From the Heart to the Table
We ask some of the leading luminaries of India's top kitchens what inspires them and how do they go about turning an idea into a dish
Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma,
From Top Left clockwise: Ranveer Brar, Celebrity Chef; Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent Restaurants; Manisha Bhasin, Senior Executive Chef, ITC Maurya; Arun Sundararaj, Executive Chef, Taj Mahal Delhi; Sabyasachi Gorai, Chef & Restaurateur; Nikhil Nagpal, Executive Sous Chef, ITC Grand Chola; Balpreet Singh, Director of Culinary Operations, Annamaya Andaz; Ashis Rout, Executive Chef, Swissotel Kolkata; Elangovan Shanmugam, Executive Chef, Taj Vivanta Dwarka; and Vivek Bhatt, Executive Chef, JW Marriott.
CUISINE AND what we eat, how we eat has changed over the last ten years more than it has for a few decades before. The guest who steps into the restaurant is now more aware and much more intuitive about what he is served. The chefs who are cooking in the kitchen or designing menus and dishes have to be much more intelligent while putting together their offerings. It’s about challenging a diner with food at a level much more than mere taste. it’s about taking the emotional attachment that one step further. We asked a group of chefs about their theories of food. Three questions, what they thought about the F&B trends in India, what was their favourite dish from the past and how they were incorporating it in their current menus. Here are some of the answers we got.
Ranveer Brar, Celebrity Chef For Chef Brar, the contribution of India to cuisine is Indianism. According to him, it is important to know about the prominence of the food, from where and how it came. “Every dish has a story behind it and it is very important for the chefs to keep that character of every dish in front of the consumer. We’re creating conversations about regional Indian food, sub Indian regional food and how culture is relevant to every cuisine. I think this is the biggest change that has happened in the whole f&b space over the years,” he said.
Inspired by the food of past and hailing from the land of kebabs, Chef Brar have made a special place for Dora kebab in his heart. “Favourite dish of mine which I would like to convert from a story or a recipe book to a restaurant is a Dora Kebab that is cooked in a silk thread. It might not be the best replication as the Nawabs might have done it better, but at least people are talking about the Dora Kebab now and the story behind it,” he happily exclaims.
Chef Brar is true and loyal towards the Indian cuisine and feels the need to promote and make it capital cuisine of the world. In the process of which he thanks all the chefs who are doing research and going to the roots to bring out recipes which have been erased from people’s memories.
Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent Restaurants ‘Getting back to the roots’ being Indian Accent’s core philosophy, Chef Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent Restaurants believes in reinterpreting nostalgic Indian dishes with an openness towards global techniques and influences.
“At Indian Accent, the menu explores progressive ideas in Indian cuisine while maintaining traditional integrity. It is a sincere effort to offer an inventive approach to Indian cuisine and taking a path breaking approach to contemporary Indian food,” says Mehrotra.
Till date he cherishes ‘Dal Moradabadi’ that used to be made at his home. “So, when we were doing the menu we incorporated it with an Indian Accent twist. However, my version of the dal is more colourful, has various textures and a flavour suitable for modern palate,” Mehrotra happily claims.
Manisha Bhasin, Senior Executive Chef, ITC Maurya Chef Bhasin still remembers her grandmother’s recipe of Sarai ki Biryani, which is till date her favourite. “I came across this recipe when I was researching on Delhi cuisine. I have tweaked it a bit to make it more feasible in a hotel operation and it has been a sure winner. We called it Sarai ki Biryani because there’s a history behind it of Mughal emperors who used to take station at different Sarai’s,” she told us.
According to Chef Bhasin, food from the past is always an inspiration as it is tried and tested over centuries. “At the same time, I am not saying that we should tweak the standard recipes, but yet we can do our own interpretation and move on with it,” she added.
At the kitchen of ITC Maurya, Chef Bhasin and her team is reviving the traditional methods of cooking. “We are cooking the way our grandmothers or great grandmothers cooked in their homes, we are getting into metallurgy that means the kind of metals that was used to make the vessels and the shape of the vessels and that’s the way forward. Actually, we are reinventing our past,” she said.
