All it took Ravi Saxena was a business trip to France and the ensuing six months spent across Europe in 1993 to fall in love with two of his greatest passions—travel and food. “When you can couple your hobby with business, it is fantastic,” says the managing director of Wonderchef, one of India’s biggest cookware brands.
And that is exactly what Saxena has been doing over the last three decades. It was French hospitality company Sodexo that took him to France and then brought him back to India where he set up the iconic meal card across Indian companies. He also laid the foundation of Sodexo’s food catering business in India, set up hundreds of corporate kitchens and hired thousands of chefs. His next stint at Dubai-based hospitality organisation Landmark involved setting up restaurants chains in India, a process during which he met the country’s most celebrated chef, Sanjeev Kapoor, who went on to become the founding partner and the face of Saxena’s own baby, Wonderchef.
Food has remained the common thread throughout for the electronics and telecom engineer. “I was as far away from cooking as you can imagine,” says the IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus. One could even say that it was his business that helped him discover the joys of travelling and through that, cooking.
Since his initial exposure was to France, he says he tried to wrap his head around French cuisine. “But it was very difficult. It is very specific and very high-end with a lot of presentation and some basic sauces. I love French food but it isn’t something that I could adopt in my daily life,” Saxena says.
What he did adopt in his daily life was Italian cuisine after having spent a lot of time in Italy where Wonderchef’s first manufacturing unit was set up. He also says that the cuisine is closer to the Indian taste buds and he loves the fact that it is not pretentious. “It is honest and simple. You need good quality ingredients—be it pasta, pizza or risotto. Even a steak—just a piece of meat cooked on fire without sauces. That is what I adopted,” says Saxena, adding that he really enjoys cooking different kinds of pastas—from simple aglio olio to the ones with mushrooms and different kinds of cheese.
Such was his passion for Italian cuisine that he even installed a wood-fired oven at his house in Mumbai where he tries cooking different kinds of pizzas at least once a week.
Saxena isn’t a closet cook by any means. “When I cook, I like to create an occasion around it. It’s almost like when I feel like cooking, I invite friends. The whole idea is to have family and friends around. We do pizza nights once in a fortnight and the wood-fired, nice-smelling pizza is the highlight of the show,” says a gleaming Saxena.
He says that while his stated commitment is not more often than a fortnight–be it pizza nights, pasta nights or barbeque nights–it happens almost every week, much to his wife’s dismay. Sometimes it is friends and sometimes business with all different kinds of teams hobnobbing at Saxena’s house, devouring delicious food cooked by him. “It is a real pleasure,” he adds.