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Delhi Wine Club
Abhijit Saha - Chef with Wine in Vein

Posted: Wednesday, 02 January 2013 10:25

Abhijit Saha - Chef with Wine in Vein

Dec 21: Whenever you think of Fava Restaurant in Bangalore, you might be reminded of Fava, the ancient beans that have become an integral part of the Mediterranean cuisine. To the cognoscenti, this restaurant owned by the Master Chef Abhijit Saha (an ex-Parker) would naturally be Mediterranean, but it is his equal passion for wine that impresses Subhash Arora who met with him over lunch at the Fava last week.

Click For Large ViewWhen I came to know recently that Chef Abhijit is the current President of the Bangalore Wine Club, I was taken aback, but only momentarily. Since I met him three years ago, I have been following Chef Abhijit Saha’s Menu and events both at the four-year old Caperberry and the UB City-based Fava Restaurant which has been serving Mediterranean Cuisine for two and a half years. Wine is given as much importance as food, if not more; the wine list and the string of wine events he organizes regularly are a testimonial.

Where else in India can you find a glass of a decent French wine (UB’s Bouvet Ladubay, no less!) for under Rs. 300 a glass after a hard day’s work? During the happy hours between 4:30-7:30 pm (these hours are longer from lunch time to 8:30 in the evening at Caperberry-a boon for the early eaters), you get 50% discount on select labels of imported wines that sell normally for Rs. 525-Rs.575 a glass. The Indian wines are regularly priced at Rs.400-450 a glass and attract the same discount, as do the full bottles of these select wines. And the VAT is included! These low prices, when he pays customs duty of 150% on all his wines.

Click For Large ViewAbhijit claims that he is the only one in Bangalore having automatic dispensers in both the restaurants, keeping 20 bottles of wine fresh for several days. No wonder 55% of the beverage sales at Caperberry, the fine dining restaurant, come from wines. Between 20-25% sales of the outlets are accounted for by wines, says Saha.

He comes up frequently with packages that include wines, which would make any wine lover salivate. His paired Menus with wine have become a norm for Caperberry, though Fava being in the commercial hub UB City, concentrates more on attracting the foodies - at Rs.425(+taxes) you may have a 2-course meal but Rs. 550 (+taxes) offers a better value for a 3-course delight. ‘But, we do have special wine events in Fava too,’ he insists.

To promote wine and to inculcate the wine culture as also to attract wine lovers, he organizes wine dinners periodically. The Indian wine-supported menu usually varies between Rs. 1500 and 1700. ‘We never go beyond Rs.1950 AI’, he says adding, ‘whenever there are winemakers from overseas, we also have winemaker dinners that can cost Rs.2450 but usually not beyond Rs.2750.’

Of course, all of this is possible with the support of the producers (he works a lot with Four Seasons). ‘I believe that we should pass on the benefits we get from our vendors and not keep them unlike many other restaurants.’ Despite his duty-paid purchases his prices are more reasonable than most 5-star properties.  ‘But we don’t like to give out freebies when we have such wine events even if the wines are sponsored. I believe the people who cherish wines must respect and pay for it.' From the seeming success of his events, he is able to validate his strategy.

‘Wine is close to my heart. I want my consumers to enjoy wines too,’ says the Chef who, unknown to most people, started his career in Delhi where he was part of the opening team at the Manor Hotel.  After a 3-year  stint, he moved on to the Taj where he worked for 8 years before moving to the Park Hotel in Bangalore for yet another 8 years of service.

The love affair with wine started rather early for him, within 4 years of starting his career as a Chef. ‘As a chef at Orient Express I had to be associated with wines because of the French Cuisine and because of the passion Camilla Punjabi had for wines. I had been responsible for both food and wines at the Manor. So the opportunity to be involved with wines was ever growing.’

Saha got his opportunity for formal training in wines when he got a scholarship at the Park Hotel to study enology at the Johnson and Wales University at Rhode Island where he attended a 3-month course. Subsequently, he has been a guest chef and presenter at the annual World of Flavour Conference organised by the Culinary Institute of America, giving him immense opportunity to visit Napa Valley in 2004-2007. Serving as a Director Services at the Park Hotel for two- and-a half years gave him a lot of exposure to wines too.

‘We carry approximately 100 labels including 6 Sicilian wines. People are looking for good value for wines. Most wines sell at around Rs.1600 for Indian wines though they do buy those costing up to Rs. 4700 for imported labels. Our customers are more familiar with Italians although they also go for Australian and South African wines,’ says Saha as I sip a Chardonnay from Man Vintners - a South African import by the Wine Park, Mumbai. He adds,‘ we have to focus not only on grape varietals but countries and regions in the wine list.’

Despite his passion for wines and the promotional events he undertakes, Saha is not very upbeat on the wine culture in the near future. ‘It’s still a new area for most people. There are nuances of wines-the confusing characteristics, difficult names to pronounce. What is the difference between Chardonnay and Viognier and why do they blend them, are questions my customers ask.’

Click For Large View‘There is a mental barrier also in the mind of the customer who spends, say Rs.1000 for the food and has to spend twice as much on wine. Unless he is a wine lover or entertaining his clients, the math changes significantly and therefore budgets have to be the focus area and we must make wines affordable. Therefore, we should pass on any benefits that we get from the vendors, to the consumer. Wine comes with a bit of snobbery; you may serve because of that or not serve for the same reason,’ he feels.

While running the two restaurants and an outdoor catering service by the name of ‘Bespoke Catering by Abhijit Saha’, he has other plans fermenting but is not willing to divulge any information yet. ‘I don’t like to talk of the plans as they don’t work sometimes and then one feels bad talking about them prematurely.’

One plan he is happy to disclose is holding a National Wine Conference he plans his Club to host in June, though he would be stepping down as the President of the Bangalore Wine Club in May.

One wishes him good luck on the Conference and hopes he continues with wine promotion events at his restaurants. There’s so much one can do - after all one has to run a profitable business, he admits.

Subhash Arora

Tags: Abhijit Saha, Fava Bangalore, Caperberry, Bangalore Wine Club, World of Flavour, National Wine Conference, Bangalore


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