Shruti Shibulal

16 Jul

We want to be the best not just in Bangalore, not just in India but internationally too, we want to be at the top – Shruti Shibulal

When Shruti Shibulal decided to open an exclusive Spanish restaurant in Bangalore, equipped with the latest gadgets in-hand, little did she know that the restaurant would gain an incredible reputation overnight. However, the restaurateur knows exactly what she is talking about; whether it’s the cuisine, pricing the dishes, laying the expansive menu or even discussing the variety of wines Caperberry has to offer. With a keen background in Finance to use and some amazing ideas, she quickly grabbed one of India’s finest chefs, Abhijeet Saha and embarked on an eating adventure. Not only has she bought the Spanish cuisine to India, but has managed to create a quick niche for her restaurant in only a matter of months. Be prepared to hear your tummy rumble as Roshni Magazine talks to the spirited Shruti Shibulal about Caperberry, its origins and what to eat!

RM: How did all begin, how did the restaurant and partnership come about?
SS: How it all began is that Abhijeet [Saha], my partner and I, we met about a year ago. He had this concept and had left his previous position; he was the director of food and services at the Park Hotel. He wanted to start something of his own. We set up the company in the idea that we would have many different concepts of restaurants and this is the first one. So, we wanted to do a progressive European restaurant. And it then evolved into a progressive European restaurant with Spanish influence. It’s inspired by Spanish cuisine but also have a little bit of French and Italian.

RM: Was becoming a restaurateur something you wanted to do? How did you gain an interest in the restaurant business?
SS: Well it was something that I was interested in and wanted to start a restaurant after college. But it wasn’t something that I thought would happen very quickly. I thought it would happen way in the future one day. What happened was somebody heard me say this who referred to someone, who in turn referred me to someone else. They kept referring Abhijeet and me to each other. That is how we ended up meeting through a common friend. The basic idea is that when you meet someone and you consider making them your partner, your philosophies and values need to match in order to run a business. They need to be at the same level and we were very comfortable with each other. We knew how we wanted our company to be. And so we decided we would go on and work together.

RM: What is the inspiration behind Caperberry and why the name “Caperberry?”
SS: The inspiration I think basically comes from the chef’s point of view. It doesn’t come from me. The concept comes from him. When he wanted to do was a signature style of his own. He had done Italian food and had been running a restaurant in Bangalore that was very successful. But what he wanted to do was bring to the table a very unique eating style that had barely been experienced anywhere. So what we’ve done is we have incorporated some molecular gastronomy which is basically the newest and best method in cooking. It lets us provide a different experience for people. For instance, we use Souvis Cooking which is basically slow cooking at very low temperatures. So say our fish or our duck is cooked for about eight hours at 62.8 degrees and it’s a very interesting method where they vacuumed packing to pack the meat with herbs and they cook it in a water bath at that temperature. At the end you get this tender meat that has not dried out because usually when you just grill a piece of meat, all the juices flow away. But this is the new way of cooking and these are the advancements in gastronomy. So that is what we have tried to incorporate.

As for the name, the Caperberry is a very unique and is not very common. People have heard of Capers but Caperberry’s are much less common and less known. And besides that also, they are quite beautiful and fresh. They are a bright green on the outside and this deep pomegranate pink on the inside. They are very pretty. So we thought that the uniqueness of it as an ingredient would be appropriate for our type of restaurant.

RM: So the restaurant is getting rave reviews for so many different reasons: the unique menu, the hospitality, the great quality and so on. Did you expect such quick success?
SS: You know expecting is one thing and hoping is another thing (laughs). I think we expected to do the best we could and from that we knew that we knew we would be one of the best in Bangalore. We’ve put in so much work, research, training, an unbelievable amount of time has gone to getting every one of our processes correct and at a mark that we were comfortable with. As far as servers go, they have been trained for months. As far as menu planning goes, it has been going on for almost a year! We knew that that quality was always going to be excellent and that hopefully people would appreciate it. You can’t expect things like that because it’s not right to expect things like that but we were always aiming to be the best. We want to be the best not just in Bangalore, not just in India but internationally too, we want to be at the top. We want to produce something to able to compete at that level. I’m hoping that that is what we’ve done!

