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Chef Rahul Akerkar’s Qualia gains global recognition on the 50 Best Discovery list

Chef Rahul Akerkars Mumbai restaurant makes it to the 50 Best Discovery list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2021 as an exciting dining destination for travellers.

In every interview over the past year, Chef Rahul Akerkar has spoken about the unimaginably difficult circumstances and the manic whirr to stay afloat even in the most traumatic of times through the pandemic. He even confessed he was not sure of Qualia’s ultimate survival.

So, the listing of Qualia in the 50 Best Discovery list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2021 has come as a vitamin booster to the much-loved chef and his team. In 2019, 50 Best, the brand behind The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and The World’s 50 Best Bars annual ranking and awards, launched 50 Best Discovery, a deeper, richer library for people to draw on for eating and drinking inspiration as they traverse the world.

50 Best Discovery gives discerning diners and drinkers the chance to explore restaurants and bars that have received votes from 50 Best experts across the world, featuring more than 1,600 reviews of venues in 75 countries. The library combines destinations from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, The World’s 50 Best Bars, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best Bars rankings and other far-flung locales to comprise a diverse and tempting range of restaurants and bars, empirically recommended by its Academy. This 1,700-strong Academy comprises the world’s leading food and drinks writers, chefs, restaurateurs and bar owners, global gastronomes and regional cuisine specialists.

Chef Akerkar says about the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Discovery List, “As exciting as it is to be included in the world’s most authoritative search engine of restaurants and bars, it is made even more special that it happened when it did, during such existentially challenging circumstances. We were barely open ten months before the world and restaurant industry was crippled by the Covid pandemic.”

Chef Rahul Akerkar began curb-side dining
Chef Rahul Akerkar began curb-side dining to deal with restrictions on in-restaurant dining.

Much like most inventive restaurateurs, Chef Akerkar innovated to deal with Covid-induced shutdowns by launching deliveries, where he used his team for deliveries. When restaurants were allowed to open, albeit, with restrictions, he took a leaf out of the books of cafes and eateries in Europe and the US to open a beautiful al fresco, curb-side dining space. Guests swung by to enjoy some of Qualia classics. He hosted private tables, tied up with hotels such as Ahilya by the Sea, a Relais & Châteaux boutique hotel in Nerul, North Goa for a culinary experience, and generally stood his ground despite all odds.

Biochemist-turned-chef-restaurateur Rahul Akerkar, most famous for the now-defunct Indigo where celebrities and A-listers dined, opened Qualia in Lodha World Towers in 2019. Writing about what makes the restaurant so special, the World 50 Best Restaurant stated: “The location might be shinily modern, but the restaurant interior is all dark wood, red furnishings and chainmail curtains dividing the room. Shelves of pickles hint at the fermented nature and sweet-and-sour flavour of many of the dishes, though the Mediterranean inspiration of the kitchen keeps the cooking approachable, even when pasta comes turbocharged by pickled black garlic or pizza topped with Brussels sprouts. Lunchtime is more casual, while Sunday barbecues are a local institution.”

The great culinary discovery for Akerkar in the process of establishing Qualia was the “art and pleasures” of pickling, which found its way into the menu with contrasting sur and sweet notes in many of the dishes.

Qualia's famous pickle wall,
Qualia’s famous pickle wall, which houses bottles holding months of experimentation by Chef Akerkar and his team.

Author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghavi, writing on Qualia, had stated, “Jars of pickle on wooden shelves, which is redolent of a giant installation right out of Hirst’s Pharmacy works are immured with metal chain curtains that brush against dusty Berlin leather seating – It’s a provocative look that makes you secretly think “sex club chic”.

Akerkar says his food philosophy has always been simply driven – by generosity and attention to detail – and his restaurants have always offered not a wild vision of new ways to cook but a solid vision of how to eat. “Qualia is no different and the cuisine reflects my culinary ethos derived from mixed European-Indian heritage expressed fusing rich culinary traditions with an elemental use of bold flavours.”

For someone who transformed Mumbai’s culinary landscape and was among India’s first celebrity chefs, Rahul Akerkar’s credo in the kitchen is quite simple: “Serve good food cooked well”.

This is a credo he learnt early on, from his family. Chef Akerkar’s earliest memory of food was the time he spent in his grandparent’s beautiful house in Nashik. They owned a couple of acres of farms and orchards. On one acre, his grandfather grew wheat or rice, depending on the time of the year. And on the rest, they had six kinds of mangoes trees, a banana grove, and they also grew chikoos and papayas. His grandmother had a pantry where she made pickles, murabbas, fresh white butter from milk, chaklis, pedas, ladoos and karanjia.

Cher Akerkar’s love affair with food, which began then, continues even today though in a radically different manner.

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