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Cooking up a storm

July 17, 2004

It was a cross-border romance that blossomed in Africa when army officer Aseem Grover was on a posting with the United Nations. Fawzia Ahmed, having graduated in developmental studies from Sussex University was working in the social sector. In 1997, they decided to get married and Fawzia moved to India.

For the next three years, she worked with a social organisation in Delhi, while Aseem was an instructor at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

Aseem and Fawzia had always been very passionate about food and secretly dreamt of having their own restaurant at some point. They finally gave shape to their dreams in 2000, when they both quit their jobs, pooled their savings and opened The Big Chill, in Delhi's East of Kailash.

It started with just the two of them and a helper. Fawzia did most of the cooking and Aseem took orders. Within a year the restaurant was attracting crowds and the couple had to add another floor. In 2003, they set up another branch in Khan Market. In March this year, they posted a turnover of Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million).

Fawzia: Aseem and I met abroad and in 1997 we decided to get married and I moved to India. I took up job in Delhi, while Aseem was in Dehradun.

By 2000, we had both quit work and decided that we must do something with food. It was a passion that we both shared. I thought of loads of things right from an international grill to a burger house.

Then a cousin of mine suggested that we start with desserts and ice creams. He had been a professor in the UK and after years of doing that he set up his own ice-cream parlour, which was a big hit. So in a way, we were inspired by him.

Aseem: In August 2000 we set up The Big Chill as a dessert and ice cream joint but we always knew that we were going to serve food. That's why we selected a slightly bigger space.

Fawzia: A couple of months later we started serving food. I wanted the cuisine to be such where fresh food could be served and which did not need too much pre-preparation. So Italian food made sense as there wasn't any need for deep freezers and the like. Also, there weren't many Italian places in Delhi.

I wanted to open a restaurant for the young and the young at heart. A relaxed, chilled out place without gloved waiters or service trays.

Aseem: Everything at the restaurant was done by us right from designing the furniture to putting up film posters across the walls, most of which are part of Fawzia's collection.

Fawzia: We didn't want the restaurant to be in a marketplace. One of the major reasons was of course, the cost of the property but also because in a marketplace people come into a restaurant to grab a bite instead of sitting, relaxing and enjoying their meal. This is not what we envisaged for The Big Chill.

Aseem: We aren't looking at a third outlet in the near future. Many people have asked us to open a central kitchen and then supply food to various outlets but we feel the quality will deteriorate if we do that. The whole idea behind The Big Chill is fresh food. Everything is made in-house including the bread.

Fawzia: We make a good team since I'm creative and Aseem is practical. We come to the restaurant around 10 in the morning. I oversee the preparation of the ice cream and desserts while Aseem supervises the preparation of the food.

Aseem: Today we have over a 100 items on our menu and we have managed to not drop a single item since we started. A major reason for this is that we are not dependant on anybody.

On the very first day we had a sale of Rs 375. We were very excited. We hadn't done any kind of a survey to see whether a restaurant like ours would really work. It was just that we were passionate about it. I guess sometimes it pays not to know just how deep the water is.

As told to Smita Tripathi

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