Chef Paul Kinny of the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai gets candid about the lack of Michelin star restaurants in India

“We dined at a three Michelin starred restaurant” is a phrase that earns us the envy of all those in earshot. And then some. Who’d have thought what started off by a tire company as a handy guide for motorists would go on to command life-and-death-matters like intensity in some cases (shrugs in some others, you’ll see). Yet today the Michelin guide is without a doubt one of the oldest and most influential guide to restaurants all over the world. Bar India, though! From the West’s clinically clean approach to cooking to India’s still finding its foodie feet, there’s room for arguments galore when it comes to the subject. We decided to take up the cause with Chef Paul Kinny, the Group Director of Culinary Services at Mumbai’s Palladium Hotel.

Before we begin, here’s a bit more about the Chef. Currently spearheading the new restaurant openings, The Sahib Room & Kipling Bar and Yuuka, at the Hotel, Chef Kinny has close to 2 decades of experience in Management, Food & Beverage sections of Hotels and Restaurants. His career graph has traversed Mumbai to Dubai and back, in the process of which, he has also served as Business Head for the fine dine division of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality Pvt Ltd (IEHPL), thus, opening a total of 7 Restaurants across 3 cities including the Salt Water and Smoke House Deli brands. Showcasing seasonal produce, fresh premium ingredients, and simple uncomplicated flavors, high on visual appeal and sublime textures, his cooking could hardly be considered far from the west’s idea of the ideal epicurean experience. And here’s what he had to say to LL…

If Palladium were a person, would you say s/he is a gastronome and why?
Of course! Palladium Hotel stands for everything decadent, fun, lively; it represents a sense of enjoyment and experiencing luxuries to the fullest. And high quality food which brings you international trends and tastes is a big part of luxury living.

It is admirable how the property is already associated with an intimidating number of thriving and upcoming F&B outlets. Tell us about them.
Our objective has always been to encapsulate varied cuisines and experiences all under one roof so our patrons have a varied choice. From Mekong, our award-winning Oriental restaurant, Seven Kitchens, our award-winning all-day restaurant to Li Bai & EXO, our popular nightclub destinations, the Palladium Hotel is currently at the centre of the city’s food & entertainment experience. We also have exciting ventures opening shortly with The Sahib Room & Kipling Bar, our Raj-era inspired signature Indian restaurant, and Yuuka, an international chef-driven Sushi & Sake restaurant.

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If so much was and still is in the pipeline, you’re bound to be nursing the classic restaurateur’s malady – no-Michelin-frustration.
What’s your take on the French company’s step daughterly treatment of the nation?

For me in all honesty, Michelin is not a benchmark. Of course their effort is admirable, and being recognized by them is definitely a great feat, but I personally think my guests are my true critics. When I have patrons returning back because they enjoyed their meal – that for me is true satisfaction.
There is no step-daughterly treatment, why would they? They have recognised plenty of Asian establishments in the past – I don’t see any reason for them being biased. There is no denying that we are slightly behind the game of trendsetters and are maybe too influenced by the West – maybe once that changes, you will find many more Michelin stars coming our way.

Of the various myths that persist on how restaurants are rated, is that there should be at least three waiters serving one person for it to qualify as a three star Michelin place. Don’t you think that is rather well suited to our country that constantly scores high for hospitality?
I think three waiters waiting a table is a waste of man power. I’d rather use those resources in putting together a better plate. Maybe investing that kind of money in importing better ingredients, finer crockery, R&D, etc.

The same applies to our other Asian siblings as well though and they don’t seem to have gone unnoticed. They’re probably faring better than a lot of their European and American counterparts for service. So even if we were to cut Michelin folks some slack, how do we justify the presence of Dubai, Singapore or Hong Kong on their list?
Same answer as the question below

We’d feign indifference but the trouble is, it’s not just the Michelin Guide. Even the London-based Restaurant magazine that brought out its annual ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ list conveniently skipped India. Again. Surely there aren’t any special qualities we’re blind to, as Indians.
I think our problem is that we don’t market ourselves well. We have talent, but foreign chefs are all out there. Through their book releases, TV shows, restaurants their presence is felt more. I think if we were to put ourselves out there, things might be different. But in the last few years, with more and more niche restaurants and fine tuning of dishes, I think things will improve gradually. After all these years of us chefs crying our lungs out about “NO PINK SAUCE” finally we have gotten our message through.

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What we tend to lack a lot of times are vision and guts. We find ourselves very often burdened by the commercials and operations involved in running a successful restaurant. It takes guts to be a visionary and at times high rentals and investor pressure tends to get the better. We need to hone and encourage creativity in the younger generation of chefs. It’s imperative that we do so. We also need the support of diners to be able to keep an open mind and the willingness to spend a tad more on quality food.

Gaggan of Bangkok is the only Indian restaurant to figure on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. While that proves we could be just as qualified you think this also says something about the location?
Perhaps. But let’s not take the credit away from Gaggan. He is a brilliant chef and his work shows. Bangkok is also a much-more tourist friendly city in comparison to Bombay where people are travelling with the intention to spend time and money on fine dining, shopping and other leisure activities. In Bombay, we primarily depend on the local crowds. Having said that, he is a fabulous chef who has created a remarkable brand backed by some innovative food.

Today Gaggan Anand stands amongst the likes of Spain’s Roca brothers, of course. Would his accolades likely seep success into the country?
I don’t think so. He is an Indian but that doesn’t impact the restaurant scene in India. That’s not how the restaurant business works. Gaggan is a great restaurant at the helm of which is Gaggan Anand – He is where he is because of what he cooks and it ends there. Let’s not draw unnecessary parallels.

Your picks of Michelin star worthy places in India, if any?
Zodiac Grill
Indian Accent

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