Rachel Goenka is an eternal optimist. Even before Covid-19 hit the world, the restaurateur, chef, author and founder of Mumbai-based hospitality company The Chocolate Spoon Company had already launched her freelance cloud kitchens. During the pandemic, she was quick to seize the opportunity offered by these platforms – a concept that has now become a mainstay in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
“It’s no secret that the F&B industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. The past year has taught us how important it is to be flexible with our business model. Our staffing and operating policies have also changed from pre-pandemic times,” says Goenka, whose first restaurant The Sassy Spoon recently completed 10 years.
Besides The Sassy Spoon, a multi-award-winning European restaurant in Mumbai and Pune, Goenka has several other successful brands under its belt: House of Mandarin, a chic and authentic upscale Chinese restaurant in Mumbai; Baraza, a unique Portuguese-themed shack-inspired resto-bar in Pune; Wicked China, contemporary Asian delivery cuisine in Pune and Mumbai; Sassy Teaspoon, a chain of high-end patisseries and bakeries in Mumbai and Pune; Saffron by Sassy, an Indian delivery kitchen; and Sassy Cafe at BKC Mumbai.
The early years
Although she grew up in Dubai, Goenka moved to the United States for her undergraduate degree in journalism and English. Upon her return to Mumbai after graduating, her keen interest in baking, coupled with her love for science, especially chemistry, led her to pursue a career in the culinary arts. After studying at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, she graduated in Pastry from Cordon Bleu, London, in 2012, after which she finally decided to fulfill her dream of opening her restaurant, The Sassy Spoon, in Nariman Point. in Mumbai.
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But success hasn’t come easy for someone who, it seems, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Goenka made sure she worked double duty to make a name for herself in the kitchen and in the world of food and drink. Late nights, long hours, hands-on tasks – she did them all to earn the respect of her team and the industry.
Reflecting on her journey, she says, “The Sassy Spoon was my first restaurant and it was a decade-long trip to remember. The first few years after becoming a restaurateur were difficult, as I was only 23 when I started and I was constantly trying to find my place. It was a daunting task at first, but I stayed true to myself. I wanted to put my personality on a plate. Hence the Sassy brand. It’s the only brand that best reflects my personality.
Reinvent yourself constantly
Just as she is not shy about taking risks and experimenting, her customers are the backbone of her business. Based on their feedback, she is happy to introduce changes, responding to customers’ changing palates. “We are constantly making adjustments to the menu based on customer feedback and experience. We are also experimenting with limited edition “capsule menus” each season. The Sassy Grilled menu from earlier this year, for example, was a big hit with guests,” she says.
Goenka’s tasty menu with Ruby chocolate was once again a fun experience, as she likes to play with intense flavors and diverse textures. She makes sure there is also something for the health conscious. “While The Sassy Spoon’s kitchen is comfort food inclined, we also have plenty of healthy options with the sass of indulgence,” she adds.
Constantly reinventing Goenka even wanted to raise mithai in a fun way and that led to her book, Adventures with Mithai. The inspiration behind these 50 recipes in the book is his take on traditional favorite sweets and spice them up with a contemporary twist. Think imarti topped with a scoop of coconut ice cream or the iconic motichoor ladoo served with elaichi mousse or anjeer barfi treacle tart.
His inventive side is not limited to food alone. Its new cocktail menu focuses on innovation. “Our reimagined cocktail menu features unique cocktails inspired by the pop color palette and includes quirky concoctions like chocolate, with Baileys, vodka and espresso; Mandarin, with whiskey, orange shrub and cinnamon; Eclipse, with whiskey, activated carbon and sour mix; Lilac, with lavender infused gin, and more,” she shares.
Always keen to provide diners with a great experience, she ensured that the flagship outpost of Nariman Point had a brand new look. “The redesign has transformed the space by adding pops of color and character with bold prints and quirky elements. Along with the interiors, there’s also a refreshing liquor program and a globally influenced menu twist with dishes like applewood smoked beet and goat cheese croquettes with tomato and chilli jam, chimichurri cottage cheese wrapped in kataifi with muhammara, seven hazelnut and chocolate textures.We also brought back Sunday brunch,” she adds.
Restless and always eager to do something new, how does she straddle so many worlds: restaurateur, entrepreneur, author, mother? Pat comes the answer: “Life is about finding the right balance. There are days when my children need me more than my job requires, and I never hesitate to be there for them. I’m also blessed with a big family who is my support system. All the support and help from them allows me to focus on work and when I am home I disconnect and dedicate that time to my children.
Goenka prepares for another day at work, as she continues to live her dream and follow her passion. The Sassy Spoon may be 10 years old, but it still has miles to go. “After two difficult years, it’s safe to say that the last two months have seen an increase in the hospitality industry. We have seen an increase in visits and bookings. People are ready to go out more often and like eating out rather than ordering in. We look forward to serving our customers and hope this year’s holiday season gives us a chance to recoup the losses we have suffered during the pandemic,” she adds.
Mini Ribeiro is a food critic, columnist and consultant