By Editors

One of the highlights of my childhood was this Diwali mela, where I pulled out a free meal for 2 at the Claridges Dhaba at a stall. I was all of 13, and I remember my best friend and I got permission to go by ourselves, for lunch. I felt like the coolest kid in town, with a friend at a fancy restaurant, without my parents, and we were free to order whatever we wanted! My friend hasn’t looked past butter chicken since, but I was more taken in by the feel of the place. That truck on the wall is burnt in my memory, so when I recently came out of a movie at DLF Place Saket and saw an “Opening Soon” sign for Dhaba by Claridges, I started flipping through my mental phonebook – who was going to get me into one of their food tastings? A couple of calls later, I was in!

Let me just say that the place is so much more than the Dhaba I remember at 13. The truck’s still there, but this one you can actually sit and eat in! Truck art, Bollywood posters, tyres with neon lit art, giant patilas you could swim in, and a lit sign that ‘had me at hello’ – the Theka. No explanations needed there – I was off to take a look.

So I’m leaning over the empty bar, trying to peel away brown cardboard wrapping to see what this theka is all about, when a gentleman leans in with a knowing grin. He introduces himself as Chef Ravi Saxena, and I introduce myself and suggest a tour before the food tasting. He politely tells me I’ll just have to wait to see what this new Dhaba has in store for everyone. Hey, I was just happy to be sampling the food, but I was definitely curious. Why Dhaba in a mall? And that’s when the coolest part came.

Chef Saxena mentions the hotel’s CSR initiative, where they take in kids above 18 from underprivileged backgrounds and train them in hospitality. Not all of them can get absorbed into the hotel, and some feel intimidated working in that environment. The hotel had been planning to take Dhaba outside for awhile, to open a fun, well priced Indian dining space, and these kids became the final push.

I had come here for a meal, but honestly the food was now forgotten {momentarily anyway}. I was seriously interested. A little background of my writing and social work experience, and right there, Chef Saxena opened the doors for me to go meet these kids – after my rather fulfilling meal of course.

DSC00782 Food For Thought | Dhaba by Claridges{One of the chefs at work}

I spent a long time in that conference room with these kids, and truthfully, it was awesome to see their excitement. Essentially, these kids are all 18 plus and in their first year of college at an NGO. When the executive chef interviewed them for the program, they jumped at the opportunity. 11 months, 5 days a week of 2 hour training and 6 hours of hands-on kitchen experience later, they’re training for their final exam –  a menu they have to plan and cook and present at a buffet lunch.


What’s been the most fun part of this experience?

We get to train in banquets, the coffee shop, and the Dhaba kitchen {at the hotel}, and we try each other’s food and support each other. Also, the head chefs take time out to train us in the kitchen.

So what can you make now?

We can make up to 70-80 dishes now – for different courses. Essentially, training is for Indian food, but we do learn every cuisine.

What’ve been your favorites to cook?

Unanimously – chicken and mutton seekh kababs, chicken dum biryani and shahi tukda. The hardest has been the Dhaba signature – the balti meat.

Traditions do take long to master gentlemen! So what does free time look like?

We like playing cricket and football, but we do practice and cook for our families at home, and we’ve started watching a lot of food shows.

What’s the hardest part about being in a kitchen?

It can get really hot in there, and sometimes the pressure is intense! But we love it and are looking forward to working full time.

These boys will get absorbed by Dhaba by Claridges at Saket, or, should they choose, they can take their certification to get employment at any other hotel or restaurant.

No prizes for guessing who got herself an invite to the food tasting that is their practical exam! For the rest of you, Dhaba by Claridges opens its doors at DLF Place, Saket on 7th November 2013.

{Note: Featured image is not of the Saket branch mentioned in the article. Featured image courtesy:}

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