Molto Dalmia

How the capital’s favourite chef built a culinary empire

01 August 2013

IN 1993, 22-year-old Ritu Dalmia made up her mind to open a restaurant in Delhi. She had, she considered, a knack for good cooking, and she was itching to get out of her family’s marble business. Their trips to Tuscany and Liguria to source stone and purchase equipment had infused her not with an interest in limestone, but with a love of Italian cooking and wine. Her Italian machinery supplier, Serra Turgutcan, a cook herself, suggested that Dalmia open a restaurant in India.

Despite her inexperience, everything seemed possible to the ebullient Dalmia. The restaurant she opened that October in Hauz Khas Village was called MezzaLuna. The menu was Italian, the floors limestone and slate. She filled the space with her own books, and bric-a-brac from Chor Bazaar. Her parents were bemused, but encouraging. Turgutcan flew to Delhi for the opening party. After taking a bite of Dalmia’s ravioli, she pronounced, “Ritu, this tastes like something that came out of an American can.”

“Suddenly, I realised that I thought I knew it all but I didn’t,” Dalmia told me. She began making trips back to Italy, travelling across regions, tasting and learning. She signed up for a two-week course at Case Vecchie, Anna Tasca Lanza’s world-renowned cooking school at Regaleali, the Tasca family estate in the hills southeast of Palermo. “I would dry tomatoes, pick herbs, make sheep’s-milk cheese,” Dalmia said. Lanza, the late marchesa of Mazzarino, was famous for her Sicilian cooking, which is unmistakeably Italian, but tempered by Arab and North African influences. This, the only formal training Dalmia has ever received—she possesses, she said, the useful skill of being able to recreate dishes from taste alone—laid the foundation for a cooking style characterised by simple combinations and bold flavours.

Naintara Maya Oberoi is a freelance writer based in Paris and Delhi.

Keywords: culture Delhi television Italy Ritu Dalmia restaurants food fine dining