They say that necessity is the mother of all invention. They also say, count your blessings, not your age. As 2020 draws to a close, we realise the true meanings of each of these sayings that we have been hearing since time immemorial, but never paid any heed to. This has been a year of survival for all of us and even with so many disasters, like establishments closing down, job losses, health going downhill and so much more, the silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud remains bright with all the innovation and entrepreneurship in the F&B space! Due to the lockdown and businesses remaining shut for a long period of time, there has been some time for us to think and gain perspective on one’s own life and profession, which for some has been a blessing in disguise.

This year, one witnessed some great new beginnings by many whose entrepreneurship stories are inspirational, to say the least. Professionals, who rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty and toiled hard, have come up with stuff that is sheer brilliance. Home chefs, food entrepreneurs, cloud kitchens, the launch of many new brands in the alcobev space…you name it and there has been a boom.

On my list of the most remarkable new initiatives this year are the following.

•  Saby’s Deli by Sabyasachi Gorai, which opened its doors this year, delivers some of the most amazing food across Delhi/NCR. Through Fabrica by Chef Saby—his restaurant solutions’ venture —he has curated some of the most talked-about restaurant brands now running successfully across the length and breadth of the country. With a long list of such acclaimed brands established post-Olive, including Sodabottleopenerwala, Olive Bistro, The Wine Company, The Beer Café (Delhi, Mumbai, Pune), and Amreli (Hotel Diplomat, New Delhi), Chef Saby constantly endeavours to innovate and create unique dining concepts and destinations to cater to epicureans in the country. Saby’s Deli does the most divine Chipotle Crusted Roast Chicken, Icelandic Salmon Steak and Ponchikis that are worth writing home about. The Ponchikis are filled to the brim with pastry cream filling and dark chocolate ganache and is a real winner.

•  Sugandha Saxena’s  Okhli, which specialises in Kayastha cuisine with a curated menu, also launched this year. While she is known for her desserts, Sugandha is extremely passionate about Kayastha cuisine. My favourites here are the Mastane Mutton Kofte which are a sheer delight, followed by her signature Gulkand Kheer. While the former is a classic, age-old recipe, the latter is her innovation. The koftas, she says, need elaborate preparations and, with no other stuffing in them except meat and spices, these beauties take her over half a day to prepare!

•  Parat by Harangad Singh deserves a mention for one of 2020’s best as the food they do is Indian, but without being clichéd, and rich, without being heavy! They have some of the most amazing street food, on one hand, like the Tawa Bhuna Chaap and Pota Kaleji, and, on the other, a spread of royalty with dishes like the Mutton Filfora. The depth in Harangad’s cooking is an outcome of exploring the roots of these dishes and their voyage through time and geographies. Diners who enjoy the shades of regional cuisine will enjoy the fresh approach in Parat’s menu!

•         Anchal Garg’s Cravings Next Door does not only have the best cream cheese platters, but also ones that are original and not just assembled. These platters are created from scratch in four flavours – green olives, Mexican mix, burnt garlic, mixed herbs – and each platter is curated beautifully and is completed with crackers, fruits, dried fruit, dips, etc. The salsa dip and the mixed herbs cream cheese are my picks of the season. This is Anchal’s first venture and innovation and passion now has a new address!

•         Tilt by Fratelli Wines are one of the coolest things to have happened this year. These affordable wines in cans, that come in red, white, rose and a bubbly, are for everyone! What I like about Tilt is that it takes the snobbery out of the beverage and makes it accessible for one to savour on-the-go, just like a can of beer. This concept is an absolute favourite of mine and I love it!

•         Oh! Deli has been conceptualised and created by the brothers Jasneet Sahni and Suneet Sahni to elevate culinary experiences in the comfort of people’s homes by delivering excellent quality produce at nominal rates so more people have access to better quality dining.  What I like is that they are doing a range that is varied and innovative, which is meant for all: carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. The variety we get at Oh! Deli goes from marinated grilled chicken, American barbeque chicken wings to mutton seekh kababs to cold cuts of pork to spring rolls, vegetarian sausages, falafel and other ready-to-cook products. While they are already running two successful restaurants, Pikkle and Lanterns, in Delhi, Jasneet, a chef himself, has hand-crafted each recipe to ensure variety and quality in terms of flavours. I love their pork sausages and ribs, the Moroccan lamb burger patties and the American barbeque chicken wings, as well as their pricing and cleanliness, above all.

•         Village Degh by Osama Jalali launched this year with a bang. From the Kathal Kababs to the Silbatta Chutney to the packaging of the food in clay pots in the wooden peti to the intro on parchment paper, the concept is a winner all the way with the flavours and tastes it promises. As a food historian himself, Osama Jalali has created a brand which gives us the best of desi khana with a tinge of innovation and stories.

• Vaibhav Bhargava’s Monochrome Dumplings from Anamiva, Goa also makes the cut for this year! The concept was created to bring two different flavours together, segregating them through the eternal black and white. The white part has a filling of chicken, while the black has a stuffing of prawns.

•         Cuisine N Art (CNA) is a kitchen based in Gurgaon, launched by Preety Khanna and her husband. They call themselves a team of catering professionals with a strong commitment to creativity and innovation. With a background in F&B, they had been doing exceptionally well till the pandemic hit them and they got into the kitchen scene, serving everything from tea to snacks in their society on a daily basis. They’ve started delivering as well and specialise in Galawati Kababs and Malai Kofta, which are exceptional. The best part is that, for their society, CNA serves even tea and snacks like French fries, which are homemade along with lunch and dinner every day.

So, on one hand, 2020 has given people a new perspective—be it in terms of eating, buying, cooking, cleaning, etc—and on the other, it has brought forth key strengths and talents in many. I choose to overlook the odds because a pandemic is in no one’s control. Basically, those who chose to make lemonade or cocktails out of the lemons we all got doled out this year have not only reaped huge benefits but also firmly established themselves in a big way.

Yes, 2020 definitely has changed much more than just the way we have been living for decades; it has changed our mindset and the way we live and eat, all of which contribute to our overall wellbeing. The best part though is that it has given us a whole lot of analysis and a terrific attitude to take the coming year head on!