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Features

Table Talk

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Gauri Devidayal, 37, doesn’t like to cook. “I have zero desire to get into the kitchen and make something. I don’t find it relaxing like others do,” she says. But she does step into the kitchen to make cupcakes with her five-year-old daughter, Dia. Luckily for Mumbai, Devidayal is fussy about eating good food. She and her partner-husband Jay Yousuf, of hospitality group Food Matters, have given Mumbai The Table, the award-winning restaurant in Colaba; the experimental cooking space, bakery and dining area, Magazine Street Kitchen in Byculla; and most recently, the Asian restaurant Miss T, also in Colaba.

“The exciting part is bringing something new to the city rather than following the tried-and-tested route. We want to be pioneers in the city’s food space,” she says.

Each venture stands out for offering a new dining experience. The Table brought home San Francisco-style cuisine and was a pioneer of seasonal, farm-to-table food. Magazine Street Kitchen transformed an old Byculla warehouse into a space where international and local chefs could collaborate and host pop-ups. Miss T brings together two different hospitality groups, Food Matters and Neighbourhood Hospitality (Woodside Inn; The Pantry; Bombay Vintage). They celebrated this collaboration by recording a podcast documenting the setting up of the restaurant. “Food is such a visual thing, but everyone focuses on the plating and the chef. There’s more to a restaurant than that. We wanted to bring that out,” she adds.

A Mumbai resident, Devidayal studied law and chartered accountancy in London and worked there for a few years before moving to Mumbai in 2007. Then she had a chance meeting with Jay, at Ghetto. He had just moved here from San Francisco after selling his business. “According to Jay, we met at a party at Busaba, but I was too drunk and have no recollection of it,” she laughs. “It’s lovely in a way: we first met at Busaba and now we’ve taken over that space!” (Busaba, a Colaba hotspot for more than a decade under chef-owner Nikhil Chib, has now relocated to Lower Parel.)

It was Jay who dreamt of starting his own restaurant. “Food was a big part of the life he left behind. At that time, Mumbai’s restaurant scene wasn’t as happening, and there was room for a lot of experiments,” she says. As the duo worked towards what eventually became The Table, Devidayal had to decide between her CA career or joining the business. The draw of being an entrepreneur and working with Jay proved too strong. Her reasoning was that she ‘could take the chance and return if things didn’t work out’.

She never did.

Today, Devidayal is the self-confessed face of Food Matters, and handles the day-to-day operations; Jay is the ideas man. It’s what keeps her days full. “It’s a good thing I am a morning person because I get a lot of work done then. I make sure I’m in office by 9,” she says. No two days are alike for Devidayal, who splits her time between all three spaces. “I have a checklist but never get through it. There’s a lot of juggling, so I just go with the flow,” she adds.

When not working, Devidayal takes time out for her daughter. On weekends, the family sometimes heads to their farm in Alibaug. If there’s a longer break, they go travelling. “All our travel revolves around food,” she says. They’ve dined at Ottolenghi Notting Hill, Gaggan’s in Bangkok and The Ledbury in London, among other places.

“I eat out a lot when travelling, not so much in the city. I’m a very fussy eater here. I won’t go and try out every new place that’s opened. I take my time to decide,” she adds. Local favourites include Woodside Inn, Swati Snacks, Wasabi and Prakash Lunch Home.

Devidayal believes Mumbai offers a great platform to people interested in venturing into the F&B space. Though she is happy in the city, she doesn’t rule out a possible expansion to other cities ‘when the time is right’. Beyond work though, Devidayal loves the city, challenges and all. “I feel most comfortable here. The city has a warmth to it that’s not easy to find,” she says. “It is home.”

MISS T- The Colaba eatery from the inside and outside, and Asian cuisine at the restaurant (Photos: Mandar Deodhar)

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