Growing up in Mumbai I have had my fare share of authentic Parsi food. Be it at family homes or traditional ‘bawa’ restaurants; every experience always has been brimming with honest cooking, delicious flavours and nostalgic dishes I have eaten at my own home.
My visit to Rustoms Bhonu at the end of last year needless to say led me to sample many such homecooked Parsi dishes that I hadn’t eaten in a very long time. Not just is this quaint little restaurant serving exceptionally good Parsi food but also is run by an inspiring young woman Kainaz Contractor who has put traditional Parsi cooking firmly on the map in a city like Delhi. This gem of a place in Aurobindo Marg is filled with old school charm from the dining furniture, lace curtains including a room divider; like the one my grandmother used to have at our home in Mumbai.
We devoured into Kheema pattice, Paatra ni Macchi, Dhan dar patio, chapattis, Jardaloo marghi ma Salli, kanda papeta per edu and a delicious caramel custard alongside a Parsi diary Kulfi to finish. Of course all washed down with a raspberry pallonji in tow. I have recommended it to everyone I know, and if you havent been yet make sure you do! In a thriving city like Delhi where the food scene is evolving and growing Rustom’s Bhonu is a rare breed and one that deserves all the accolades and glowing reviews it is getting. I recently spoke with Kainaz about her love for food, influences and managing Rustom’s –
When did your interest for food begin?
Coming from a food-obsessed family, it’s hard to pin point a moment that sparked my interest in food and cooking. But I would definitely owe this interest to my father, who always urged me to try new flavours and cuisines ever since I could remember. His infectious love for gastronomy led me to name my first restaurant after him.
My role as Assistant Food Editor at BBC Good Food India, Being part of the country’s first international food magazine came with exciting opportunities and ways of introducing readers to the classic Parsi specialties, which are relatively rare to find on restaurant menus. It’s the kind of food that I now serve at Rustom’s. The end of result of seeing people have a lovely meal at your restaurant, celebrate important personal milestones whilst having your food and enjoying your hospitality is an incomparable feeling.
What obstacles have you come across in your career and how have you overcome them?
Obstacles are aplenty when you’re opening a restaurant in India. Right from the bureaucracy in procuring licenses to setting up the space, staff hiring and retention to making the final look come together. Designing and executing the restaurant interiors, the kitchen layouts and equipment and getting vendors on board too proved to be a challenge for a first time restaurateur like me. Training of my cooks was equally important and challenging since they had to perfect the blend of sweet, sour and spicy in our cuisine. Of course every obstacle is multiplied when you’re a woman boss and you have to delicately balance managing the daily running of the resturant, creative inputs and working towards a collaborative result for Rustom’s with my team
How has the food you grew up with influenced your career now?
I grew up eating hearty Parsi meals at home, cooked by my aunt and mother with recipes passed on by my grandmother. I figured that it is almost impossible to get Parsi home cooked food in Delhi, unless someone opens the door to their house for you. I understood that there was a real gap in the market for home style Parsi food and that’s how Rustom’s started taking shape. We decided that Rustom’s would be a restaurant serving home-style food beyond salli boti and mutton dhansak. We wanted Rustom’s to be a small, intimate dining place where people would feel right at home. The decision to serve food at Rustom’s exactly how it is prepared in my home is part of my cooking philosophy of serving honest food. To learn more about my family recipes, I took it upon myself and spent a month at my aunt’s home learning the more unfamiliar and complex Parsi dishes. The success of Parsi food is based on the perfect blend of spices and I don’t compromise on that, so I get my homemade spice blends all the way from my aunt in Nagpur, so that my diner can get a taste of true-blue Parsi food. Rustom’s forte lies in the fact that we source the most authentic ingredients for our dishes like Vinegar from E.F. Kolah in Navsari and Pallonji’s Sodas from Mumbai
What would be your advice to a woman starting out in a food career?
Follow your passion, life’s too short to waste it on a job you do not enjoy. Don’t succumb to the lure of a high paying job, give your dream job your best and money will follow.
Rustom’s, 94 A/B, Adhchini Main Road, Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi – 110017