“You can’t make food for profit. Your heart, mind, and soul need to be in it. So do it for the love of it”. These words precisely describe Ritu Dalmia and her passion for food. Known for her Indian-Italian delicacies, Ritu Dalmia was originally working in her family business but explored her passion for food through her encounter with the lip-smacking Italian cuisine! As she became a successful chef, Dalmia has learned to stay humble with time and knows its importance. Here in this blog, we find out about the Masterchef that is Ritu Dalmia!
“When you let the ground beneath your feet slip off, you fall’’.
The Italian Adventure
You are probably wondering, ‘how did she end up in Italy?’. Well, Ritu Dalmia was born in a Marwari family, Kolkata, India, in 1973. Her family had an Italian marble business. Fresh out of school, at the age of 16, Ritu decided to join her family business. She started part-time in 1989 and soon joined as full-time. This job led her to Italy for sourcing, where over time, she fell in love with Italian cuisine. She never completed her formal education. As Ritu puts it, she learned from travelling and talking to people of different cultures.
“When I opened my first restaurant in Delhi, I called Serra for food tasting; she took her first bite of the ravioli and said that it tasted like something out of an American can. I was very sad. I thought I knew it all. I worked on it for four days, and then she finally okayed it ”. Serra Turgutcan is Ritu’s friend who actually gave her some of her early Italian cooking lessons.
The Cooking Begins
Ritu Dalmia didn’t quite have a culinary background, but she was always passionate about food and different cuisines. Due to her work, she would make frequent visits to Italy, and the cities played a critical part in her journey. She recalls that she cooked for pleasure during her time in Italy but eventually realized that she was genuinely good. In 1993, Dalmai quit her job and started her first restaurant, Mezzaluna, in South Delhi. But it was not a fairy tale. She recalls her first venture as ‘Super Failure.’ Back then, Delhi wasn’t so open to Italian cuisine. She ran the restaurant till 1996. Even though her first venture failed, she says it taught the many lessons that helped her succeed. After this, she moved to London, a hub of multiple cultures, and started her second restaurant, Vama. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t take India from an Indian’ in 2000, Ritu moved back to India. She went on to open her third Italian restaurant, Diva, in Delhi. And this time, it was a fairytale; she got it right! All her failures were now behind her.
Ritu Dalmia is a successful and accomplished chef, with multiple restaurants in her crown and several books and cooking shows to her credit, but she has never formally trained as a chef. She believes that the love and passion for food are all it takes. 90% of people she has worked with have no catering school experience. Even though no one in her family shares her passion for cooking, her family has always backed her in whatever she did. Ritu feels that while women dominate most Indian kitchens, hotels and restaurants remain male fortress. However, Ritu never considered herself weaker in the restaurant business just because she was a woman. She concurs that “I think it is easier to be a woman entrepreneur than a man.”
Ritu Dalmia has passed on her travel experiences, cuisines, and life lesson in the following cookery books:
- Italian Khana. Random House, India, 2009.
- Italian Khana: Dinner Party. Random House, India.
- Italian Khana: Desserts. Random House, India.
- Italian Khana: Vegetarian. Random House, India.
- Travelling Diva: Recipes from around the World, Hachette India
- DIVA Green
After bringing Italian cuisine to India, Ritu Dalmia is now working on taking Indian food to Italy. In 2016, industrialist Analjit Singh invested in Riga, Ritu Dalmia’s company which helped her expand in Milan. She has started Cittamani, an Indian restaurant in Milan. Ritu Dalmia is doing in Italy the same as she did in Delhi but with entirely different cuisine. Dalmia is also a prominent LGBT rights activist. In 2016, she and five others filed a petition in India’s Supreme court, challenging section 377 of IPC. It resulted in 2018’s landmark judgment, where the court declared the law unconstitutional.
Ritu Dalmia has been honoured with many awards and recognitions. In December 2011, the Government of Italy awarded her with the Star of Italian Solidarity Order for helping rebuild Italy and Italian culture after World War II. Ritu Dalmia continues to satisfy her customers with her miraculous Indian and Italian delicacy, motivated to face all the challenges, excited for new adventures, and at the same time inspiring many more to chase their passions.