Gucci to Garlic, clothes to menus: How this lawyer and designer gave it all up to become Mumbai bars’ go-to “menu experts”Binjal Shah
From “Khowsuey samosa” to “bhelpuri burgers," from Parsi popups to Lucknowi feasts - meet the masterminds behind the funky menus of bars like Yeda Republic, R-Adda, and Tanatan.
While Sunaeyaa Kapoor’s primary food influences came from her family of food lovers who exposed her to the best cuisines and ingredients from around the world, for Shweta Menon, growing up in the tranquil town of Palakkad in Kerala itself did the trick.
She learned early on how ingenious mother nature is, and always had a deeper understanding of the beauty, power, and vibes of each ingredient.
Even as life’s monotonies caught up soon enough for both connoisseurs who daylighted as fashion and legal professionals, when the big 3-O brought with it a storm of heavy introspection and a final moment of reckoning – they both found their ways, first to each other, and as a result, back to the world of food.
This is the story of how both halves of Sunaeyaa and Shweta’s Table came together, and what each of them brought to the table as chefs, and presentation and menu experts.
Sunaeyaa, a psychology major, started out by designing Indian wear with Chikankaari and Zardozi karigars. But the desire to make a mark in the hospitality business never quite left her side.
While the transition from fashion to menu designing was smooth for Sunaeyaa as they were both in creative fields; for Shweta, who was practising law and working at a law firm called Wadia Ghandy at the time, the need to switch came as a pleasant yet unnerving surprise.
She was taking some time off to study for her solicitor exams when she turned to cooking as a mere stress-buster, hardly realising when the “tables” turned.
She decided to do an in-depth course to understand the subtle nuances of this creative art and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London.
“My main takeaway was that food is not just about taste, it’s a whole sensual treat for all your senses, ” she informs us, adding, “The plunge from a secured corporate lawyer job to a chef was not easy. But I realised that instead of sitting at a desk smelling of Gucci and pushing paper, I’d much rather be slogging at the stove smelling of garlic and belting out scrumptious meals.”
When the duo, with their different areas of expertise in the culinary space albeit with the same levels of passion for the overall space, met at a party, sparks flew immediately.
We reminisced about life and our passion for food, wine, and creating special moments for people through this passion. One conversation led to another and there was our "Eureka" moment for Sunnaeyaa and Shweta’s Table,” says Sunnaeyaa.
They first started a small catering business together, through small parties, and even customised dinners for two. Slowly and steadily, the parties got bigger and eventually, they got the offer to cater for the premiere party of 2 States for about 120 people. The experiential catering experiences they cooked up is what got the word out, and before they knew it, they were in the circuit as sort of aficionados for anything catering and presentation related.
For five years, they kept at catering, but when they hit a plateau in terms of scale – they decided to diversify their offerings. And the progression from catering to consultancy was a natural one.
“Around the end of 2016, a dear chef friend asked us to do a popup at the popular Bandra outlet Out Of The Blue. It was the introduction of barbecue nights. We were the guest chefs and we had a lot of fun,” recalls Sunaeyaa. By the beginning of 2017, offers for popups had started pouring in - like the fun Parsi brunch they threw together at WTF, Versova, or another five-course sit down Lucknowi meal paired with wines at Out Of The Blue, and another barbecue at Su Casa.
Around March 2017, they were approached to revise the menu for R-ADDA, Juhu. That assignment opened up door after door, and here we are.
Their offerings now, however, go way beyond menu designing. “ Sunnaeyaa and Shweta’s Table now is a gourmand's paradise and a one-stop destination for all hospitality needs. We believe that a wholesome experience is a combination of how the menu looks, flavours of the food, service etiquette, and ambience. In the last few years, we have provided customised menu selections of lip-smacking food, thus offering a variety of culinary practices from around the world while assuring a balanced, wholesome and good dining experience,” says Shweta.
Their services include food menu development recipe standardisation, menu engineering to minimise wastage, assistance in hiring kitchen staff if required, training of kitchen staff, providing them with product knowledge, providing tasting notes to service staff, presentation & plating, and service etiquette.
“One of the first big projects we did last year was a local brewery called Barrel, which had some very interesting and intense flavoured beers. We had to come up with a menu not only catering to the general taste buds but also food infused beer, where the flavour of beer is the winner. We came up with some interesting options like a beer flambé Chicken satay and an interesting twist on the beer-infused Mac n Cheese,” Sunaeyaa tells us.
The next project they took up was popular night haunt Yeda Republic. They were going for a fun and slightly twisted take of street food. Shweta and Sunaeyaa worked their magic to give them dishes like Bhel Puri Burger, Maggie Pakoda, Curry Leaf Chicken Tempura etc.
The one they had the most fun executing – which also happens to be their most challenging assignment so far, was that of another popular bar Tanatan.
“They wanted to present contemporary Indian cuisine but retain the flavours. Our aim was to curate an enigmatic yet traditional menu keeping intact the flavours from the north of Indian and south of Indian and in between bringing out a slight “Tanatan-ness” to the menu. So we did the usual butter chicken but turned it into an interesting combo called “Dilli Ki Gallion Se.” We served the Chicken Sukha with appam, and even threw in a Khowswey Samosa for the adventurous. This one was most prominent, fulfilling and challenging. We got a deadline of just two weeks for it which we accomplished,” she explains.
Depending on the quantum of work, they normally accept two projects a month and need ideally one month to execute one project. However, they have closed projects with far tighter timelines.
Sunnaeyaa is the business head, who looks into strategy, client acquisition and business development. Shweta, on the other hand, is a chef, who conceptualises the menu. In the pipeline is the “Sunaeyaa and Shweta’s” YouTube channel for food and cocktail preparations.