Both Indians and the French celebrate the great occasions of life with food, says Director Café Noir Thierry Jasserand. In India as in France, he says, when you want to celebrate something in life, you share food with friends and relatives. “Not just the special events, but also day to day food.”
The Café Noir Restaurants represent the “French Art de Vivre’. Today the group has six restaurants in Bangalore and has recently set up a new fashion store called Project Inn, which also houses a café where women can sit down for a cup of coffee after hectic shopping.
Thierry moved to India nine years ago, “not to sell French food to foreigners, but to convince Indians that here’s another variety of cuisine. Today 70 to 80 percent of my customers are Indian,” says Thierry.
The engineer turned manager, says that in India it is difficult to find authentic French cuisine. “You find Italian and Chinese food, but finding French food is very hard. There’s a well-known pastry bakery called Opera in Delhi. We do similar things but we have enlarged to the kitchen also.”
The predominant difference between Indian and French cuisine is that the latter is predominantly non-vegetarian. But, “by respect for what we are and what we do here we have in our menu several vegetarian options. We always adapt but we don’t want to change our roots. The cuisine that we propose is never spicy, and it is based on the typical traditional recipe of the food that we eat in France. If you go to Paris you can find the same things. The idea of proposing authentic French food is that if people can’t travel, then you can come here and experience the same feeling of being in a bistro in France and eating the same cuisine.”
Many families coming to the restaurant and often they end up sharing a pastry as some of the pastries are expensive. “Your grandmother may not go to France or Europe, but if you bring her here she may open her mind to new tastes. Food can open your mind to a new culture,” says Thierry.
Thierry says all the Indian staff have been trained by executive French chefs. This is unusual, he says because, usually executive Italian and French chefs train staff only in Five Star hotels, and not in smaller restaurants.
He says Café Noir has a training school attached to it. It has 185 staff with more than 25-30 of them being bakers who make pastries. “When we recruit someone we have to train and transmit our knowledge to them. The training is not easy, it goes on for around six years. The idea is not just to sell but to share and transmit our knowledge. This is one way of sharing our identity through food. We don’t ask people to speak French – that is difficult. But we expect people to learn the way we serve the dish and work on other skills.”
He says that cuisine is one way of understanding a culture. “If you want to know the identity of India when you come to visit then you eat their food and thereby understand what goes on behind it. For example a foreigner doesn’t understand why you put so much spice in your food, but if you understand the way the spices are used in villages and in the countryside to promote health and keep away the heat, then you understand a way of life. Then you will not be so critical about Indians putting spices in their food.”