Chef Viraf Patel, chef at Neuma, follows classical techniques and places the focus squarely on the ingredients.
Chef and restaurateur Viraf Patel. (Photo courtesy: Neuma)
Article By Ruth Dsouza Prabhu | Live Mint
It’s not often that a dish at a dining experience is so good that you set aside all table etiquette, pick up the bowl and use your fingers to help lick it clean. Chef Viraf Patel’s Himalayan Black Bean Hummus that accompanied a braised lamb made at least three of my dining partners join me in polishing our bowls this way. Besides the incredible dining experience, watching Patel and his small team execute a 6-course meal – his homage to the food of the Levant titled Being a Parsi at The Conservatory in Bengaluru in December 2022, was akin to witnessing the grace and perfect timing of Olympic-level synchronised swimming.
Mumbai-based Patel is a well-known name in the culinary world. He began his career with erstwhile Indigo in Colaba, which incidentally is the current location of Neuma, of which Patel is now chef – a full circle of sorts. He has worked with brands like Impresario Handmade Restaurants, Olive Bar & Kitchen and Independence Brewing Co. Through his Firebred Hospitality Pvt Ltd he set up The Table, and Gateway Taproom, both in Mumbai, Frida Cantina in Goa and The Salt House in Kolkata. His own very popular Café Zoe (2012-2019) did cosy breakfasts by day and transformed into an energetic bar at night, both with equal panache.
A dish at Neuma, Mumbai.
Going back to his growing-up years, Patel had a short DJ stint before getting into a professional study course. “I remember hotel management being the only choice given to me as it offered a wider scope than culinary school. But I focused on the culinary aspect and would try and spend as much time in the kitchen as possible,” recalls Patel, who went on to Switzerland to study before returning to India.
It’s hard to narrow down on highlights of one’s 24-year career when you are as accomplished as Patel, but he says that everything he worked on has been about pushing the boundaries of understanding the market and how people will react. “Café Zoe was tailor-made for the aftermath of the 2008 recession which happened a few years before we opened doors. People were coming back to India from the UK and other countries and it worked well,” he recalls. “The Table needed a piece of California and its culture to be recreated in Mumbai. More recently, I did Frida Cantina in Goa and worked for the first time with Mexican cuisine. All it needed was for me to understand the ingredients and work them to my style,” he says.