From Mezza Luna to Milan: Indian Chef and Restaurateur Ritu Dalmia's Culinary Empire

Ritu Dalmia’s path from modest origins to acclaimed chef, pioneering entrepreneur, and LGBTQ+ advocate has transformed the landscape of inclusive gastronomy in India.

14 March 2024

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In the intricate mosaic of India’s culinary world, few figures stand as firmly as Ritu Dalmia. With a trailblazing career spanning decades, Dalmia has carved a niche for herself and redefined the very fabric of gastronomy in India. From her humble beginnings to her meteoric rise as an award-winning chef and entrepreneur, her journey is as inspiring as it is captivating.

Photo Credit: Ritu Dalmia

“I started my first restaurant when I was 20 years old, basically for all the wrong reasons,” confesses Dalmia, reflecting on her audacious entry into the culinary realm. Driven by an insatiable curiosity for food and a profound love for eating, she embarked on a journey fuelled by youthful exuberance. However, it wasn’t long before she encountered the formidable challenges that accompany entrepreneurship – from navigating ingredient sourcing to grappling with licences and paperwork. Yet, in the face of adversity, Dalmia found her mettle, transforming arrogance into humility and emerging as a seasoned culinary maestro.

In 1993, she set up Mezza Luna, the first standalone Italian restaurant in Delhi, India. This in itself was an over-ambitious feat. The food was excellent, but Mezza Luna’s fortunes weren’t. An undeterred Dalmia moved to London, where she opened Vama, an Indian fine-dining restaurant. The restaurant was a big success and won rave reviews.

The rest is history.

Today she is the co-owner of six restaurants in India, three in Milan, Italy partnering with multi-awarded chef Viviana Varese and a catering vertical that serves worldwide destinations.

Photo caption: Ritu Dalmia with Chef Viviana Varese | Photo Credit: Ritu Dalmia

With Cittamani, her eatery that opened in 2017 in Milan, Dalmia has come full circle. She started her restaurateur life introducing India to Italian food; now she’s getting Italians to taste and enjoy the flavours of the Indian subcontinent. Bearing the flag of modern Indian cuisine high, Chef Ritu has also opened another restaurant – Polpo, by Spica in Milan with acclaimed Michelin-starred Chef Viviana Varese. The food is inspired by and focuses on fish and transports you to the waterfront in Milan. The third outlet VIVA – which is the brainchild of Chef Viviana Varese is among the most critically acclaimed establishments in Italy with a Michelin star to its name. Their common passion for food is what led to Chef Ritu investing in Viva and becoming a partner in 2019

Photo Credit: Motodo via Instagram

She’s gone on to open Motodo in one of Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla in collaboration with Indian billionaires, the Ambani family’s Reliance conglomerate. This restaurant takes inspiration from trattorias in Italy and focuses on regional dishes in the region. In August last year, she opened the doors to her first restaurant in the Middle East. Atrangi by Ritu Dalmia, which is nestled in the luxurious Jumeirah Al Qasr in Dubai. This restaurant draws inspiration from different communities and regions in India.

  Photo Credit : DIVA

Dalmia’s culinary empire spans continents, each establishment a testament to her uncompromising commitment to excellence. From the acclaimed DIVA, celebrated for its authentic Italian fare, to the bustling Latitude 28, her ventures embody a fusion of tradition and innovation. Still, beyond the accolades and awards, it is Dalmia’s unwavering passion for storytelling that sets her apart. Through her cookbooks and television shows, she invites audiences on a gastronomic odyssey, unravelling the rich tapestry of culinary traditions from around the world.

  Photo Credit :Ritu Dalmia

Despite her success, Dalmia remains grounded, her values firmly rooted in inclusivity and social responsibility. Championing the cause for LGBTQ+ rights, she exemplifies her commitment not just through rhetoric but through action. In 2016, Ritu and four others —all members of the LGBTQ community—petitioned India’s top court to challenge a law that criminalised homosexuality. Being gay is not a crime, but using the law to make it one adds to the trauma that a homosexual goes through in the country, she said to The Economic Times newspaper.  

With a staunch non-discrimination policy in her restaurants, Dalmia goes beyond tokenism, welcoming individuals from diverse backgrounds based on merit and passion. 

 “We have a no discrimination policy and have some members from the community already working in the restaurant, ‘’ says Dalmia. “If they are passionate, hungry for knowledge and willing to learn we welcome them with open arms, but I will be dishonest if I say we give them preference because if one were to do that then the whole point is defeated.’’

In doing so, she creates spaces that are not just culinary havens but also sanctuaries of acceptance and equality.

  Photo Credit :Ritu Dalmia

Over the years, Dalmia’s contributions have been recognised and celebrated globally. From prestigious awards to governmental honours, her accolades serve as a testament to her indelible mark on the culinary landscape. Recognised as one of the leading women entrepreneurs in Delhi, she seamlessly intertwines her passion for food with social activism. In 2018, India in a landmark verdict ruled that section 377 was unconstitutional and decriminalised consensual sex between adults of the same sex.

  Photo Credit : DIVA

Mentoring young individuals and chefs, Dalmia embodies the spirit of empowerment, inspiring others to pursue their dreams relentlessly. Looking to the future, Dalmia’s ambitions soar as high as her culinary creations.

With an upcoming cookbook in the works, her creative genius knows no bounds.

Author: Pooja Thakur

Pooja Thakur is a senior journalist, writer, and editor with over 20 years of experience in print and digital media and in creating custom content for periodicals. She has been a long-serving senior reporter at Bloomberg News covering areas such as real estate, stocks and personal finance and inventing across markets with a focus on Southeast Asia and India. In her free time, she enjoys scuba diving, rucking and finding the newest watering hole in town.

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