Spice and all things nice

Everything I do, right from redoing my apartment to opening a restaurant to making a new menu, I do it with unbridled passion. If there is no passion in what one does, what is the point,” says celebrity chef, Ritu Dalmia — restaurateur, TV host of popular cookery shows and author of cookbooks as we settle down at her newly launched restaurant Diva Spiced in the popular hub of South Delhi.

More than two decades of struggle and accolades, Ritu shows no sign of taking a pause and is ready to take on fresh challenges. Diva Spiced is the current challenge in her life, specialising in Asian cuisine with regional Indian flavours.

So why a diversion from her signature Italian cuisine, her ardent fans hooked on to her ubiquitous Café Diva style would wonder? “It is the result of my instinct to take up a new challenge so I started experimenting with Asian cuisines that I experienced during my extensive travels,” she says with a laugh and orders her favourites from the menu.

There is hearty Khao Suey, Chicken Cotoletta Bao, Bomra’s Tomato salad, Kadhi Samosa, Crispy Duck, Chilli Caramel Fish and Coconut & Lemongrass Pannacota, to name a few.

Looking at the food, her eyes light up, “I am excited to have Diva Spiced in my kitty, an international style cafe concept with an Asian accent which is light, healthy and good for one’s waistline! Where else could I make Kadhi Samosa,” she adds with a grin. “Cat has nine lives, for Diva Spiced, it’s the third and I cannot wait to witness the journey as it unfolds.”

Our chat gets warmer after a hearty main course in the vibrant setting. The cheery restaurant on the first floor, designed by Studio Incept & Anita Dalmia brings to the fore the mood and energy of the space using natural elements like jute and cane along with floral patterns all along the staircase and walls. It is a beautiful synergy of warmth and welcoming vibes.

Chef Ritu is not carrying on her family’s legacy in the culinary industry. Nor has she undergone professional training to become the award winning chef she is today.

That day at the age of 9 when she cooked her first meal in her Kolkata home, charted her destiny. Since then, she single-handedly built her expertise through experience, natural instinct, and immense passion for food.

Several decades later, that child of 9 is today one of India’s most celebrated chefs, co-owner of seven restaurants in India, a catering division worldwide and two restaurants in Italy, with a third one on the way.

The journey has not been all that easy. At the age of 21 she started her first restaurant, ‘Mezzaluna’ in Delhi, which she thought was ‘a wonderful disaster’.

After three years she shut it and moved to London where she launched the much revered Indian restaurant ‘Vama’, with her partner Andy Verma, which was a roaring success.

Her heart, however, longed to return to India. She returned to Delhi in 2000, and opened DIVA with her friend Gita Bhalla. Well, that set the ball rolling once again.

Her food and collection of fine wines hit the spot. “It is not just about the food but how well you curate your drinks and offer best wines and spirits,” she says while taking pride in showing her impressive bar, house-made syrups, fresh ingredients and an exhaustive line up of well chosen spirit bottles.

She signs off with a smile, “Use the freshest of ingredients, and you cannot go wrong.”A lesson there: It’s the simplest basics that make all the difference.