An Exclusive Chat With Restaurateur And Chef Balaji With A Pinch Of Salt

“Just as the ingredient salt brings together all the great flavours in any recipe, our restaurant SALT aims to be a confluence of the very best delectable Indian recipes. The menu delivers the most delicious recipes that reflect the real taste & soul of Indian food,” says Chef Balaji, who is the chef and restaurateur of Salt, a beautiful restaurant in Chennai serving customers a flavorful experience of Indian food. Located in Forum Vijaya Mall, Kodambakkam, Salt welcomes everyone with a beautiful ambiance, themed to a grounded Indian culture, and doesn’t fail to impress. We sat down for a little chat with Chef Balaji, who tells us the concept behind Salt and shares his culinary experiences and goals.

 

 

Did you always want to start a restaurant growing up?

“Yes, when I choose being a chef as my profession, I always wanted to have my own restaurant. Its every aspiring chef’s dream, I always had the hunger to do something for my customers. What better way can it be done than in your own restaurant.”

 

What has your culinary experience been like so far?

“After 18 years in this industry, I can proudly say with confidence that hard work definitely pays. God has been kind and shown the right path and brought the right people in my life. From catering college to my first job at Taj Coromandel, to running Southern Spice’s kitchen which is rated as the top South Indian restaurant in India, to going to London to work under Chef Atul Kochhar in his Benares restaurant, getting a Michelin Star while at Benares, spending quality 8 years in London and coming back home to open my own restaurant SALT along with my friend Goutham. It has been tough, emotional and a happy journey with lot of sacrifice – myself, my family, my mother, sisters, wife and now even my daughter has supported and scarified so I can do my Job with focus and commitment.”

 

Tell us a little bit about Salt and the reason for the name behind it.

“Salt is a Smart Indian restaurant; it’s a take on the contemporary Indian cuisine. The core of the brand SALT is humble and modest food. Just as the ingredient salt brings together all the great flavours in any recipe, our restaurant SALT aims to be a confluence of the very best delectable Indian recipes. The menu delivers the most delicious recipes that reflect the real taste & soul of Indian food. Salt is a cheerful restaurant where food lovers can relax and eat with their fingers if they wish. At SALT we employ diverse cooking techniques to recreate traditional recipes, which are presented in a beautiful and artistic fashion. Our food is crafted to titillate your taste buds and it allows you to sinfully indulge in the pure aroma of simple food.”

“Why SALT – We were looking for a four letter word so its remembered in our guests’ minds, we were looking on the spices for a name and that’s the time we got SALT…as the ingredient, it brings food together as a whole.”

An Exclusive Chat With Restaurateur And Chef Balaji With A Pinch Of Salt
Chef Balaji Balchander. SALT

 

What challenges did you face opening up a restaurant here in Chennai?

“Though me and my partner started our carrier from Chennai’s Taj , I am coming back after 10 years in London, It was our first unit in Chennai, so challenges were high from the right suppliers and recruiting. I am very particular about finding the right quality ingredient and I work very closely with suppliers knowing what’s fresh and the seasonal availability in the market. After few teething issues things settle well with suppliers.”

“Then the challenge was finding the right chefs, which I thought would be the easy part when I came back from London but finding man power was most difficult of all, after finding, nurturing him and retaining him for sometime was very tough. My chefs wanted ghee, butter and cream in lots to make food delicious, I had to show and convince them Indian food is all about using different spices together to bring out the uniqueness of the dish. They were saying guests will complain if the food is not rich, but my belief in giving clean food without fat and using fresh ingredients and bringing out the flavours of spices will make the customers happy.”

“Constant training, monitoring and following up with the team keeps the food the way I wanted to serve the customer.”

 

What, according to you, makes the perfect restaurant?

“There would be a lot to say on what makes a prefect restaurant, like front location, ambiance, and good food, menu selection, and good service. For me, when a customer is given a total experience in the restaurant and when he leaves the restaurant, he should go with a happy face. A guest comes to a restaurant just not only to eat food, but to enjoy the whole experience. As a restaurateur and chef I totally believe in understanding the customers needs and being flexible to give that experience from the greetings at the entry point to sitting down, service, food presentation & taste, value for money and a “thank you” and exit.”

 

What goals have you set in mind for Salt as well as yourself? 

“We as company want grow; the second Salt is opening in Bangalore coming December. By 2018, which is 5 years of our company, I would want to see 5 Salts, 2 in Chennai and 3 in Bangalore.”

“For myself, I would like to be healthy, good leader to my team, good son to my mother, good husband to my wife and good father to my daughter. I believe its not one man for a success of the restaurant, it’s the whole team who makes it, we are a people company and we want our team to grow along with us and make it big in life.”