Chef Jehangir Mehta is the chef/owner of Graffiti and Me and You, and Graffiti Earth, has been a participant in Food Network’s Next Iron Chef Redemption 2012, the runner-up at the Next Iron Chef 2009, a participant in the Iron Chef America and a guest on Martha Stewart Living. Known for his signature eclectic style, he uses an array of ingredients and spices to create an interesting juxtapose of temperatures, textures and tastes. The popularity of his distinctive style led to a food rating of 28 on 30 for Graffiti in the 2016 and 2015 Zagat, and listed Graffiti at #11 on the 20 Best Restaurants in NYC.
How did you get into the industry?
I came to the Culinary Institute of America and after completing my studies there realized I really wanted to start my own restaurant. But in order to do that, I knew I had to be a quick learner, not just in the kitchen but had to figure out the business aspect as well. I was fortunate to learn from the best of Chefs such as Rocco DiSpirito and Jean-Georges.
Any emerging industry trends?
The rise of fast casual concepts especially with ethnic foods and the increasing demand for sustainable products.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Using technology platforms to enhance the business is a boon to the industry. For example Uber Eats for delivery, and restaurants enhancing revenues through take out orders. Reservation platforms that help manage labor costs. Mobile payments during check out. Texting customers to let them know their tables are ready. Etc.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The emphasis is on sustainability. Having spent my childhood in a developing country, wastefulness bothers me. So my restaurant Graffiti Earth is therefore, my dedication to being more environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, and it is an attempt to build a community that I hope will come a full circle. This empathy is reflected throughout the restaurant from the ingredients we source to the causes we believe in. By dining at Graffiti Earth, our clients too are contributing towards saving our planet.
Our kitchen too emphasizes sustainability in many ways, including giving plant-based dishes center stage, while using smaller amounts of meat and seafood in ways that maximize flavor. We primarily cook with “ugly” produce that would otherwise go to waste because of minor and non-flavor-affecting aesthetic flaws, and underutilized seafood, such as broken scallops, that can be caught without damaging ecosystems. The menu is full of sustainable proteins, healthy grains and other ingredients chosen with the ultimate goal of reducing food waste. Even our décor and accessories carry forward this message.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Expanding out of New York City and going to other cities on the West Coast
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Understanding that the front of the house requires attention to detail, and being able to recognize guests’ needs and fulfilling them without being asked, is as important if not more, than managing a flawless kitchen.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
When opening new restaurants ensuring that the existing restaurants perform at the same consistent high standards as before despite receiving less attention is always a challenge.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Getting my food philosophy across to clients not just through taste, but also through every touch point they have with us and having them feel immersed and involved is what I consider an ideal experience.
How do you motivate others?
I like my customers to appreciate my staff and encourage my team to personalize every experience for our guests.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Learn as much as you can no matter the job you are doing or your designation. Observe, make notes, and ask for more responsibility. There is always someone who is better than you at something. Someone who has more kitchen experience, someone who always knows how to please guests, someone who knows the ins and outs of managing a kitchen. Be cooperative and respect team members. That is the only way you will grow professionally. And last but not the least do not be afraid to take calculated risks.
(Photo credit: Duane Street Hotel)