Published:September 30, 2017 12:28 am
The prima donna anchoring restaurants such as Diva Italian, Diva Spiced, Cafe Diva and Latitude 28 in the Capital, is strutting westward to the land she says she has a past life connection with — Italy. Ritu Dalmia’s love affair with its cuisine started during her visits to the country as a teenager, to further her father’s marble business. At 21, she had already set up her first restaurant in the city, Mezzaluna, that offered “Mediterranean cuisine with an Italian accent”. It’s what she calls a “wonderful disaster” that paved the way for the six restaurants, three cookbooks and two TV shows, Italian Khana and Travelling Diva. Dalmia now braces to open her latest restaurant, Cittamani in Milan, on October 4. Excerpts:
What’s the story behind the name, Cittamani?
Cittamani is a Buddhist Tara, a female form of Buddha. It also means an alchemist. So, Cittamani as a name was perfect, a combination of spirituality and sensuality.
Why did you choose Milan as the locus of your new venture?
Italy and I have a connection from my last birth. When we decided to open our flagship international restaurant, the choice was clear. Milan really is an international city, where people are curious and willing to try new things.
How have you re-interpreted Indian cuisine to fuse elements that are characteristic of the two culinary cultures?
I know Italian tastes very well, and Indian food is in my genes. So, it was easy to pick and choose what would work well with Italian tastes. However, I am a purist and am not going to tweak Indian food to suit the Italian palate. The menu is a fusion of Indian and Italian elements. We’re using Italian ingredients and cooking them using Indian techniques. It’s light and healthy, and will present something that I have been working on for a long time.
How did you choose the recipes that will be plated at your new restaurant?
Menu making is based on many things — what tastes good, what looks good and most importantly, the ingredients. We will be working mainly with local ingredients and that is the backbone of our menu. It’s been four months of continuous trial and error. A month ago, we had a dinner at the Italian embassy, in Delhi, where we also have a restaurant. And I invited all the Italians there to do a trial of the menu and we got great feedback. Not a single dish was disliked. My plus point is I understand the Italian palate very well. For me to work the food around it was much easier.
Tell us more about the menu.
It’s as though I have taken all the flavours I like and put them in a cocktail shaker. Many dishes that are in there are re-inventions of what I grew up on. For example, when we were kids, my mother used to make these poha pakoras. All the leftovers from the poha that was made for breakfast were bound together in the evening and given to us as a snack. The matar ki kachori that we love so much, I have taken that and stuffed it with burrata.
There is porcini mushrooms wrapped in a bikaneri roti. Or, we’ve stuffed ravioli with paneer kurchan. We also have an extensive dosa bar, paniyaram and of course, rabdi.
Was it on your agenda to widen the perception of Indian cuisine abroad with Cittamani?
I always wanted to open a restaurant with home food in India. In fact, in our menus at Latitude 28 and Cafe Diva, you will find a couple of Indian dishes which are based on home cooking, but I never thought it would first happen in Milan, before Delhi.
Any other expansion plans? What else is happening on the domestic front?
Expansion plans? Are you kidding? I am currently working 20 hours a day. Let me first settle this baby of mine before I think of yet another child.