23-year old alumna, Tanuvee Agarwal is taking the Delhi dining scene by storm with her bespoke catering company Atticus.
In a society where influential female chefs are still a rarity; this young woman is not shying away from promoting the latest culinary trends and putting her mark on the industry.
In this two-part series, we talk to Tanuvee about her path to becoming a chef, her memories of Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, experience of working at a Michelin star restaurant and the joys and challenges of running her own business.
What made you decide to study Culinary Arts?
I have always wanted to study culinary arts but in India, it is considered a male industry. In many ways it is still a patriarchal society and women are not supported in their decision to work as chefs. So at the end of my senior year of high school, I was applying for a nuclear physics degree in America. Physics was something I was good at and it is every parent's dream in India for their child to become an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer.
However, my heart was set on culinary arts since I was five years old. Luckily, my dad was very supportive. He helped me do the research and we found Culinary Arts?
And this is how I made a jump from nuclear physics to culinary arts!
What was it like at the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland?
It was amazing! I started off at the Lucerne campus and then moved to Le Bouveret. The first year was very strict, we were always on our toes, always learning.
I'm still in touch with the chef instructors and my fellow students. We're updating each other, backing each other up through ups and downs. Every other month I'm calling someone from Culinary Arts Academy asking for advice or support!
What subject did you find the most useful?
The best course was the creation of a business plan in the last year. The amount of detail we went into was unbelievable! That's what has helped me the most with my own venture. I already had most of the details worked out and just had to tweak the document slightly to adapt it to the Indian market.
We were told we cannot cut corners or take the easy way out just because it’s a university paper. It was a legitimate business plan. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business.
You did an internship at a Michelin three-star restaurant in San Francisco. What was it like?
Shortly after graduation, I started my internship at Atelier Crenn, one of the top fine dining establishments in the US. It was very intense! I worked a minimum of 14 hours a day, it was hard but I loved every minute of it. They do things with food you cannot even think of. It was an eye-opener!
The presentation is given a lot of focus because you eat with your eyes first. The precision matters, so you always have the exact measurements of everything: the ingredients, preparation, plating.
It’s not just about the food though, a non-Michelin restaurant can have excellent flavours. It’s more about the intrinsic values of the chef. In a Michelin restaurant, the work ethic is much stronger, you have the pressure of keeping your ranking, so you always have to bring your A-game.
What have you learnt from this experience?
One thing I brought back with me from the US was the sustainability approach. San Francisco is the hub of the green movement. That's something I'm trying to promote in India.
In my kitchen, the food waste is less than 10% and even that we compost and use to grow our own vegetables. It's a huge feat and I am very proud of this!
What made you start a catering business?
After I came back to India from the US, I was trying to figure out what to do. It is hard for a girl to work in a kitchen and my parents weren't too comfortable with the idea. I had to find another way.
The one thing I wanted to do was to start a movement, a food revolution to get the latest food trends to India. People here don't know what the New Nordic movement is or how Korean food is taking over the world.
This is why I have started with catering. It is a market study for me so I'm not going blind when I set up my own restaurant in another two years or so. I want my customers to develop a palate for various cuisines that are not here yet. So that when I start, people already know the taste and have a bit of knowledge about it.
It's slow and it's hard but I want my country to be at the forefront of the culinary arts.
Tell us more about your business
My fine dining catering company is called Atticus. We specialise in catering to high-end parties, soirées and corporate events in Delhi. I have rented an office and converted it into a pretty big kitchen which can handle orders up to 100-120 people.
I equipped my kitchen up to the standards I learnt at school. It is the only place where I refused to cut corners. I got a convection oven, a proper refrigeration system. We are the only kitchen in Dheli that has a proper ventilation system.
Who is your clientele?
We are mostly serving upper-middle-class households and above. We've done a few events for some old aristocratic families of Delhi. The Bangladeshi embassy hired us to cater to a huge event for one hundred people. Moreover, we have been commissioned by the Uzbekistan Embassy as well for a Cooking Master Class.