What’s on Sanjiv Goenka’s high tea menu? Toast, truffles, kachoris
The tycoon, who has a personal and professional interest in food, speaks about his culinary journey.
“Yeh reshmi zulfo ka andhera na ghabraiye,” Asha achingly assures on the caller tune. The song is one of the nearly 120,000 compositions owned by Sanjiv Goenka Group’s music label and entertainment company.
But this call to Goenka is about food, not music. The Group chairman often personally chooses the menu at family and professional gatherings. He has the reputation of being an Epicurean. So off goes Asha Bhosle, in comes crème brûlée.
Dal to send the pulse racing
“My size indicates I’m a foodie,” the billionaire says from Kolkata. “I grew up in that atmosphere where you are spending a lot of time on art, food, culture, business. We are a family who lives to eat. I definitely take personal interest (in menus). If I’m hosting a dinner in Delhi, which I try and do once a year, the emphasis is on Indian cuisine. If I’m hosting a dinner in Kolkata…Kolkata is more experimental. It also depends upon who the people invited are.”
Everyone has a favourite childhood food. “For us, it was dal ka halwa,” says Goenka, the son of RP Goenka and younger brother of RPG Group Chairman Harsh Goenka. “It was made sparingly and was treated like a delicacy. We were not exposed to too much food, but it was important. It was essentially Marwari food. We were also conditioned to enjoy what we were getting. But as one grew older and started travelling, one got exposed to more cuisines. You spent a lot of time at supermarkets, gourmet stores. My wife is also very much into food, as are the children. It becomes an ecosystem.”
Coincidentally, a few days after this conversation, Goenka acquired a gourmet grocery chain.
Colours of the palate
When asked what types of cuisines he enjoys, the 58-year-old vegetarian rattles off regions and varieties. “It is easier to say what I don’t enjoy,” Goenka says. “I like everything. North Indian, Bengali, South Indian, Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican. I enjoy experimenting with food as well.” That means he does not scoff at molecular gastronomy, and has on multiple occasions visited a 16th century building in Berkshire, UK, home to Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck restaurant.
“A restaurant like that is as much about the experience, the presentation. I term it a 360-degree experience in food,” Goenka says. He goes there not necessarily on special occasions, but when a table is available. “You keep trying for a reservation. Sometimes you don’t get it. When you get it, you go.” (It’s not so simple for commoners. A meal costs around Rs 30,000 per head, at a minimum).
As for the few things he does not like, Goenka thinks long before answering, “I’m not fond of corn flour-based dishes.”
In Kolkata, or among Marwaris, tea time is rarely just for tea. Snacks are a must. High tea is a daily feature. In fact, it is Goenka’s biggest meal of the day.
“It (tea time snack) is more of a British tradition which people of Kolkata sort of adopted,” Goenka says. “It’s been there in our family forever. It’s my biggest meal of the day.”
A blend of Indian and western variations adorns the tea trolley.
“If it’s at home, there would be something on toast, truffles or asparagus or whatever,” says Goenka. “I always buy truffles when I travel. Then there would be something that is spicy. It could be air-fried samosa or pakora. We are now doing air-fried kachoris. The other day we had a bhujia and paneer kachori, and before that a cucumber, dill and yoghurt samosa. You can keep experimenting. At times it turns out well, at times it doesn’t.”
One dish, though, never disappoints Goenka. And if it means he has to arm wrestle someone to get it, he will.
“The crème brûlée at Le Petite Maison (the French restaurant in London with branches in Miami, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong),” he says. “Whenever I have gone there with anybody, we have fought over the portions.”