RM: Was it nerve-wrecking to open up a restaurant? Especially now with the current recession affecting the pockets of most people.
SS: It’s as nerve-wrecking as starting any business. And restaurants are known to be a risqué investment. Personally I was always quite sure of our quality and our product. It’s excellent and I have no doubts about that. As far as recession goes, when we started this process, we weren’t exactly in a recession. We were heading into it but we weren’t there yet. But you adapt to it. What we realized is, if you provide a product, a good product at an affordable price, so basically providing affordable luxury, it can be well-received. Because even though times are hard and things are not so great, people still need to come out and enjoy a good meal, a good experience, good ambience. So you adapt to it. You understand how to implement more cost-effective methods. So for instance we have Chef Select Menu which can be either a three or four course lunch, which the starters, salads and the deserts are all pre-plated and kept on the buffet table. And then depending on your choice of main course, that comes directly from the kitchen. What this allows us to do is provide a quality lunch which is quick. It’s adapted so you can finish it in a minimum amount of time. So the business people that come in can come in, eat and get out pretty quickly. And this is priced very economically at Rupees 100 to Rupees 500. You try to make it convenient for people. Making your prices super-high and exhibiting that “eliteness” was never an idea. We wanted to produce a kind of restaurant where everyone can come and enjoy. What we realized is that in a lot of these kinds of places, especially in Bangalore because it is such a diverse city, you end up seeing just foreigners, ex-pats and NRI’s come in. But we’ve have a ton of proper Bangalorean’s, come in and really enjoy the food. The idea is you give them good food, and you try to make it as affordable as possible; whether that is in the food itself or in the cost.

RM: That’s great! So your father is the CEO and Co-Founder of InfoSys. Does that reputation put any pressure on you? To ensure that your venture is successful that is.
SS: No, it’s definitely not pressure but there is a little bit of expectation. It’s never something that has bothered me or even gotten to me as far as my family is concerned. My parents are extremely supportive of everything I do. They’re very happy that I have found something that I enjoy and love. They’re happy that we are doing so well as far as reviews are going. They’re very happy that I’ve found my own path. I think if I had gone into I.T., things would have been different and expectations would have been very different of me. But since I have gone into my own field, it’s a completely different industry and requires a different skill set, so there is no pressure on that side. There is no extra pressure – no one from outside has ever put any pressure on me and my family definitely doesn’t.

RM: So you’re background is Finance and Abhijeet is of course, a well-known chef. So how does your partnership play out? Who makes menu decisions, pricing decisions and so on.
SS: I come from a Finance background but it’s not applicable in this situation at all. I know basic finance which was associated with Wealth Management for Merrill Lynch. So it’s very different. As far as menu planning goes, then definitely it’s all Abhijeet. He has almost twenty years of experience and knows exactly how to lay a menu. It is extremely difficult to lay a menu. That is something that I’ve learnt. You need to set such a balance when it comes to what needs to be put on the table so that everything strikes a balance with everything else. So, he definitely makes all the menu decisions but it is very collaborative. So I try different things that they come up with in the kitchen and I’ll tell them if I like it or not. Sometimes things don’t go right when they get to the table so I’m the taster (laughs). As far as pricing, there are formulas that you need to adapt to each dish which is more of a scientific thing. So it’s not really anyone’s choice in that matter, but what’s helpful is that Abhijeet, because he’s been in the industry for so long and in Bangalore for so long, he knows how to price according to the expectations and how they will be accepted. So for instance, one ingredient may not be that expensive, the perception in the market is that it is more expensive, you can actually price it higher as opposed to something may actually be expensive but is not actually perceived to be exclusive so you’ll have to price that lower otherwise nobody will buy it. So with that hindsight and experience, that is how we make those decisions. So menu planning is completely him. It’s an intricate kind of process. I wouldn’t even pretend to ever know about it. I can learn along the way but unless you are a chef, or equipped with experience, you have to be very very good to fix a proper menu.

RM:There was a desert that kept coming up as a “must-try” when I was researching the restaurant. Something about it being hard on the outside and really creamy on the inside…

SS: It’s called the Monte Carlo Gold. It’s delicious and extremely indulging which is a chocolate desert with a raspberry filling. What that comes with is something called the Priose Sohma which is a mousse which we put onto a spoon, we pump it out using a nitrogen filter, and we pump it out of a canister and put it onto a spoon which is dipped into liquid nitrogen at negative two-hundred degrees. So immediately the outer crust of that mousse turns hard and because of the cold it experiences at that low temperature. We cook it in that liquid nitrogen and we serve immediately pop that into your mouth and the outer shell cracks the inside spills out to fill your mouth with that flavor. It’s very interesting and something that India has never seen before and something that most people have never experienced before. It’s interesting and also has a dramatic element because liquid nitrogen is a fun thing to work with. You have to very careful of course, because it is very cold. You can also get it otherwise and the flavor changes every day. For instance, I just had one today and it was pineapple today. But we also do lemon, mango and so on.  Besides that we have a number of menus. So for lunchtime, we do the set lunch which has its own setup. The Tapas lounge opens at 5:30 and has its own Tapas menu. There are a number of Tapas’; vegetarian, non-vegetarian etc. There is tenderloin that is excellent. On the vegetarian platter there is an Asparagus dish that is great. In the restaurant we have tasting menus and ala carte menus. The tasting menu is basically gives you an all encompassing experience of what Caperberry has to offer. So there is vegetarian and non-vegetarian and you can pair it with wine: Indian or international – whichever you want. So that tasting menu actually changes every month. We are on our second cycle now and will be going on to the next one very soon. And then there is ala carte which comprises of starters, pasta’s, vegetarian dishes, main courses, seafood, meat and desserts, coffee and cheese. There is a lot of selection and has many vegetarian options.

