Meet the two young, uncharted female Indian chefs making cafe food cool again
What chefs Urvika Kanoi and Hanisha Singh like and love about India’s current cafe culture
At the outset, it may seem far-fetched to compare chefs Urvika Kanoi and Hanisha Singh to two peas in a pod. While the former spent her educational years in London, jumping into restaurant entrepreneurship at a young age; the latter spent years working with big guns like the Oberoi chain and Impresario before venturing out on her own. Geographically speaking too, Kanoi has left her mark in Kolkata with The Daily Cafe and recently, Cafe Duco in Mumbai, while Singh conquers the foodscape in the capital with both her brands—Plats and a home delivery service called, Chard, Burgers and Beyond. But scratch the surface and you'll see what we mean. Both females, Indian chefs bring a feisty energy to the table, along with tons of imagination and oomph. They're young, fresh and most importantly, like a breath of fresh air, in an industry that seems to be predominantly governed by dogged approaches to food, tired philosophies and also, mainly by male veterans.
But what sets Kanoi and Singh apart (and also, places them together) is their ability to take a taco or a burger and breathe a new life into it. Having grown up in the grips of a new India that witnessed the emergence of cafe culture, they bring a vision that has been lacking in the Indian food space for long. To put it simply, they make comfort food look so good and cafes/bistros seem so cool, we'd swap a booking at a fine-dine for a quick working lunch at one of their diners in a heartbeat. But what do these boss ladies themselves like and love about cafes in the country? Find out.
Edited excerpts from an interview.
Name the first cafe you ever visited and describe the memory in 3 words.
Hanisha: Flavours, Defence Colony, unpretentious.
Urvika: The Breakfast Club in London. Mind-bogglingly, incredible food
If your cafe wasn't called what it is, what would you call it?
Hanisha: 2 Cooks
Urvika: Cafe Ibero
A fictional cafe from a movie/TV series/book that you wish you owned and why?
Hanisha: The chocolate shop from the movie Chocolat. For the love of Chocolate! I've always dreamt of a small quaint place in a beautiful village or the hills. I would love to be able to pair unexpected things and truly know what each of my guests would enjoy and pick out something that is just right for them every time.
Urvika: Leaky Cauldron from Harry Potter because it would be the most fascinating and magical. Although, technically a pub, I can totally imagine slipping into Daisy Dodderidge's shoes—the woman who established Leaky Cauldron—serving wizards and chugging the Gramp's Old Gregarious. Haha. It is after all (to quote the book), 'as any wizard will tell you, the oldest pub in London!'
The most-overrated cafe food according to you?
Hanisha: Truffle fries.
Urvika: Avocado toast.
An underrated dish that should be on all cafe menus.
Hanisha: No frills, old-school moist chocolate cake, perfect side to tea/coffee and always the best end to a meal.
One thing that's not great about Indian cafes?
Hanisha: The service
Urvika: Lack of great food options—most of the focus here continues to be on baked goods instead of fresh & interesting plates, as it should be.
And one thing that is?
Hanisha: Variety in offerings; there's always a little something for everyone.
Urvika: Detail to beverages and variety in options.
Should cafes have free WiFi? Give us a yes/no answer and then share your argument in favour of it in 5 words.
Hanisha: No, enjoy the coffee, some good food and real conversation, leave work for home or the workplace. We have all been deprived of meeting in person and dining in at our favorite spots , let's not take that for granted anymore.
Urvika: YES! WFH + cafes + long hours = sales + regulars!
If you were a sandwich, what filling would you have?
Hanisha: Crackling porchetta.
Urvika: Cheese & chorizo.
A cafe/bistro that you are still sore about having shut down? Tell us 3 things you loved about it?
Hanisha: Flavours. It had good food, an alfresco setting and conversations with the owner-chef Nataloni were always so good!
Urvika: Cafe Zoe. The vibe, the food and drinks, the quality and the fact that the team always made me feel at home.
From Barista and CCD to Duco and Plats, the cafe movement in India has changed drastically. Can you describe the change in one sentence?
Hanisha: It's more experiential now. Cafes are no longer just about the food and coffee or workspace. It's about renewed social interactions with old friends and new, the vibe, collaborative spaces to showcase and promote local brands and talent, unique concepts, seasonal menus and craft beverages.
Urvika: True cafe culture is finally here with actual coffee and great food be it artisanal beans, bread, beverages or food. Local, sustainable and seasonal delicious menus in both food and beverages are here to stay.