It was in March this year that the restaurant scene in Mumbai felt a quiet ripple. Chef Alex Sanchez, who had very successfully helmed the kitchen at one of the city’s most popular fine-dining eateries, The Table, moved on and threw open the doors to his own place, Americano. The restaurant drew immediate interest. After all, the San Francisco-born Sanchez had built a reputation for delectable international fare over nearly seven years. With Americano, he was turning restaurateur and offering Mumbai effortless, feel-good food, while moving away from fine dining to a more casual experience. Six months down the line this approach has paid off – Americano is firmly established in Mumbai’s culinary scene.
“It’s very hard to find a place that has great food and service but where there’s no tension about getting dressed, where the focus is on people,” says Sanchez. Americano’s warm blue interiors, high ceilings, and seating is designed to turn the spotlight on the people, and facilitate endless conversations. On the menu is pastas and pizzas, and global favourites like chicken wings and meat balls. “Our number one qualifier for dishes is whether it tastes good or not,” he says. And the name? “It’s a humorous nod to the fact that we’re a little bit Italian-inspired, but we’re still American, which means we kinda exist nowhere. We didn’t wanna take ourselves too seriously, and felt this name really embodies that spirit.”
The restaurant is also in-line with the rapidly changing definition of luxury when it comes to dining out. “The Michelin rating system has always been a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening in dining because their 3-star rating is based, at least at one point was, on luxury silver platters and the finest linens.” However with hawker stalls now receiving Michelin stars, it is being perceived anew. “Luxury is sometimes doing away with something, simplify . People call to check if we have a dress code and we laugh because you can even come in flip flops!”
This is not to say that it takes anything away from the quality of the craft, “Our spare ribs are a three-day process. Just getting these kind of ribs has been a fight— the right balance of fat, meat and then, brining it for 24 hours for a nice, juicy flavour inside out. It is cooked in our own spice mix for another 12-24 hours, and finally cooked the next day for 4-6 hours.”
While he’s created a menu that keeps diners coming back for more, the cheffing skills paired with the role of a restaurateur is still new for Sanchez. “I don’t sleep as much, that’s the main difference. It consumes me – making sure we’re full, profitable, and able to pay our team. Before the pressure was only to be creative and enhance my reputation as a chef. Now, I don’t really care so much about my reputation as I do about making sure the business is sustainable.”
Sanchez is aware that India’s foodscape and F&B industry is rapidly evolving; “This obsession with food, taking pictures of food, checking in and saying you were there, does a lot for the restaurant because you’re getting people interested. But I don’t know if eating out is about checking things off your list. For me, it’s about sharing time with people you care about. There are very few places you can go to just sit, talk, and engage with people without being distracted.” Sanchez is old-school. “Instead of ‘how will this food attract attention on social media’, the number one thing for restaurants should be ‘how is the guest going to feel?’”
Sanchez has now been in India for nearly a decade. A graduate from The Culinary Institute of America, he trained at Michelin-starred restaurants, La Folie and Manresa, in the States, and has worked under Chef Daniel Humm at the Michelin star Eleven Madison Park. He has a keen understanding of what Indian diners want, and how they are different from their global counterparts. “In San Francisco, if it’s a new trendy restaurant, people will go and tell themselves it’s really good. Here, people are opinionated; you have to win them over. There, they’ll submit to you if you have the reputation; here you need to prove yourself. Give people what they want, earn their trust. Then you can start being more creative.”
He may have never thought that he’d own a restaurant in Mumbai one day, but that never stalled Sanchez. “I hope people will see through what we’ve accomplished that you don’t have to have deep pockets or come from a long line of restaurateurs. If you have a dream, pursue it, and you can find success if you focus on the important things.”