The Chef Behind: Mia Cucina
“The Chef/Cook Behind” is a series of profiles that look at the people in charge of the kitchens of the city’s most popular restaurants.
Pizza and pasta might be Italian staples but they do not an Italian restaurant maketh. Which is why Mia Cucina, a bustling restaurant located in Pali Naka, sets itself apart by focusing on traditional Italian food. In other words, no mashed potatoes, baked dish or other hybrid interpretations here. Chef Sanjay Kotian is firm about not borrowing from Mediterranean, French and other European cooking styles, which other restaurants in Pali Naka are wont to do. Kotian opened the restaurant in 2007, with the intention of giving Bandra its first “traditional” Italian restaurant. Three years later, Mia Cucina—which translates to “my kitchen”—remains the only stand-alone restaurant serving traditional Italian food (more on that later) in the area. The 44-seater, all-day restaurant, minimally decorated with a no-fuss feel, is usually packed throughout the week, a favourite that’s held steady through the years. So much so, that last week, 38-year-old Kotian launched an outpost in Andheri, with double the capacity and a license to serve liquor (the Bandra branch only serves wine).
In 1994, when Kotian moved from Mumbai to Houston, Texas, for his undergraduate studies, he fancied being a businessman or an engineer. His first stint in the kitchen was a temp job in a catering company, which he unexpectedly kept for nine years. The company was owned by an Italian chef who trained Kotian to cook, a role he enjoyed so much that he quit his studies, and together with the Italian chef, launched a Cajun restaurant in H0uston. After Kotian returned to Mumbai in 2003, he became COO of the now-shuttered pan-Asian restaurant Seijo and the Soul Dish. “The idea to launch my own restaurant had been brewing for a while,” said Kotian. “It had to be an Italian restaurant because the city desperately needed one. The options at the time were Don Giovanni [in Juhu] or restaurants in five star hotels.” Through Mia Cucina, he wanted to serve “quality food at a reasonable rate”.
When Kotian drafted the menu for Mia Cucina in 2007, he left out garlic bread and mashed potatoes because he felt it was mostly an Indian interpretation of Italian cooking. To his customers, however, this was sacrilege. Within a year, he caved to the demand for garlic bread, but stood his ground on leaving out mashed potatoes. Fortunately for potato fans, Mia Cucina serves delicious oven-roasted rosemary potatoes. Kotian calls his food “traditional” rather than “authentic” Italian cuisine: though his cooking methods are traditional, he believes the authenticity of the cuisine depends entirely on the availability of Italian ingredients, many of which aren’t found here. “Take for instance the risotto,” he said. “It’s a very slow process in which the chef has to extract the creaminess from the starch-heavy rice. Many restaurants tend to serve boiled rice with creamy white sauce instead.” In his kitchen, pressure cooking the meat instead of braising it gradually is unacceptable. Kotian sources his cheese, olive oils and sun-ripened tomatoes from importers but also tries to buy many ingredients locally to maintain the restaurant’s cost structures. Among the most popular items on Mia Cucina’s menu are thin crust pizzas (like the excellent Gorgonzola-heavy quattro formaggi) and the white chocolate cheesecake. Kotian has made minor changes to the menu over the last three years, but has never revamped it entirely. “I’m confident that in terms of consistency and price points, we’ve been successful,” he said. “I keep adding and subtracting from the menu but launching a new menu is more of a marketing gimmick.”
St. John Street
Jewel Shopping Centre
Near Nana Nani Park
PhoneBandra: 6710 4000 and Andheri: 4241 4000
HoursDaily, noon to midnight