This Mumbai chef wants restaurant kitchens to be a safe and happy space for women

Devika Manjrekar on her decision to have an all-female kitchen, her advice for young chefs, and more. 

Harper's Bazaar India

If you’re a Mumbai native and have a sweet tooth (and even if you don’t), there are chances you would have witnessed a wave of bombolinis—plump Italian brioche doughnuts filled with indulgent custards, jams, and ganaches that took over our social feeds during the pandemic in 2021. The source for most of the creations—that ranged in flavours from tiramisu and lavender, to black forest, was Toast Doughnut Shop, a women-owned business helmed by chef Devika Manjrekar. 

After charming the city with her handmade, pillow-soft doughnuts, Manjrekar opened her restaurant, Toast Pasta Bar, in June last year. Nestled in Kamala Mills in Lower Parel’s business district, the pasta and cocktail bar has been bringing a slice of Italy to Mumbai since then. The menu, featuring pastas, pizzettes, innovative sides, and desserts along with imaginative cocktails, is ever-changing with the seasons. Though there are ample staples like the hearty pappardelle ragu (pasta in a braised oxtail sauce), three cheese ravioli with burnt butter and sage, coccoli (fried pizza dough) served with Parma ham and covered under a mountain of parmesan, and the crowd-favourite decadent tiramisu. 

In an exclusive conversation with Bazaar India, Manjrekar tells the exciting and (accidental) journey of how her restaurant came about, her sources of inspiration, and what’s next on the cards. 

Harper’s Bazaar India: How did Toast Pasta Bar come about? Take us through the journey.

Chef Devika Manjrekar: One day, just for fun, we started the Toast Pasta Bar Instagram page, thinking it would be cool if we opened a restaurant that served the best pasta in Mumbai. At the time, we did not realise we were accidentally manifesting. We got loads of followers and our bio said coming soon. We had no idea how soon—we didn’t even have a space! We started looking for spaces but couldn’t find any for almost a year. It was heartbreaking. Then, I thought of doing a weekend supper club at the Toast Doughnut Shop called the Dinner Circle, serving food that we planned to serve at Toast Pasta Bar. It sold out within hours. We had a couple of them, and when we decided to take a break, we finalised on a space and Toast Pasta Bar had an official opening date.  

HB: Why Italian food in particular—how did you decide what cuisine you wanted to serve at your restaurant? 

DM: Italian food is my favourite. My idea with anything I’ve started has been to create food I want to eat and pasta is what I want to eat every day.

HB: Why ‘Toast’? what inspired the name of the restaurant? 

DM: When I was in Xavier’s college, (begrudgingly) completing my BA, I watched Nigel Slater’s biopic Toast and knew I was going to name my future restaurant that. For me, toast signifies celebration. It also signifies that when you’re at your lowest point with nothing much in the fridge, a slice of hot toast always fixes everything. 

HB: Toast is known to be mostly a women-led kitchen—was this a conscious decision? And how was it inspired by your own experiences working in the industry? 

DM: At the moment, our kitchen is 100 per cent female, and it was most definitely a conscious decision. I remember not feeling the most comfortable working in most kitchens in Mumbai, and heard horror stories from other female chefs about their experiences. I also know a lot of women who gave up this profession because they didn’t feel safe in the kitchen environment or weren’t given the same opportunities as their male counterparts or considered weak and not up for the job. I never want any woman to feel that in my kitchen ever. I want my kitchen to be a safe and happy space, and also prove to the world that we’re as good as men at this job.  

HB: Where do you find inspiration for your menus? Is your approach ingredient-first or dish-first?

DM: I find inspiration from all over—mainly travel, but also from cookbooks and social media. It’s literally from random things I watch or read. And my approach is both ingredient- and dish-first; it depends. But, I’m very focussed on using as much local produce and being as sustainable ingredient-wise as I can.  

HB: What’s your favourite dish from the menu? 

DM: The three cheese ravioli but in tomato sauce—it’s my absolute favourite. I could eat it every day, but my lactose intolerance won’t allow it. 

HB: What advice would you give young chefs starting out in the industry? 

DM: Work hard and stand up for yourself. 

HB: What is next for Toast Pasta Bar?  

DM: I want to do pop-ups in different cities! We get so many Instagram DMs asking for it, but just haven’t had the time to set it up.

On chef Devika Manjrekar: Shirt: Urban Suburban; Pants: Au Courant; Earrings: AishR; Rings: Studio Love Letter; Shoes: chef’s own

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