Dirty Buns at Lower Parel, MumbaiQ. Tell us a bit about how you came to Mumbai, and what made you come back…
I was working in Chicago when a good friend [chef Cheung] called me four or five years ago, to ask if I wanted to move to India to be co-chef. It took me a while to decide—we went back and forth on it a lot. But one day, I just decided I needed a change, and decided to fly out here.
When I left Mumbai last year, I always knew I wanted to come back. At that point, working in a high-stress environment, I just needed a small break to reset. I wanted to go back home to see my parents, my siblings, and especially, my sister’s two children. My niece and nephew didn’t even know what I looked like then. The first month, they would cry every time I would try to hold them. But now they miss me and we FaceTime often. I needed that family time.
We always knew we wanted to work on a restaurant, and had a few concepts in mind. This one worked very well for us eventually, and here we are.Q. How is running your own restaurant different from helming the kitchen?
I’ve opened many restaurants in my career as the chef, so I have a fair idea of what it takes. But on a solo project, you have to pay attention to every little detail. I’m doing everything from numbers to spreadsheets to cooking and lighting. It’s a little bit harder, but it’s fun.Q. It’s a good time to be an expat chef in the city, with a close-knit chef community. What has the support been like?
Oh, I’ve got so much love from all the chefs around right now. I don’t know too much about the Kamala Mills market [where the restaurant is located], so I went over to my friends at The Bombay Canteen, and asked for help to source eggs, some vegetables. The chef sent me down with his purchase manager. The other chefs have even sent me staff. They’ve all been very supportive.
That’s a good thing because it’s a small community of chefs and we have to stick together. It’s a competitive business, but we also have to support each other. I make it a point to visit different restaurants and drop in on the chefs, or make plans to go bowling on our chefs WhatsApp group. We do bowling nights every couple of weeks.Q. What’s the hardest part about being an expat chef in Mumbai?
Communication. I had to find the right team to translate everything for me, from Day 1. I need to get some things done, and they often get lost in translation. But everyone here is very hard working, and very skilled. I just have my own way of doing things, so it takes some time to train them to suit my style. For instance, I’m a firm believer in the old-school philosophy—if you have time to lean, you have time to clean. I don’t like when the staff is standing around or on their phones.Q. As an Instagram-famous chef in the city, how important is social media to a business like yours?
Social media has a big effect. It helps bring people from far away to come and try your food. They see photos of it, and you’ve triggered a desire for them to try it, and they make the trip. I have no social media strategy as such. All my posts are very fun, a reflection of whatever I feel like that day. I post every single day on my Instagram stories. Q. Any dishes on this menu that you know will become Instagram hits?
The Dirty Boo—that’s my all-in-one dessert. It’s created to please everyone on the table. It has a waffle, pancake, dark chocolate ice cream, caramel sauce, doughnut, a churro and fresh fruit. It’s meant to be shared by the whole table—something fun to use your hands to tear, dip into sauce or cream, and just eat.