Arsalan Ahmed | Connecting Cultures: One Flavour at a Time

Wandering around the world in a quest for getting his palate tantalised, Arsalan Ahmed’s love for food seems eternal. A foodie since childhood, Arsalan is now working towards his passion for food for over four years. Currently working with local chain restaurant Peyala, he shares his plans for a post-pandemic era. Here’s what he shared with ICE Today and much more!

What intrigued you to become a foodie? Any memorable childhood or travel memories?

 I’ve always enjoyed the food and yes, its cliche. Since I was a kid (a rather overweight one), from binging on Biriyani and Burgers to exploring many  new flavours around the globe, food has always been and still is, the one thing myself and my family delve into. I think the most memorable childhood food memory is to be able to share the moment of enjoying good food with family and friends.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a globe trotter? Do you think that aspect of being a traveller is threatened right now due to the pandemic?

I wouldn’t call myself a globe trotter, but I most definitely miss travelling. The most rewarding aspect of travelling is to see how cuisine comes without borders and how it connects people from different backgrounds with different stories.

The majority of the world came to a halt a few months ago. As everything’s slowly reopening, I’m sure many people, including myself, are looking forward to border restrictions getting lifted. Since our customers can’t travel to explore different cuisines and flavours, we will continue to bring that to them at Peyala cafe. We’ve been able to deep dive into several cuisines and remake iconic dishes by learning from the locals.

What attracts you most while visiting a new city? The people, the culture, or the shopping scene?

Most definitely, the food and the culture.

Please give us a lowdown about the current projects you are working on. How do you plan to proceed in the post-COVID era considering all the existing challenges?

I’m currently working with a local restaurant chain called Peyala Cafe. Currently, we have three stores and have plans to expand our reach in the future. Our concept is based on the travelling and global food scene. From the spicy shores of Chittagong’s Beef Bhuna to the Hawker Centers in Singapore serving up Satays, it could all be packed in a day’s travel. We take popular items from different cuisines and put them in a Wrap or a Salad Bowl with the add-ons and dressings of the customer’s choice, so there are that collaboration and a bit of ‘DIY’ that adds to the whole experience. We just re-launched dine-in, but it’s not the same as it was before. We’ve taken strict precautionary measures and were among the first restaurants to close down, to keep our staff and customers safe. We plan on continuing to push the boundary and try to recreate the experience more safely. The DIY experience has entirely been digitised, thanks to the Peyala App that has been running for a year.

We have also set a limit on the number of guests per table; we’re even providing pick-ups and drop-offs for our colleagues to commute safely. Other policies and procedures have been placed to ensure the safety of our customers and colleagues at every outlet, and of course, be able to satisfy every single diner. As far as our management team goes, everything’s been digitised as well. We just launched a whole new Burger line not too long ago. Usually, we’d be visiting our Test Kitchen to conduct R&D sessions and experiment with different recipes, ingredients and taste test. However, this time around, due to the current circumstances, we had to dial in on Zoom to work on our biggest launch of the year. And yes, we’ve faced challenges and will continue to do so, but it’s just a matter of keeping our head up to ensure we keep delivering a high-quality product to our customers.

In the post-COVID world, do you think foodies will enjoy their food in a restaurant with the same ease they used to do it earlier? How can restaurants work to offer them the same feelings?

I don’t believe we can ultimately go back to normal, at least not until there’s a vaccine. For now, we have to be careful and responsible as our actions and whereabouts may affect our loved ones around us. And it’s the restaurants’ responsibility to ensure there is safe distancing, constant disinfecting and

sanitisation of surfaces and utensils, masks being worn by staff and also guests as they enter until they’re at least seated. All of us must have more patience as we go through this uncertain time.

What’s your vision with the ventures you look after in Bangladesh?

Arsalan Ahmed with Gaggan Anand at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. The latter earned Michelin stars and was awarded Best Restaurant in Asia a handful of times.

The vision is to see Peyala cafe as an extension to every Dhaka citizen’s life. We know a lot is going on in everyone’s lives, so we want to create that environment where they can come in for a cup of Cha, maybe some food, listen to some tunes and escape from the madness. We intend to have every single customer that walks into an outlet have the full Peyala experience. One of our core values is to provide the best product possible. By product, we don’t only mean the food and beverages, but also the warmth of our service and the ambience.

Any plan for global expansion of business? It depends, you know?

 We’ve got three stores and a couple more coming up. But we have had Non-Resident Bangladeshis appreciate our food and more so the ambience, especially when they still can’t believe it’s a homegrown brand! Only time will tell, but a great response from our customers will give us the courage to consider taking Peyala international.