Extravagant, avant-garde and quirky, Eeshaan Kashyap’s life revolves around creativity, which forms the essence of all that he does.
After studying to be a chef at the prestigious The Oberoi Centre of Learning & Development (OCLD) – which only takes in 15 students a year – Eeshaan specialised in Western culinary and Indian coastal cuisine, going onto become the youngest-ever executive chef at the Oberoi Group – serving at The Oberoi Vrinda & Trident in Kochi. Since then, he has taken over as the Partner for Pass Code Hospitality, heading operations and branding for New Delhi’s most talked about boutique brand chain of cocktail bars and restaurants which include award-winning restaurants such as PCO, PDA, A Ta Maison (ATM), Pings Café Orient and Jamun.
Passionate about food as well as fine wines and spirits – and a master of cocktails, Eeshaan is known for coming up with unmatched and ingenious methods to make exhilarating new recipes and world-class experiences to remember.
His unbridled creativity also finds an outlet in designing interiors, which his home bears proof of and his numerous artistic pursuits. An avid photographer, globetrotter, art enthusiast, fashion curator, as well as a budding artist – imagination and inventiveness ooze from every aspect of Eeshaan’s being. One of his recent artworks titled ‘Neel’ was even showcased at the Mardi Art Festival in Australia in 2019. With a keen eye for art and design, he also consults for food styling, décor concepts and photography.
A creative powerhouse, Eeshaan is actively developing a new wave of food and beverage service standards that are shaping a new identity for India.
Apparel Resources gets candid with the promising talent to get to know what drives his artistic pursuits, how he has created some of the most raved about restaurants in the country; what goes behind creating an ‘experience’ for customers in order to keep them coming back, and of course, what the world of hospitality and F&B would look like post COVID-19.
Did you always want to enter the food and beverage space or is it something that you took fancy to later in life?
Eeshaan: According to my mother, when I was a kid, I used to play with the pressure cooker at all times. In the 1950s, my grandfather owned a business of pressure cookers and gas range called ‘Prabhat’, and somehow food has always been an integral essence in our family.
I wanted to become a chef from a very early age. I have always been inclined towards food and started making simple home-cooked meals for my family and friends from a very early age. My family has been very supportive and always encouraged me to do things and take up a profession which I genuinely loved. I remember writing down recipes and keeping old magazines with Christmas cake recipe hidden in my books with folded pages. My first-ever dish which a lot of friends and family loved was ‘smoked bharta’. I love cooking for everyone, and especially, for people who love to eat.
Did you get a formal training in this field? Please elaborate on your educational and experiential journey.
Eeshaan: I am a trained chef from The Oberoi School of Learning & Development (OCLD) – one of the most prestigious hotel management schools in Asia and extremely hard to crack into. I got selected for their scholarship programme and continued to work with the Oberoi hotels for almost 11 years post graduation.
After completing my Kitchen Management Advanced Graduation, I was appointed as the Executive & Head Chef In-charge for the Trident in Kochi, Kerala. I was one of the youngest chefs to do this and handled the hotel with 144 rooms, fully operational for food and beverage and a luxury cruise liner in the backwaters for 3 years.
It is here that I had the most amazing exposure to Malabar cuisine and I travelled extensively to learn even more. I was based in the main city of Kochi and also in Alleppey, which is located in the backwaters in Kerala. The recipes I learnt over those 3 years have been one of my best learning experiences ever.
Post this, I came back to The Oberoi, New Delhi, where I joined one of the finest Italian fine dine restaurants which the group called Travertinio. I worked here with our Head Chef, who was from Rome (Hotel Hassler) and the exposure was phenomenal. I later expanded my roles and came out of the kitchen and started getting inclined towards the front of the house, the service aspect and the overall running of restaurants with bars.
The transition, for me, was in bringing out all of my creativity to curate food and beverage experiences.
I am now the partner with a boutique food and beverage company based out of New Delhi called Pass Code Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. which I joined in 2014. Here, I have been innovating and evolving skills to come up with a range of very successful restaurant brands along with the help of Rakshay Dhariwal, who is the MD of the company (a treat to work with), and our Head Chef Rahul Gomes Pereira, who was also my colleague in The Oberoi Hotel. We have the most remarkable and versatile team which adds abundant quality to the work I forethink and we do.
How would you describe your signature style and aesthetics when it comes to work?
Eeshaan: I bring about a great sense of taste, quality and warmth to my work. I personalise and customise the product keeping in mind the current trends and comfort of the diners. I am an extrovert and slightly extravagant in my style of work, which is further balanced out by my teams. I would say, I am the taste maker of my group with a fine taste of all things good.
I like to express via my idea of art in a way that has no boundaries – there is no right or wrong – there are no boundaries and discipline. I express unapologetically and my actions in the form of art or creating a space – be it my restaurant or home, the experience is a reaction by the consumer.
What are some of the projects that you really enjoy doing, and why? Describe a few projects that really got your creative juices flowing?
Eeshaan: I enjoy working on new ideas and spaces for restaurants, as they allow me to push my boundaries and urge me to think out of the box to try out something new each time.
