Here’s how this chef has brought authentic Mexican and Latin American fare to Maximum City

Chef Urvika Kanoi on her inspiration behind Mumbai’s Café Duco and Kolkata’s The Daily, her culinary philosophy, and more. 

Harper's Bazaar India

When it comes to true-blue Mexican and Latin American fare in Mumbai, a cuisine that many feel is under-represented in India despite its familiarities to Indian food, there are quite a few spots that seem to get it right. Café Duco, owned and helmed by chef Urvika Kanoi, is one of them. This is not Kanoi’s first restaurant—she entered the biz with her popular all-day café The Daily in Kolkata. In an industry where businesses are forever looking to expand, Kanoi wanted two stand-alone restaurants that had their own USP. 

In an exclusive conversation with Bazaar India, Kanoi shares her culinary philosophy, her advice to budding chefs, and what lies ahead for her two restaurants. 

Harper’s Bazaar India: How did you enter the culinary field?

Chef Urvika Kanoi: My interest in culinary pursuits was evident from an early age, as I passionately engaged in cooking, exploring diverse restaurants, studying culinary literature, and experimenting with various ingredients. However, I initially pursued a career in film direction, and two years into it, I realised my true calling lay in the culinary world as my thoughts were constantly consumed by food. Becoming the designated cook for my flatmates and focusing on culinary experiences rather than conventional luxuries, solidified my decision. Encouraged by loved ones, I interned at a commercial kitchen, which ignited an unmatched adrenaline rush. Consequently, I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu London, marking the beginning of my unwavering journey in the culinary field.

HB: How was the experience of launching your inaugural restaurant?

UK: It was an exhilarating roller-coaster ride as we embarked on the endeavour to establish Kolkata's first gastro bar. The venture was not without its challenges. We assembled a team from Mumbai, and were determined to offer the city nothing short of excellence. From crafting our own bar set-up to serving global tapas, the rewarding journey has taught us invaluable lessons.

HB: Could you share the inception and evolution of The Daily?

UK: The Daily opened its doors in 2019, with the simple yet profound vision of providing a welcoming space for people to frequent daily. I recognised the need for a place in Kolkata that prioritised food quality and ambience. To fulfil this vision, we developed a strong coffee programme and a diverse, extensive menu, all prepared in-house using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Collaborating directly with farmers and minimising wastage through innovative practices became part of our ethos. Our commitment to continuous improvement includes quarterly seasonal menu updates and investing in staff training and state-of-the-art equipment. Throughout the years, The Daily has garnered immense love from patrons and has become a comforting space catering to various moods and preferences.

HB: What inspired the concept of Café Duco, and why did you choose to establish it in Mumbai instead of Kolkata?

UK: Café Duco emerged during the challenging times of the pandemic. Initially, my intention was to start a kitchen in Mumbai, a city I hold dear from my earlier career experiences. However, as my search for a suitable location progressed, the idea evolved, leading me to introduce authentic Latin American cuisine to the city. While I do plan to open more establishments in Kolkata, my heart was set on bringing Café Duco to Mumbai, a place that fostered a strong and supportive chef community.

HB: How do you ensure distinct identities and differentiation between your two restaurants?

UK: A core principle guiding the design of both restaurants is the desire for absolute dissimilarity. Each establishment boasts a unique ambiance and culinary focus. While The Daily emphasises European and Mediterranean flavours, Café Duco specialises in authentic Latin American cuisine. Regular menu rotations and seasonal additions further differentiate the offerings, catering to diverse preferences.

HB: How do you draw inspiration for your menus?

UK: My sources of inspiration are manifold. Seasonal ingredients play a pivotal role in shaping my culinary creations, as I relish incorporating unique and unfamiliar components that excite and intrigue customers. Additionally, my extensive travel experiences serve as a rich source of inspiration. Exploring local foods, farmers' markets, bodegas, and spice souks imparts a wealth of culinary stories. Moreover, engaging with customers, soliciting feedback, and understanding their preferences actively inform our menu development. Furthermore, I consistently pursue opportunities for skill enhancement, whether through short courses or shadowing other chefs, recognising the limitless potential for growth in the food and beverage domain.

HB: What is your culinary philosophy?

UK: My culinary philosophy revolves around presenting one's authentic self on a plate. I advocate embracing creativity without fear, taking calculated risks, and daring to create distinctive culinary experiences. Continuous learning remains paramount and comfort zones should be consistently challenged to explore novel flavours, techniques, and narratives. Ultimately, the food should embody the essence of its creator with unwavering dedication and passion evident in every dish.

 HB: What are your favourite dishes from the menus of The Daily and Café Duco?

UK: Among the plethora of delectable options, two favourites stand out. At The Daily, I thoroughly enjoy the handmade pappardelle accompanied by a slow-cooked tomato sauce. Over at Café Duco, the pork carnitas taco holds a special place in my heart.

HB: What advice would you give aspiring chefs venturing into the culinary industry?

UK: I strongly emphasise the importance of gaining practical experience in a commercial kitchen before pursuing formal culinary education, as it offers unparalleled insights and a realistic perspective. Patience is key, allowing oneself ample time for growth and development. Authenticity remains paramount—aspiring chefs should remain true to their culinary vision and convictions while creating food they deeply believe in.

HB: What are your thoughts on the flourishing café culture in India, and where do you envision its trajectory?

UK: I take immense pride in witnessing the evolution of India's café culture, which has flourished through coffee programmes, showcasing local farmers, and establishing outstanding boulangeries. The focus on culinary excellence has expanded, leading to remarkable food offerings at cafes. I predict a positive trajectory, with cafes becoming an integral part of people's daily lives, accommodating work and leisure activities alike. Collaborations, diverse menus, farm-to-table practices, and world-class desserts are enhancing the cafe experience, ensuring its sustained prominence.

HB: What lies ahead for your two restaurants?

UK: Both restaurants will continue their collaborations with other chefs and brands. The Daily is slated for a revamp, with the return of masterclasses and a constant influx of new offerings in Kolkata. Café Duco's plans involve expansion including the addition of a bar and a debut in Kolkata, presenting a novel model.

On chef Urvika Kanoi: Shirt: Label Sugar; Pants: Au Courant; Earrings: I Blame Beads 

Photographed by: Sana Chhabra

Styled by:  Natasha Hemani and Kavya Shah 

Hair and makeup by: The Hair Bar, Aayushi Parekh, Harry

Assisted by: Anushka Sharma, Anoushka Shah, Anushi Shah

Photo assistant: Tarun Amarnani