In 2018, Gauri Devidayal was invited to be on Cyrus Broacha’s show Cyrus Says. “While there, I was chatting with his producer, and she asked me if I wanted to create a podcast about opening a restaurant,” shares the restaurateur, and now podcaster. Her first attempt, The Colaba Cartel, came about in August 2018, and “tackled an issue of restaurant 101 one episode at a time”. This led to another podcast, This Round Is On Me, in 2020, which focused on global topics and trends emerging post the pandemic, followed by Women on Top in India in 2022 featuring women entrepreneurs.
Her new series, Speak Greasy, which launched last month, offers a ringside view into the lives of national and international chefs and culinary doyens. “All the chefs whom we have on the pod have one thing in common — they’ve cooked something at Magazine St. Kitchen,” she says. “They all have incredibly varied stories of how they’ve gotten to this point, which I think is insightful to share with those who’ve enjoyed their food or those who are thinking about getting into this business. It’s a great way to bring together anyone who loves the storytelling behind what’s on the plate.
This culture of storytelling about the community, institutions and even neighbourhoods around Devidayal’s culinary establishments has become synonymous with everything they do. On the heels of the city opening up to a post-pandemic world two years ago, they launched Mag St. Cafe in Colaba — a stone’s throw from her celebrated restaurant, The Table. Curiously, the opening buzz wasn’t about the eatery or the food it offered, but instead about the people and places surrounding it. From heritage walks with architect Nikhil Mahashur around the charming borough leading up to breakfast to author sessions and craft workshops for kids, the cafe quickly became a melting pot for discovering the goings-on with locals and expats of the area.
How it all started
When The Table opened in 2011, its fine-dining experience was a far cry from the crusty reputation a similar institution would bring to mind. “You’d think of crisp white tablecloths set with wine glasses for a tasting menu. We wanted to offer high quality food, but with a more casual dining experience instead,” says the once-upon-a-time accountant, who quit her tax consulting job over a decade ago to get into F&B. But one of the most unusual sights here was its large community table — a place that most patrons immediately flocked to as a spot for people watching, hobnobbing or simply having a more inclusive dining experience.
While it wasn’t something she’d planned or foreseen, today the space echoes what would be the start of Devidayal and her team quietly building a growing community of loyal patrons who come not just for the food but the stories built around it. “I’ve met some of my dearest friends sitting at the community table. The lovely thing about being in Colaba is that it’s also developed into a sort of art district over the years, and you’ll find so many people who share their love of art and love of food ending up here. So, we began to organise art walks,” she says. “On our monthly architecture walks, I’ve noticed people making new friends. In a way, we’ve tried to create a sense of community by extending our offering to more than just food.
In early November, Bandra — another vibrant neighbourhood in the city with its own arts and culture scene — will get an outpost of a full-service Mag St. Cafe, with more community building initiatives.
Four and counting?
For an outsider looking in, there does seem to be a glamorous side to all this. “That’s, like, 5% of the job!” Devidayal laughs. But it’s this small part that’s sprouted her creative side. Despite a few slow-starters, we find Speak Greasy occasionally insightful. For instance, executive head chef Luke Robinson’s story of applying for Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, a not-for-profit restaurant designed to train 15 young, unemployed candidates into chefs — auditioning 50,000! A silent encouragement for budding chefs looking to break into this industry.
The stronger tea that Devidayal spills is in her tongue-in-cheek book published this February titled Diamonds for Breakfast — a name that aptly defines the life and times of the who’s who that have visited her establishments. Starting off with how she met her husband, Jay Yousuf, it unravels with candid tales of Mumbai’s glitziest set from socialites and Bollywood to the Indian cricket team. Filled with anecdotes — like when the kitchen rush paused for a bit so the chefs could get a glimpse of the Sheila ki Jawani star who’d walked in — it tells tales of rowdy guests, Yousuf turning up at a competitor’s bakery and being caught on CCTV calling them out for poaching people from their team, and a strange guest preferring to dine on the pavement to maintain social distancing. Through all the hijinks, there is an overarching lesson of staying resilient to weather challenges.
She does sheepishly admit to not recognising half the celebrities that walk through the doors. We prod her for details, but she humours us with a game of Two Truths and a Lie. “I have asked an unruly guest to leave the restaurant; I have done kitchen service when required; Calvin Klein has been to The Table…”
The writer and creative consultant is based in Mumbai.