I enjoy researching, learning new food directions and innovating them with the best resources around. One of our recent projects ‘Jamun Goa’ translated into a counterparty dining space in a 110-year-old Portuguese house. The restaurant binds the essence of recipes which we researched, re-learnt and borrowed from local Goan families and our friends. The space is eclectic with a sense of home, and the décor is warm and inviting. I worked on the concept of the ‘wall of curiosity’ located in our main dining room which is decorated with our culinary journeys so far in a photographic manner. I added a touch of cooking equipment on the entire wall which will fascinate a diner and make their experience more memorable. The idea is to always highlight the realness of the food we are serving and celebrating.
What is the most important way to engage the consumers today and spread word about what one is doing? Would you say social media/collaborations/pop-ups, and why? How can one fully utilise these spaces?
Eeshaan: In today’s world, there are so many platforms that one could use to voice out their creativity. For me, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are best, as they connect directly with the viewer or our potential customer. We believe in the old school way of marketing ‘seeing is believing’, organic tools such as ‘word of mouth’ and being in touch with our patrons constantly. I consistently post and showcase food that I enjoy and cook with my keen interest towards art and design. These platforms are also good to collaborate with brands, people and experts to maximise the reach. For me, Instagram is one of the most powerful tools to engage with people and showcase what I am doing or working on, on a day-to-day basis.
A growing trend that pushes niche restaurants and bars has seen an upward spike in the recent past with consumers striving for experience-based avenues. What is your take on the industry today? How do you think the space for food and beverage is poised in the Indian market?
Eeshaan: Products and services can only be worthy if they bring certain value to the customer. This value needs to be in the form of experiences and memories. This is one very important aspect of doing business in the hospitality vertical and bringing people back to your establishment. If they have a good experience, they will certainly come back and get 10 more people with them over a span of time. In today’s aspect, before the COVID-19 havoc, all restaurants and bars have been focusing on smaller things like source of recipes, old school methods of cooking or reviving the old techniques that add an experience and have a story to relay to the customer which, in turn, classifies it as value for money.
You are known to mix food with art; tell us a little more about this. What drove you to try this out? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Eeshaan: Art is around all of us. It’s how we see it that makes it a point of view. I draw my inspiration from art in every form – from nature to geometrical patterns and even colours. I am drawn to colours instantly and a big part of my life revolves around art and design. From the way I live and express myself with the clothes I wear to the walls I live in, everything has a hint of art. I sketch, draw and even paint when I like.
I recently created a huge wall installation in my house, with colours using only my feet and hands. This was inspired by the 1950s Gutai movement in Japan.
I frequently visit museums, artist residencies and even exhibitions in order to expose myself too, and develop a keen eye for design. I naturally work on the experience of dining in an artistic way wherein I like to set up the tables or curate experiences with food that not just focuses on the taste, but also on how one feels around the space.
How would you describe your personal style? What are some of the most coveted fashion and art pieces that you own?
Eeshaan: My style is vibrant and most of the times full of colour. I love patterns and geometry which engage with the visual language. Style, for me, is about being myself and expressing what I feel in the way I reflect.
One of the most incredible pieces of wearable art that I own was curated by an artist friend of mine in Lisbon, where she made me a pair of silver cufflinks in the shape of a key hole with Burmese ruby on both sides of the piece and inside the key hole were eyes – as if they are looking at you. These were my eyes and hers – as though we are looking at each other when the hands come together.
I have many favourite pieces of fashion, but there is one which is very special in itself. I picked up a 100-year-old Japanese Boro jacket featuring Indigo and patchwork detailing from a vintage shop in Tokyo.
What do you think the future of the industry is in a post-COVID-19 world? How will the food and beverage industry change? How can brands survive and stay relevant?
Eeshaan: These are tough times for anyone to survive in, and the hospitality industry is the worst-hit, with no help and support by the Indian Government; many people have been rendered unemployed and laid off their jobs. In India, the F&B industry contributes to 2 per cent of the total GDP and employs the largest number of people after agriculture. With this pandemic, the number will drop drastically and sadly many shops will shut. The future will be home delivery formats, food and beverage businesses that revolve around experiences, online engagement and buying. It could be DIY meal kits or starting a new business with a range of jams and sauces – there would be different branches around the delivery model to start the flow of income. Sadly, consumers won’t be heading out to dine and entertain in restaurants and bars anytime soon, even though outlets will ensure highest standards of hygiene and safety. Brands will have to discover new ways to engage online, be relevant and connect with their database – could be in the forms of online classes with the chef or creating contests.
What are some of the challenges you faced while setting up your practice and how did you overcome them? What would your advice be to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to venture into this field?
Eeshaan: For everyone who is interested and passionate about the F&B industry, I would say, it requires more of an aptitude than an attitude; it’s a way of life and one should be prepared to work very hard. It’s not a 9 am-6 pm job, but a 24-hour workspace where you have to constantly be on your toes to create and engage with clients.
There are many challenges that we face while setting up restaurants – right from Government regulations to a delay in timelines. One has to be a handyman by oneself and do whatever it takes to bring things together and make them ready. The will to do things is very important and building a good team is the key. Challenges make the game more exciting and prepare you to be better equipped for whatever comes next.