Earlier this year, I caught up with Sid and Chand Sahrawat for a very frank and honest conversation about their journey down the road to becoming the couple behind three highly respected and loved Auckland restaurants: Cassia, Sid at The French Café and SIDART, winner of Restaurant of the Year in the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2019. Little did we know at that time that we were heading towards a global pandemic, and all of the challenges (frustration? heartbreak? anxiety?) that would bring.

We talked about their separate arrivals in Auckland; their chance meeting at a friend’s flat; Sid’s progression from chef de partie at Non Solo Pizza in the heart of Parnell to him taking over from acclaimed chef Micheal Meredith at award-winning restaurant The Grove; Chand taking on a full-time gig at Rangitoto College while they both toiled away on the transformation of a little Nepalese restaurant in Ponsonby, turning it into what we all now know as one of New Zealand’s finest restaurant experiences, SIDART. Their need to continue evolving and a yearning to reproduce their extraordinary home-comfort dishes in a smart and contemporary environment led to the birth of Cassia in central Auckland, where Sid now marries traditional Indian dishes with modern techniques and New Zealand ingredients. Having those two rather large balls in the air, you’d think they might have stopped there, but along came the opportunity to purchase renowned restaurant The French Café from industry stalwarts Simon Wright and Creghan Molloy-Wright, and in they jumped with an enthusiasm that was formidable.

As we talked our way through all of these incredible restaurant projects it became clear that Sid and Chand’s commitment to perfection is paramount, and that the many layers of their business are all carefully considered, driven and executed by a sense of absolute joy (there is no other way to describe it) for creating unforgettable dining in extraordinary venues. We talked about the creation of Tuesday Test Kitchen where they turned their quietest night at SIDART into a weekly event that was fully booked 3–4 weeks in advance and is now proudly continued at Sid at The French Café where they highlight experimental dishes from all three of their restaurants. The Sahrawats generously shared their hopes and dreams (and determination) for the future and I left secure in the knowledge that our chat would showcase and justify this couple’s inspiring journey with their team toward their magnificent achievement late last year in winning Cuisine’s coveted Restaurant Of The Year award.

And then came COVID-19…

… and level 2 social distancing forced an abrupt scramble towards providing takeaway meals and home deliveries. All of the unfamiliar logistics that creating transportable food involves were just getting underway when level 3 brought with it the news of a 48-hour prep period before total lockdown. That was it. Sid and Chand were forced to shut up not one, but three shops and go home to be with their kids.

So, this episode of Cuisine Bites became, by default, a conversation that all of our restaurateurs, chefs, front-of-house teams, café owners, baristas, sommeliers – in fact any person working in the hospitality industry – will understand only too well. As much as I know that they will love it, it’s not the industry that needs to hear it. It’s all of us who have taken eating out for granted in the past that need to hear this conversation, and hopefully start to realise what it takes to sustain the dining experiences that we can be proud to support in our new normal.

Have a listen to the full conversation below…

Thank you to the Sahrawats for sharing their story. It’s still early days as our hospitality industry starts down the road to recovery and it needs your support now more than ever. So please, if you want your favourite restaurant or bar or café to still be there for the long haul, get out when you can and support your local.

Here is a taste of Sid preparing and cooking three stunning dishes as he talks about his passion for foodand how he keeps the dining experience special for guests at his Auckland restaurants including the Gaggenau Tuesday Test Kitchen…

Register here for the Gaggenau newsletter and you will immediately receive a PDF with these three magnificent recipes created by Sid Sahrawat for Gaggenau.

*The Cuisine Good Food awards 2020 have been postponed to allow our hospitality industry to recover from the effects of COVID-19. We look forward to presenting New Zealand’s best dining experiences to you in 2021.