Yes, We Cannoli

Life hasn't always been a cakewalk for this pioneer of Italian food in India.
Dearton Thomas Hector        Print Edition: Sep 15, 2013
Ritu Dalmia, Co-Founder, Riga Food
Ritu Dalmia, Co-Founder, Riga Food Photo: Vivan Mehra/www.indiatodayimages.com

An iPhone cover with a picture of the Tower of Pisa is not surprising, if it belongs to someone who runs Italian restaurants and hosted a show on Italian cooking. What is surprising is that she thinks tiramisu is "the most overrated Italian dessert". Forty-year-old chef Ritu Dalmia prefers torta della nonna, a pastry crust with a creamy ricotta filling, and cannoli, or little tubes of pastry filled with cream.

Despite owning six restaurants in Delhi, she says she is a simple person who likes dal-chawal and bhindi.

I, ME, MYSELF
I am a control freak. I think it is important to pay attention to detail.
She opened Delhi's first Italian restaurant, MezzaLuna, in 1993, when she was 21. She started it with the Rs 5 lakh she saved by working for her father Natwar Dalmia, who had a marble and granite business, since she was 16. MezzaLuna closed in two years because the market was not ready for Italian food, she says.

She sold MezzaLuna and opened an Italian restaurant, Vama, in London - "the gastronomical capital of the world" - in 1995. Four years later, she returned to India and started Diva, a fine dining Italian restaurant in South Delhi. It was difficult to run businesses in two countries, so although Vama was doing well, she sold her stake in 2002.

"I struggled a lot in the UK," Dalmia says. "For the first two months, I couldn't even pay my grocery bills." She adds with a laugh: "But in the restaurant business, at least you won't starve."

The revenue of Riga Food, the company that owns the restaurants, was Rs 15 crore in 2012/13.  She expects it to be Rs 18.5 crore in 2013/14.

Experts say international cuisines are catching on in India. "Pasta, pizza and lasagna have been here for a long time, but now people are ready to explore and spend more," says Saloni Nangia, president at Technopak, a consultancy. Dalmia, she says, has been "one of the trendsetters in high-end Italian food". And India has worked up a buon appetito.

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