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Food, fusion and love


How this culinary couple made global food local.

Building on their impressive backgrounds in the culinary world, Shankar Krishnamurthy and Arvind Kaila opened the doors to fusion dining in 2003. A shared vision between them saw the birth of Fusion9, a much sought-after dining destination today.

“We entered Hyderabad at the right time with Fusion9. For the past 15 years, we have been adding an outlet almost every year,” says Shankar, the chef-turned-entrepreneur. His wife Maya is behind the look and feel of every brand from the Fusion Hospitality stable and has done up all their spaces. “Her eye for detail is fabulous,” says Shankar, an alumnus of IHM, Mumbai.

Shankar’s tryst with the food and catering industry began in 1986. He was with the Oberoi’s in Delhi and Mumbai and followed it up with an eight-year stint in Dubai and Kathmandu. “Finally, in 2002, I landed in Hyderabad and felt the need for a restaurant that could bring European, American and other world cuisines on a platter,” he says, about the roll out of Fusion9 in 2003.

“With Fusion9, we introduced global cuisine in the city. Cinnabar Red was the first to bring in teppanyaki and Deli9 brought the concept of the European bakery and cafes,” he says.

The couple got into the catering business on a small scale and found themselves catering for the inauguration of the Google office in Hyderabad in 2007. A catering contract for 1,500 employees of the US search engine soon followed and they were into institutional catering in a big way. Other clients were Facebook, DE Shaw and Uber, amongst others. “Today after 10 years, we are doing about 25,000 meals a day,” says Shankar.

New partners came along the course of the journey and a restaurant division was opened in Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi.

Catering academy
However, there was an urge to ‘give back’, to do something different. That’s how the idea to open a culinary academy was born. They are now set to open India’s largest in-flight catering institute on a 40,000 sq ft space in the city.

“I had been toying with the idea of opening a culinary institute for the last three years. My aim is to go back from where I have learned and give it back to society and create more opportunities,” he says. The academy — Shankar’s dream project — is likely to be ready in a few years.

Another project taking shape is the F9 Test Kitchen. “We’ve always tried to be different from others in Hyderabad. We are constantly following international trends, bringing in food which is in vogue; that’s how the F9 Test Kitchen happened,” he says.

The Test Kitchen will work on two levels — it will organise culinary workshops and even dwell in baking and confectionery. Sharing details about the second level — a tasting room restaurant, he adds that it will work on a Michelin format which has a seven-course testing menu.

“We’ll have celebrity chefs coming in every month from across the globe. Hyderabad is still lacking in these areas and we want to fill that void. Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are more evolved on the food front,” says Maya.

A holistic menu is also on the cards; even the cocktails and mocktails which they are experimenting with currently, will be designed in a very holistic way. The soft trial that has been on for a few weeks now has seen a good response.

Not an easy path
Shankar has successfully launched eight dining spaces but the going wasn’t easy. “When I was working for the hotel industry, I had everything at my beck and call. But when you get into entrepreneurship, that’s where the 360-degree responsibilities start. Transitions from an employee to an entrepreneur were still manageable, but challenges in terms of establishment, bureaucracy and administration take longer for people like us to understand,” says Shankar.

Running a restaurant is a people-oriented operation, believes Shankar, and for this, both the team as well as guests have to be in a happy state of mind to deliver and to receive the experience.

“You cannot manage people effectively unless you have the experience of doing the job you ask them to do, yourself. My staff and I are well connected — I can cook, serve, clean, do everything. There is no aspect of the business that I can’t do. This brings a lot of respect from the team,” he says

But what is it like to run a business with your spouse? “Maya comes from a similar background; she understands the stress levels, the long hours, the challenges. In our case, we complement each other – I am from F&B and she is from ‘front of the house’ (housekeeping). And like in any normal relationship, there are disagreements, but in the end, we work for a common goal,” says Shankar.

While Shankar manages the entire business, Maya takes care of the aesthetics. “The business is looked upon as soft; however, you have to be hard on the details. She makes sure nothing falls off the plate when it comes to quality analysis,” says Shankar.

So who is the boss? “Obviously him,” chuckles Maya and Shankar is quick to add, “I am the boss, but I have her permission to say that. I think of an idea and she gives shape to it.”

Source:  Deccan Chronicle

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