Chef Mikhail Shahani, Co-Product Head of Charcoal Eats, is a versatile chef with more than decade-long experience in setting up quality establishments in India, Cameroon and Hong Kong. In the past, he has worked at Oberoi Centre For Learning & Development, Crowne Plaza, Gurgaon and 212 Bar & Grill.
He has been instrumental in setting-up the below-mentioned restaurants:
*Mumbai – Zoobar, Play The Lounge, Three Wise Men, The Bombay Bronx, Pranzi
*Ahmedabad – Ratatouille
*Hong Kong – Slide On 79
*Cameroon – Bombay Masala
Chef Mikhail is a specialist in productizing classic Indian recipes as well as creating signature ones through a fusion of popular flavours. He specialises in Indian, Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean and Thai cuisines. He has done his Diploma in Culinary Arts And Kitchen Administration – IHM Aurangabad. Here is a tête-à-tête between the Chef and HappyTipsy.
The Origin of Inspiration
My passion for food developed from the time I was little. I was lucky to get exposed to the best of restaurant food around the world, from a very young age. My love for food just grew from there on.
I have multiple sources of inspiration, street food being the most prominent of them all.
Crucial Element for Food Startup Restaurants
While taste and cuisine selection is the essence of any restaurant, what is crucial in the long run is maintaining consistency in the quality and customer experience.
This is especially true in case of brands where the taste, quality and overall experience across multiple locations has to be consistent, day in and day out.
Listening to customer feedback and acting on, it is another crucial element for any food startup.
At Charcoal Eats, our focus on food quality is very high – we use premium ingredients, follow a strict process and hygiene control, and observe strict restriction on any use of harmful additives such as MSG or food colours.
Over the past three years, I have refined the process of getting the product development right.
From need identification and ideation to recipe formulation and prototyping, culminating in the product launch.
This framework is also used to tailor products specifically for different markets that the company is entering.
Technology has been the backbone of the company. We have custom-built technology solutions which give it real-time visibility to the entire value chain – production, supply chain, outlet sales, customer feedback.
This enables agile decision making. It also allows us to listen to our customers better and use their feedback for further refining our offerings.
Factors that make ideas and flavours work and click with customers and food lovers
Our food philosophy is very simple; we will not serve to guests what we cannot serve to our own children. This is achieved through the use of hygienic, ultra modern kitchens, premium ingredients and strict restriction on harmful additives such as MSG and food colours.
In addition to the flavours, a key element that ensures a high level of repeat orders is the fact that the menu has something for everyone.
Within the biryani lovers, we have as many ardent fans of the signature Afghani Chicken Tikka biryani as we have of the traditional Awadhi biryani.
The spicy Classic Hyderabadi biryani has its own loyal following. The starters and loaded fries are universal favourites, across all age groups.
First Break in the Industry
My first break in the industry was getting through the Oberoi Centre of Learning & Development.
However, very early into it, I realised that the Indian chef culture left a lot to be desired in terms of teaching to cook. Given my passion for cooking, my knowledge of cooking is predominantly self-taught and a large part is reflected in the restaurant I founded in East Africa.
My learning and experimentations continue to this date as I drive the food vision at Charcoal Eats.
Current Challenges in the Food Industry
The major challenges faced by Indian restaurant chains are maintaining quality and consistency in taste and customer experience, while at the same time managing a healthy bottom line.
Too often, restaurants and brands let their quality slip after their initial success. That spells disaster. Quality and consistency are essential for repeat business and positive word of mouth.
Ensuring a decent bottom line will be critical for long-term survival especially in the current deal & offer driven market.
Designing the products for success
I love street food, be it Indian, Thai, Turkish or any other. Even though I’ve worked for top establishments in my career, at heart I’m a very earthy eater who loves the emotion, culture and people behind the food as, for me, that is the true essence of food.
At Charcoal Eats, I try and emulate those emotions, working more as a consumer than a chef and then reimagine the different experiences of Indian flavours that I want to share with our guests.
I also look at various aspects that allow me to delight as many guests as possible – different product formats for different times of the day, at very affordable price points. My real parameter of success is a satisfied customer who has immense faith in our product and repeatedly orders my food.
My desire is to take Charcoal Eats to every city in India, as accessible to consumers as possible, in a manner that is most convenient for them.
I want to take our modern Indian flavours to the world, for them to appreciate and enjoy the delightful and vast culinary range of Indian cuisine.
I would also like to open a Charcoal Eats Signature restaurant where I can personally cook, experiment and serve the best of traditional and modern Indian cuisine.
Most special recognition received till now as a culinarian
‘Times Good Food Guide – Best New Restaurant – 2010’ – 212 Bar & Grill
The urgencies and disasters in the QSR kitchens
We conduct extensive training of our staff to manage their work in a safe manner. Our flame-less model also minimises risks in the kitchen. Surprise audits keep staff on their toes while ensuring any gaps are plugged quickly.
We have worked with the vision of building an efficient, scalable model from inception.
A customised tech solution forms the backbone of our business. This gives us real-time access to the product level, outlet-level sales, inventory as well as expected sales. This, in turn, allows us to manage our supply chain very efficiently, with minimal wastage.
Our low set-up model ensures very tight control on capital and running costs, which in turn results in quicker and higher return on investment for our partners.
The flameless model does not require chefs or highly trained, expensive staff, thereby reducing complexity as well as running costs dramatically.
Centralised support for customer care, technology, marketing and food ensures that teams at each outlet are focussed on ensuring top-notch customer experience.
What’s in Store for 2019?
We have spent the last three years building the foundation of our business – getting the food to our expectation, building our systems and processes, building on ground presence through our outlets.
Having thoroughly tested the entire system, we are now looking to expand our footprint across the country.
We are looking at opening many more outlets in the key metros and also reaching out to tier II/ III towns across the country. In hard numbers, we aim to have 75 outlets in India by Mar 2019.