The bastion of starched napkins and dainty amuse-bouche, fine dining is going through a quiet revolution. Bending to the new reality, Alain Ducasse, a Michelin-starred chef, is offering home-delivery around Paris. And so are his rivals all across Europe.
On the other side of the globe, in Saigon, Rukmini Makkar smelled a similar opportunity. FEURO, the food-delivery company that Rukmini officially launched on June 13th, is a gourmet dining experience delivered to your doorstep in under 35 minutes in D1 and D2 (for orders in D7, they aim to deliver as soon as possible).
A portmanteau of ‘food’ and ‘Europe’, FEURO is a passion project that Rukmini and her husband conceptualized while holed up at home and experimenting with recipes during the lockdown. “For us, experiencing new cultures through food has always been one of the biggest joys of travel,” she explains. Sharing their best findings with Saigon foodies – Norwegian puff pastry, Swedish meatballs made famous by IKEA, Ukranian borsch – the founders created a concept that spotlights the most interesting dishes from Europe.
Vietnam’s first virtual restaurant
Rukmini has over 10 years of experience in marketing at a Fortune 500 company, but it was the exposure to the startup culture that gave her a taste of what launching a business with a group of passionate, like-minded people is like. The idea for her own business, a restaurant concept, had been cooking for many years, but it was important for Rukmini to offer a meaningful solution, rather than adding yet another upscale eatery to Saigon’s dining scene. When consumer confidence crashed amid covid-19 and belts started to be tightened, Rukmini’s affordable gourmet dining concept suddenly felt very timely.
“We are Vietnam’s first virtual restaurant. What this means is that instead of sinking lots of money into building a fancy restaurant, we invested heavily in cutting-edge equipment, quality ingredients, staff training, top-notch hygiene measures and customer service,” explains Rukmini. “And we passed the savings on to the customers who can enjoy a gourmet dining experience on a budget.”
To get the flavors right, Rukmini has enlisted the help of Paris-born and trained chef Milan Lam. Even weeks after the launch, the duo still spends hours each day applying tweaks to the dishes in FEURO’s custom-built, fully licensed commercial kitchen in the heart of Thao Dien. “The original menu has already changed quite a bit”, admits Rukmini. “The day after we deliver an order, I personally contact the customer to get their feedback. That’s how our Polish pierogi recipe came about, through a client who shared a family recipe.”
Chef Milan feels right at home with the concept of fine dining – he earned his spurs under the wings of some of France’s finest Michelin-starred chefs as well as working in the kitchens of Saigon’s leading establishments. What attracted him to FEURO was the chance to let his imagination and creativity run riot. Milan draws on his classical European training when experimenting with sophisticated cooking techniques such as sous vide, while also relying on the input from his team of Vietnamese chefs.
Both Milan and Rukmini are sticklers for quality. It’s a delight to observe them obsess over the shade of beetroot in the soup or debate the right concentration of air bubbles in the chocolate mousse. And this attention to detail is evident in everything: from researching dozens of recipes to get the dish just right to weeks experimenting in the kitchen to making adjustments as customer feedback comes in. “The customers don’t see the hard work that goes into fine-tuning the recipes, but hopefully they can taste our culture of perfection in every bite.” says Rukmini, adding that as a result of their experimentations, the batter for FEURO’s signature fish and chips is made with a secret formula ensuring the perfect crispiness upon delivery.
“As a delivery-only company, we don't see our customers face-to-face and I felt it was important to establish a physical connection with them, to invite the community in.” This idea resulted in a series of pop-up dinners – intimate affairs hosted by Rukmini and her husband, with no more than 10 guests at a time, and chef Milan on hand to present the four-course wine-pairing menu as the dishes emerge from the kitchen.
What started as a marketing campaign turned into an accidental event business with three sold-out events and more in the planning. With a different themed menu planned for each dinner, the team is also collaborating with experts from across the industry, such as food stylist Meo Thuy Duong, to introduce the diners to novel concepts and spark food-centric conversations.
An element of surprise
FEURO’s dishes may be flying the flag for their countries of origin but they are all but traditional. “We add a FEURO touch, an element of surprise”, explains Milan as he gingerly places Swedish meatballs on a bed of silky mashed potatoes. “The traditional recipe calls for lingonberry sauce, but we substituted it for a home-made mango chutney and the customers absolutely love it.” With the puff pastry, the secret sauce is the decidedly un-Norwegian relish that brings out the flavors perfectly: FEURO’s secret pesto.
Most of the ingredients are locally-sourced, as it was important for Rukmini to establish FEURO as a farm-to-table concept from the onset. Yet some of the ingredients, like salmon, for example, are imported to ensure the highest quality. Offsetting the carbon footprint of imported ingredients is the choice of packaging.
Most of it is biodegradable and is made of 100% natural fiber that is both safe for the health and the environment. It is easy on the eye too with dishes arriving in handsome food containers, while the beverages (all home-made) come in reusable glass bottles.
As we watch FEURO delivery bikes file out of the packaging area, another order comes in through the website. With a promise of 35-minute delivery (or under), chef Milan and his team are back in action with barely a glance at the docket. “Oh it’s from a regular of ours,” laughs Milan. “He always orders the salmon miso plus any dish he hasn’t tried yet.” Find what you like and stick with it, indeed.