This engineer gets paid to eat
Masterchef finalist turned menu engineer, Karishma Sakhrani probably crafted what you just ordered for lunch
Laminated or sambhar-stained, leather bound or scribbled in chalk, a menu offers a trailer to your dining experience. Your love affair with truffle sprinkled mashed potatoes is probably the doing of a menu engineer, and not simply a case of the food gods playing cupid.
Menu engineering is a science, except that unlike memorising the periodic table, it’s actually fun. Replace the beakers and test tubes with jars of Nutella and dollops of whipped cream, and you have yourself a menu engineer’s lab. Or, in this case, Karishma Sakhrani’s kitchen where she’s probably designed some of your favourite dishes from India’s most loved restaurants.
Sakhrani’s appearance on MasterChef India in 2015 was her rather grand yet unplanned entry into the world of food. MasterChef auditions were nothing but a fun Sunday activity for Sakhrani — “I was free and I thought it would be exciting to come on TV.” Her weekend whim eventually took her to the finale, which launched the new and Instagrammable career of the menu engineer. Apart from engineering menus, Sakhrani is also a food stylist.
Experimenting with flavour combinations and coming up with new edible ideas does not sound like work. “It’s mayhem,” insists Sakhrani, who once made over 80 pancakes in one day while giving the menu of popular dessert chain 99 Pancakes a healthy makeover.
So how did she manage to make everyone’s favourite sinful pleasure guilt-free? She began the process like all her new projects – locking herself up in her kitchen. “While coming up with new recipes, I try the craziest combinations. I will use everything in my fridge—even onion jam, in the hope of stumbling onto some new flavour combination,” she adds. According to Sakhrani the most difficult part is picking the finalists. “It’s like picking your favourite child. I always come up with a few more options than required and then ask the client to pick,” she adds. “Coming up with names is probably the most fun. I’m a sucker for puns,” laughs Sakhrani, who introduced The Cereal Killer and Show Me The Honey to the pancake menu.
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Blind Date ? Sweetened with date syrup and indulged in dark chocolate with a tease of sea salt. This is one blind date that you will love! ? Stop swiping right and go over to try this and the rest of my menu curated for @99_pancakes ? . . #99PancakesXKarishmaSakhrani #ChefLife #Love #Blessed #Pancakes #Dessert #Summer #Healthy #Protein #FoodStyling #FoodPhotography #India #Mumbai #Breakfast #Morning #DarkChocolate
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But being a menu engineer is not just about loving food. “I can’t have a blueprint when it comes to developing a menu. With each new project, I have to be mindful of things like where the restaurant is located, the cuisine it serves, what the portion size is going to be…. The list goes on.” She likens the hospitality industry to fashion, saying, “You have new trends cropping up every day and you’ve got to keep up.”
It’s Sakhrani’s job to make every dining experience so memorable that you’re counting the days until your next visit. And while she’s all for adventurous ordering, there are a few rules to ensure you won’t leave with a bad taste in your mouth.
Menu engineer Karishma Sakhrani’s top tips for eating out
Stay away from the soup
Sweet corn soup, one-by-two? You won’t catch Sakhrani ordering a bowl. “If you’re eating at a budget café, expect the soup to have veggie scraps and too many additives. I only trust a soup I made myself,” she says. “You can’t know if there are too many starches, packaged stock or if the quality of the vegetables is up to standard.”
Bread is always a good idea
Though the diet police ask you to steer away from your favourite carb, Sakhrani says that bread is the one thing that you can count on. “It will always be fresh,” says Sakhrani. It is very easy to tell stale bread from fresh bread, and no restaurant would risk making this faux pas.
The bathroom says it all
You don’t need a lie detector to know how seriously the restaurant takes its hygiene standards. Just excuse yourself for a loo break. “If their bathroom is spick and span, their kitchen will definitely be hygienic,” says Sakhrani. If you leave the bathroom holding your breath, keep walking and don’t come back.
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