| Nitin Kohli
He is very much in the spotlight now, with laudatory messages pouring in from all quarters. Nonetheless, the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India’s ‘young restaurant entrepreneur award, 2003’ sits easy on Nitin Kohli’s head.
“It’s not just an honour, but an inspiration to better myself and a reason to introspect, since there is always scope for improvement,” smiles the 31-year-old, who, with brother-in-law Aditya Kanoi, owns Grain of Salt, the new-age fine-dining destination on Camac Street.
Such pragmatism is rooted in the genesis of his career that started in disarray. Nitin was thrust into the cut-throat alley of the restaurant business at no more than 19, in only his first year in college — B.Com (Hons), St. Xavier’s — when he lost his father, H.K. Kohli. Nitin was almost naturally expected to assume charge of Shenaz, the family-owned 65-seater restaurant.
“I had always wanted to train hands-on at some facility abroad before joining the food business back home so that I could contribute critical inputs for value-addition. But circumstances pitch-forked me into the thick of things rather too soon,” he recalls. Mother Nirmala consoled him saying the overseas stint could wait a few years, but it was important to steady the Shenaz ship immediately.
So, Nitin set about rectifying the “flaws and frauds” at the eatery. “The stiffest hurdle for me was the attitude of the staff who thought they had little to learn from a ‘kid’.” But he knew the fundamentals from his “10-month stint with dad” and soon converted Shenaz into a profit-making outfit. The restaurant won the Diners Club Blue Moon Award in the Best Food category in Calcutta, in 2000 and 2001.
But for someone who always dared to “dream beyond my times”, and who had an eye on the “dramatic changes” taking place around the world in the hospitality industry, the frontiers were meant to expand. “I noticed Indian food always conjured up vignettes of period furniture, heavy upholstry and ornate décor. The ambience often hangs too heavy at such places,” he observes.
Nitin’s new-age dream alternative — Grain of Salt, the 25,000-sq ft fine-dining complex, which has cooked up quite a storm since opening last April. “It’s contemporary as well as minimalistic, designed to exude a comfortable feel so that people can come here and unwind.”
The young restaurateur knows, with today’s generation more travelled and informed, you can’t take the clientele for granted. “It helps that fine dining has caught on and people are more discerning and adventurous these days. It keeps us on our toes and the city gets a more eclectic spread.”