion cuisine, an extensive drool-inducing menu, great ambiance (the al fresco seating features a breath-taking view of the Qutub Minar) and rapidly increasing fan following, what exactly are the next steps?
“We are planning on expanding,” the chef says with a wide grin. And how exactly is he planning to maintain the quality? Chef Saby is quick to respond, “Our new employees will be given intense training on the dishes, recipe and palate. We also plan to create a record of all the ingredients, recipes and measurements so that there is no scope for change in the taste, flavour and presentation.” If only we could get our hands on that book….food would never be the same again!