Zorawar Kalra takes Indian food to a whole new level at Farzi Café

Restauranteur Zorawar Kalra, the founder of modern progressive Indian restaurant Farzi Cafe in Dubai and the new MasterChef India judge, says he wants to put indian cuisine on the map by reimagining traditional desi dishes.

Zorawar Kalra at his modern Indian bistro Farzi Café in Dubai. The celebrity chef was recently appointed as a judge on MasterChef India. Reem Mohammed / The National
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The word in culinary circles in Dubai is that it can take months to get a table at progressive modern Indian restaurant Farzi Café. A call confirms that while this might be a slight exaggeration, it will be at least a week ­before a reservation is available for a weekend sitting.

Such is the popularity of the year-old City Walk establishment – the brainchild of Indian restaurateur and MasterChef India's newest judge, Zorawar Kalra – that any negative comment or review unleashes a backlash on social media.

The 39-year-old managing director and founder of the Massive Restaurants group has harboured an ambition since his teenage years to reimagine traditional desi chicken tikka masala and dal by fusing it with elements of molecular gastronomy. It seems that this is ­paying off.

Though a few Indian dining spots in Dubai have experimented with the cooking form, which uses science to change the taste and texture of food, Farzi has made an undeniable mark.

“I am on this crusade to make Indian food the dominant cuisine in the world,” says Kalra who visited Dubai recently to launch the cafe’s breakfast menu. “I want it to be occupying the front of the mind space whenever you go out for a meal anywhere in the world, just like the status Japanese or Chinese or Italian restaurants enjoy.”

Farzi is the hip younger brother to fine-dining restaurant Masala Library, which was launched by Zorawar’s father, Jiggs Kalra, two years ago in Mumbai. Farzi Café followed as a more affordable haunt for a more youthful crowd, but with the same playful approach to Indian food. There are plans for more in the UAE.

“I want to be remembered as the one to make Indian food global,” says Kalra. “And this can only happen if we open restaurants like Farzi, where all the core elements of flavours, depth and sophistication of Indian food are there, but are being introduced with a lot of flair, panache, style and cutting-edge techniques.”

Each serving at Farzi plays out a little like a Bollywood film, with the star ingredient of a dish presented with charming props in vibrant colours and wrapped in liquid nitrogen smoke.

Breakfast is a focus. “I always have loved breakfast,” says Kalra. “There is a huge breakfast scene here, so I thought it was a creative outlet to play with traditional breakfast food, at the cafe. We’ve got a mix of Indian and continental, with eggs Benedict, parathas and an Indian spin on French toast.”

Kalra honed his knowledge of world cuisine by accompanying his famous father – known as the “Czar of Indian Cuisine” – on his travels since the age of 10. Jiggs Kalra began his career as a food consultant for international hotels before becoming a food columnist and author, and is now a household name through his television ­appearances.

His son, meanwhile, brings a no-nonsense attitude to the table for season five of MasterChef India. He replaced Indian celebrity chef and former judge Sanjeev Kapoor, whose restaurants can be found in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, on the show, and will appear alongside Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna and celebrity chef Kunal Kapur.

“When they got me on board, I shared the idea of ‘glocal’ to take the show forward,” he says. “Just like what my restaurants are doing: global food with a local twist or local food with a global twist.”

Kalra doesn’t feel disadvantaged in any way by not having any formal culinary training.

“I’ve been exposed to food since an early age and I know what works,” he says. “I’m like the conductor of an orchestra who knows everything about all the other instruments and how they work together.”​

Farzi Café is at City Walk Dubai Phase 2. For reservations, call 04 394 2556. For more details follow @farzicafedubai on Instagram