Ritu Dalmia: “ I never compromise over quality”
The 10 million euro worth Indian food entrepreneur last March became associate of Viviana Varese, with whom Ritu Dalmia recently opened Spica, her second label in Milan.
Milan is now a second home for Ritu Dalmia (pictured). Class 1973, the Indian chef is considered a star of the food business in her country of origin, just like a female version of Massimo Bottura. Under the label of Diva Restaurants she owns eight restaurants to whose it adds up a high level catering business and TV.
Dalmia’s italian entrepreneurial adventure with Riga Food started in 2017 with the launch of Cittamani: The comeback of Indian signature cuisine in the Belpaese.
Her business partner is the entrepreneur Analyst Singh, through the company Lee Collection ( in partnership also with Alajmo brothers with of 10% shares) on her side with the acquisition of 20% of the Alicette’s shares, Viviana Varese’s group, that includes the starred restaurant Alice.
The New Delhi’s chef is also a paladin of cultural revolution and one of the first public figures to have protested against the law who prohibited homosexual relationships.
Dalmia revealed to MAG what means to be a chef, a woman and an entrepreneur, analyzing similarities and differences between Italy and India.
What is the difference between being a chef and a “chefpreneur” (a mix of Chef and Entrepreneur)?
Normally chefs are very creative people, but a little understanding of the business is part of it too. However if the business part does not work a chef cannot fulfill his creativity. I am one of the lucky ones who understands the business part as well as the creative part. It is sometimes a big inner struggle but most of the times I find a compromise. For instance, the chef in me wants a big kitchen with the most modern equipment, but the entrepreneur in me knows how much rent I pay for every square meter.
Then, the chef part of me is ready to fight with all the CFO or finance department in order to don’t allow them to cut any costs on the product or the quality of the food. So, in general I have found a good way to balance both.
What do Italy and India look like and how are they different?
India and Italy are similar in the way they consider family bonds and food plays an important role in their lives. In both India and Italy, if you like someone you will immediately open your heart and your home to them, whereas this does not happen in other parts of the world, where it takes a long time before you are invited into someone’s home.
But on the other hand they are also very different, Italians know how to live a good life: go for long holidays or even for short breaks, they eat out often, while Indians seem not to know how to enjoy life. Eating out is a special event and not part of a regular lifestyle. Work always takes priority.
When did you start run over the food industry and who are your business partners?
I opened my first restaurant as a young woman when I was just twenty years old, but it didn’t work straight away. However, I understood that I was on the right path: time and experience have showed me right. I am lucky to work with so many fantastic professionals, both in my restaurants and at the events I do all over the world.
In Italy my partnership with Mr. Analjit Sigh, through the company Leeu Collection, began with Cittamani and today continues with the opening of Spica. Being able to count on other entrepreneurs, with broad views, is an advantage for me in giving life to new ideas.
What is your turnover?
Our last year turnover in Italy was about 4 million euros, the total restaurants about 10 million euros. Our growth is slow and steady, I do not believe in opening 100 restaurants in a year, we prefer to use our profits to sustain growth.
Do you plan to open seven restaurants in Italy as in India?
At this moment I just want to focus on Spica and Cittamani and, let’s face it, I am also not as young as I used to be. But you know what they say: “never say never”.
What difficulties have you faced in doing business in Italy?
It has been fairly easy working in Italy, but you also need to be very careful, because the fixed costs are very high and if you are not efficient and always at your best, it would be very easy for a business to go bankrupt from one day to another.
Why did you choose to join forces with Viviana Varese?
Viviana is an old friend and a work colleague with whom I have worked very well for the past 5 years in the events etc.. When She asked me if I would be interested in buying shares in Alice it just seemed the most natural thing for me to do.
Why did you choose Milan?
Where else? During Expo I visited the city and I saw significant changes and a great energy. I just understood that, among the European cities, Milan would have been the right choice.
Indian people and Italian people are in a very similar relationship with food, isn’t it?
Absolutely. At Breakfast all we talk about is what we ate the night before and what we will eat for lunch. Lunch is about recipes of what was cooked the day before, and so on. Both Italy and India have very strong culinary culture, very diversified regional cooking and food is often used to express love, friendship and affection.
In 1994 you brought Italian cuisine to India but it was not yet the right moment. In 2000 with Diva Italian in Delhi how did you find the right formula?
Just out of luck, that’s all. I don’t think I know of any formula, or anyone else knows it for what matters. If I ever find the formula I will be a crazy rich woman.
With Cittamani you brought authentic Indian cuisine to Milan. With Spica do you want to invite your guests in a worldwide travel?
Yes, that’s the whole idea. All of us are traveling more, and every time we are back home we bring with us our food memories, and Spica for me is the recreation of these food memories from experiences around the world.
What are your next projects in Italy? And what about your plans in other countries?
I have never planned anything in my life before and everything that has happened, it was literally from one minute to the other. Then, let’s see what the future holds!
by francesca corradi