For the mother-son duo of Zarine Kharas (owner, Daddy’s Deli) and Xerxes Bodhanwala (chef, Red Fork) it was a family connection with home food that morphed into Bangalore’s Parsi-accented all-day restaurant, Red Fork. Zarine started her tiny Parsi restaurant in a lane of Richmond Town on a whim many years ago with “10 chairs and three dishes — chicken farcha, dhansak, and lagan nu custard,” and soon people were queueing up for her food. Watching closely was her young son, Xerxes, who would often pitch in to clear up after school. “Food is a Parsi thing,” Zarine admits, “Everything happens around the dining table in a Parsi home.”
Still, turning chef when he was older was no automatic choice for Xerxes. It happened when Le Cordon Bleu visited his school to speak to the graduating students. That was it, says Zarine, “He returned from school and announced, ‘I know what I want to be — a chef!’ And so he was off to Le Cordon Bleu, Australia.
Xerxes’ stories of his early apprenticeships in Australia make for entertaining listening. He started with an eccentric tantrum-throwing Italian chef, followed by a steakhouse, a tapas bar where the tiny kitchen under the stairs meant hiring only short dishwashers, and a forgettable stint at a fancy island resort where pumpkin gratinée six ways was the star dish and everything was from tins. Things began looking up during a stint with Heston Blumenthal-trained Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia, whose restaurants Patuso and Morena were making waves in Sydney. “Meeting him, I realised I knew nothing,” confesses Xerxes, “It took me two days to learn to make chimichurri. Truly, from him I understood what it means to be a chef and run restaurants. The days were exhausting, but it was perfect training for what we’re now doing at Red Fork.”
What he is doing is concentrating on freshness, flavour, presentation, and quality dining. His blackboard menus are centred on the best produce of the day. And Xerxes believes in leading from the front, scrubbing the kitchen or washing dishes when required. “The day you stop doing what you expect others to do, you’re lost,” he says. He has a young, committed team with him, headlined by wife Sneha Caroline, the efficient lynch-pin who keeps things in place in the chaos that is a chef’s life. “Sneha and my mother keep me grounded,” says Xerxes. They also have Chefkraft, a gourmet home delivery food service which Sneha handles.
The family, like a good Parsi one, still cooks and eats together, trying out new restaurants regularly. Zarine watches with pride as her 26-year-old son handles situations good and bad. “I’ve learned so much from him, more than just the chemistry of cooking.” However, Daddy’s Deli, now integrated with Xerxes’ Red Fork, still comes to mind first. “After all, if not for Daddy’s Deli, there would be no Red Fork,” says Sneha.