RM:Yeah, how did you amend the menu to fit vegetarian eaters?
SS: You don’t need to really amend the menu. You just need to provide that balance. You try to make sure that there are various vegetarian options, and honestly, even a lot of our non-vegetarian eaters, they enjoy the vegetarian menu’s as well. It is quite expansive and large. We did, at one point, have people say that we didn’t have enough options so we increased the menu and added more options. But there are plenty of options and the idea is that there are many flavorful dishes. At the end of the day, you need to make sure that each dish is very flavorful and satisfying. One of my favorite dishes on the menu is the trio of aubergines and I don’t even like the vegetable generally! But I think it’s an excellent dish.

RM: How did you fit the cuisine for the Indian palette and how genuine is the food? Did you have to incorporate lots of masala?
SS: No, no, no! We don’t use any masala! It is as genuine as we can possibly make it. The idea is that any Spanish native comes to our restaurant; they should feel that we are a Tapas Spanish restaurant. I just had a customer who said that this is the first time I have had non-Indianized food in Bangalore.

RM: Yeah, because there is stereotype that when you get Chinese food in India, it is Indian-Chinese food or Indian-Thai food.
SS: And that is true! Anywhere you go here, you are always going to get Indian-Chinese food. But we don’t amend, we don’t use masala; we have tried to make it as genuine as possible but that doesn’t mean it’s not flavorful! European food is flavorful. If you get it in Europe, it is flavorful.

RM: India is filled with predominately Asian cuisines, Chinese, Thai and so on. Why did you choose Europe as a continent to focus on and bring to Bangalore?
SS: Well that is not completely true; there is a hoard of Italian restaurants in Bangalore. Plenty of Mediterranean restaurants! Bangalore is very much an expanding market as far as restaurants goes. It’s interesting and is a fun time to watch the industry. The thing with Spanish cuisine is that is now being considered one of the up and coming cuisines which are the equivalent of Italian food in the nineties. Over the last twenty years, Italian food has had an incredible up-rise. Everywhere you turn in any country there is Italian food. Spain is now feeling that same experience and uprising. Spain as a country has had remarkable advance in culinary advancements over the last few years. The best restaurant in the world is called El Bulli and is in Spain. And they do an incredible amount of work. There are a lot of restaurants that are doing plenty of modernization in terms of their cuisine and are not relying on the traditional dishes; they are starting new trends. We thought it would be an interesting arena to get into. And it’s great food!  And we wanted to present that to a new set of eaters. So that is why we picked Spanish food.

RM: How much research did you have to conduct before deciding that Spanish food was the cuisine you wanted to zero in on?
SS: Oh plenty! Lots of books and training. All kinds of things. It is amazing… this process has been incredibly long. It took us over a year to get started which is unusual. We could have gotten it up and going much much quicker. But because we had that time, it was utilized in a productive manner. We put that time into research and getting people trained. They were sent to a variety of place to learn the techniques and cuisine. What we’ve produced in the end is a mix between the traditional and modern. It’s an interesting fusion that has happened now of the new and the old. So yes, a long process and a lot of time before we came to a practical solution. India is a different country and even if you want to do something that is off the chart’s amazing, you may not get all the ingredients you need. You need to balance the “what you can do” with “what you want to do.”

RM: What were some obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
SS: The biggest obstacle we faced was finding the right space. We had a lot of trouble. It took us a long time to find a suitable location and something we could use. It is a bit difficult to set up a restaurant and is not as simple as it sometimes might seem. There are a lot of ins and outs; the amount of power that is needed, the water you require, the layout and so on. Our kitchen is actually on mezzanine floor and not even on the restaurant floor. And so things worked out so that we had to find and make a restaurant out of this blank slate that you may have which can be very difficult. India is hard country to get space in. Some people are very sensitive about giving out space to a restaurant which is their prerogative. But it just took us a very long time and we had quite a few bad experiences with it. And finally when we did get the space, it took us three months to get up and running. So at least we got up pretty fast. After that we were fine. But that was our most frustrating thing.

RM: What is next for Caperberry? Any plans to open up locations in other parts of India?
SS: Caperberry is probably going to be very exclusive and but it is hard to say. We don’t really want to talk about any future plans until we have anything completely written down and it is legitimate. There are always ideas of what we want to do but whether it’s Caperberry or any other restaurant, where it will be; we are just taking things one step at a time. We’ve only been in operation for a little over two months now. So too soon now to say what we are going to do now but we have plenty of ideas!

~Roshni M.
(July 2009)

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