Delhi has one of the coolest food scenes in the country and Priyank Sukhija has played a very important role in shaping it. At 19 years old, Sukhija began his journey to conceptualise dining in India, from creating fine dining restaurants to cool and hip gastro pubs.
Over the past couple of decades, Sukhija has slowly and steadily revolutionalised F&B landscape in the capital city by introducing over 30 successful outlets like Misosexy, Bougie, Diablo, Plum by Bent Chair, Dragonfly, Lord of the Drinks, Lazeez Affaire, The Flying Saucer Cafe, and more recently, Noche.
In an interview with HELLO!, Sukhija breaks down the moment he knew he found his calling and what we can expect from the fine dining space in the future and more. Here’s an excerpt from our chat…
HELLO!: Why restaurants? Can you talk to us a little bit about your background?
Priyank Sukhija: “I think I was always meant for restaurants. The one thing I’ve known for sure since I can remember is my passion for eating and sharing good food. I was diagnosed with dyslexia early on in my life so higher studies would’ve been an uphill battle for me. Instead, I dropped out of college and chose to follow my passion, led by my taste buds. I hail from a family of lawyers so running a business was new for not just me but my entire family. Despite that, they supported me in my journey and with their blessings, Lazeez Affaire was born. It’s been a non-stop rollercoaster ride ever since!”
H!: Can you recall the moment you thought that this was your calling?
PS: “I don’t remember the exact age, but I think I was in middle school at the time. I was making Maggi after school and had decided to experiment with it. I added some cheese, herbs and seasons, and some sausage to the mix. I remember being excited to share my ‘exclusively curated Maggi’ with my family to see what they thought. Their expressions and joy on tasting my ‘experiment’ were enough to have me wanting to recreate it over and over. From that day to today, I continue to want to replicate that expression on the faces of everyone I meet.”
H!: What have been some of the most rewarding moments in your journey as a restauranteur?
PS: “That’s a simultaneously tricky and easy question to answer. Of course, watching the brand you worked hard for loved by every guest who visits is a rewarding moment in itself, but more than that, I think it has been the not-so-successful moments that have proven to be most rewarding in the long run. They’ve pushed me to think outside my comfort zone, understand the soul of the city, and offer that which resonates with every guest.”
H!: In the same vein, what have been the most challenging moments in your journey?
PS: “I think I can speak for most of the world when I say that the Covid pandemic was indeed one of the most challenging moments of my life. Not only were we not prepared for something of this magnitude, but it was not just myself that I had to care for. By 2021, my First Fiddle family had more than 500 members relying on me to navigate this ship successfully. I’d never felt so unprepared in my life, but their expectations of me pushed me to take charge and ensure the well-being of all.”
H!: Can you recall moments of failure and how you dealt with it?
PS: “I think I remember my moments of failure more clearly than my successes! I usually take my failures with a pinch of salt, washed down with tequila. They remind me that I can never stop reinventing my perception of ‘a good vibe’ and become complacent. It keeps me humbled, grounded, and on my toes.”
H!: What is your process like when coming up with a concept for a restaurant?
PS: “Sometimes, it’s sort of a ‘Eureka’ moment, and other times, the concept is nurtured, discussed, and evolved before it becomes perfect. The one thing, however, that stays constant in both is expanding my horizons with an open mind when travelling to different places.”
H!: What is something that you wish to achieve in the new year?
PS: “Creating a concept that is loved equally by my children as well as my wife; to find the perfect balance that works for entire families. I’d like to create more spaces for families to bond in.”
H!: What do most people get wrong about fine dining?
PS: “That it’s only about bite-sized portions of artsy food. Fine dining is so much more than that. Usually, the dishes represent a richer, flavoursome, and evolved version of foods that take your taste buds on a ride of a lifetime. It takes your favourite everyday dishes and breaks down the elements that you love, before pairing them with flavours that bring out the taste better.”
H!: How do you keep up with what’s trending and what would people want?
PS: “Two ways: travelling and observing. I try to travel as often as I can, and not necessarily to foreign lands for holiday. Even if it is to the next city, I travel with an open mind with the aim of learning what touches the soul of the people there. I usually grab a corner and simply observe people enjoying their meal and the vibe, seeing what works for them the best and trying to understand why.”
H!: What are some F&B trends that we would see in the country in the coming months?
PS: “After the few years we’ve had, I think dining out, especially in open-air spaces, will make a comeback. Everybody wants to go to a place with an outdoor space now. In the food area, I think healthier meal choices and plant-based choices will see an upward trend. I also wouldn’t be opposed to placing my chips on evolved experiential dining.”
H!: What is something you wish you could have in a restaurant here but haven’t been able to implement yet?
PS: “All-nighters! I can’t wait for the day we can start hosting parties all night long!”
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