This year has seen the back-to-back openings of two fine Italian restaurants - Sorrento (Shangri-la by Eros) and Ottimo at West View (ITC Maurya) - that continue to get rave reviews on social media, which is a luxury in this day and age of almost daily restaurant openings.
Both restaurants have seasoned Italian chefs leading from the front and they have proved to be worthy of carrying the flag of their country's celebrated cuisine.
I am most excited though about the opening tomorrow of Bella Cucina, Delhi-NCR's newest Italian restaurant at Le Meridien Gurgaon.
My excitement stems from the fact that the young man steering it is neither Italian, nor has he ever been to Italy, yet he has put together a menu, after two years of research, which I am confident is going to earn him a legion of fans.
This is not the first time that an Italian restaurant has been created entirely by Indian hands.
Ritu Dalmia led the way when she opened Diva in 2000 with kitchen hands from Uttarakhand - being good tandooriyas, they are adept at making pizzas and marinating meats and fish - but at least she had been exposed to the Italian cuisine and culture both in London and in Sicily.
Some months after Diva attained celebrity status, Ravi Saxena, who's now continually winning awards for Dhaba by Claridges, took charge of San Gimignano at The Imperial and turned it into one of the finest Italian restaurants of the city in the early 2000s, although he had never been to Italy, or worked with an Italian chef.
|Amit Kumar's creation: tiramisu cake with chocolate spheres loaded with fruit jellies. (Photo credit: Mail Today.)|
Amit Kumar, the young man in charge of Bella Cucina, is all of 29 and is proud to say that he is from East Champaran in Bihar.
Over the five-odd years I have known him, Amit has gained a firm command over the English language, which he started picking up only after coming to Delhi.
When he recounts the story of his life therefore, it is garnished with interesting asides. The young chef was born and raised in Motihari (which, as I discovered, also happens to be the birthplace of Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell).
Amit's father is a brick kiln owner and no one in his family has ever been a chef (his parents understood what a chef does only after watching Masterchef India).
He remembers how his cousins spent five-six years each at Kota, preparing for the IIT-JEE, but none made it.
He was never good in studies, so he was spared the angst of Kota! Today, one of his cousins is junior to him in the industry, although he's older, because he got admission into the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) - Goa after Amit had started working.
Amit studied hotel management at the Banarsidas Chandiwala Institute, where he decided to become a chef because he thought it was easier than wearing a suit and tie and conversing in English throughout the day (I am not sure if the front-of-the-house guys would agree with this description of the job they do!).
And then he put his heart and soul into cooking. It was his good fortune to be mentored by two of the industry's most brilliant young chefs - Ravitej Nath at the Trident Gurgaon (he left his comfortable job at The Oberoi to get into the world of Indian regional cuisines) and Tanveer Kwatra, who opened the briefly successful (till it got gutted in a fire) La Riviera restaurant at the Pullman, which was the previous avatar of Le Meridien Gurgaon.
Both men are masters of their profession, and Amit has proved to be a good learner.
At Bella Cucina, he not only serves delicious food - his prawn ravioli is a winner, as is his parmesan-crusted scallop - but also presents them with a sense of drama, as he does with his deconstruction of the famous insalata caprese (tomato, mozzarella and basil) or with his smoked tuna served with a poached egg sitting on cauliflower purée.
And yes, his pizzas are winners all the way (he uses milk, not water, to make the dough) as are his lemon tarts and tiramisu cheesecake served with chocolate spheres loaded with fruit jelly.
We'll be hearing a lot about Bella Cucina in the days ahead.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)