Arun Sundararaj, Executive Chef, Taj Mahal Delhi When Chef Sundararaj think back about the happy moments of his family celebrations, it has always been about the families meeting and them setting up grand party all decked up with food. “There would be dishes that were made only on special days which would take many hours of pre preparation and cooking by the ladies of the household. Whatever the occasion or festival the event had some special connect to the season and the food made on those days. These happy memories are what I cherish and in many ways pushed me to look for dishes from the past which are somewhat forgotten or lost,” he recalls.
While doing research on grandmothers special recipes and cooking techniques, many of the books comes out in different language. It thus becomes interesting to convert those dishes because many a times literal conversions comes out to be something else.
“We have re discovered a dish called Khicidi Azam Jahi. The dish is a combination of meats, lentils spice rice and all are cooked with stock nuts and finished with ghee. This has been matched with some home-made pickles. Keeping in mind textures we have added a few elements to the dish to create different textures during the meal experience,” Chef Sundararaj told us.
Chef Sundararaj feels that many dishes can be used in their original form. “A khichidi for instance, is a combination of rice and lentil cooked together but it may not have the soft and mashed consistency we know of it as today which is eaten in every house hold but it is lentil and rice cooked together like a pulao or a biryani as we know it today,” he says. At Taj Mahal Delhi, it is first worked upon the original method of cooking the dish and the way the ingredients are treated. “Once we get the dish correct with the correct blend of spices and cooking ingredient and technique then we look at the presentation of the dish which needs to be in line with what is acceptable today,” he adds.
Sabyasachi Gorai, Chef & Restaurateur Having involved in cooking for more than 25 years, chef Gorai has witnessed lot of f&b trends coming and going. Chef Gorai is the believer of honest, sincere and clean food which according to him will never leave the pedestal of latest trends. I look at things like food safety, sustainability, clean, fair and honest food because for me food is all about honesty and it’s a basic necessity,” he said.
Chef Gorai is absolutely fascinated by the history of India and recipes that comes from the small towns. Hailing from the Sunderban area, his journey has been about getting to the recipes which has a story to tell. “I am trying to bring things from my past, my culture, my heritage that makes me feel very proud, that makes me feel very connected and makes me feel who I am today,” he said.
“Today we are talking a lot about revival cuisines, we are talking a lot about bringing back memories, but we must also understand that restaurant and food service spaces teaches us a lot about what is required. It’s a community that needs food so, we have to keep a balance of both of it,” Chef Gorai adds. As far as using traditional cooking method is concerned, he extensively uses the old wood chulha.
Speaking about his favourite recipe from his family cook book, he remembers about the book from 1932 which he accidentally discovered.
“This is my Grandmother’s recipe which I love to cook till date. Out of all, I am currently doing a dish which is very Indian in nature and I call it the Jurassic cheese cake. It’s a dish like what we call the chenapoda. I have done a modern interpretation of the chenapoda and have made it like an inverted cheese cake. I use Ghoja which is typically from the east again as a crust. I use chenapoda as a cheese cake body and use malai as a topping,” Chef Gorai told us.
Vivek Bhatt, Executive Chef, JW Marriott “Heritage has played an important role in how we eat. Food from the past will always be in vogue because this is traditional, authentic and this is something which has given people great memories, something you have grown up with. So, it’ll never go away. It’s close to my heart, we at Marriott strongly believe in authentic crafts and intuitive cuisine preparations,” tells Chef Bhatt.
For Chef Bhatt, It’s all about showcasing one’s culinary heritage. Recently, his team did the lost skills of India in which they showcased Anglo Indian cuisines from third or fourth generation of Anglo Indian chef. “This not only inspires chefs who are working but it also helped in showcasing the lost cuisines, traditional recipes in a different format. Whatever, we showcased got to be authentic and this is how we translate all the recipes from the past into our daily offering in K3,” he added.
Daag Banglo chicken curry at his restaurant is one of those beautiful dishes which is very well received. According to Chef Bhatt, cooking is all about following one’s instincts. “You have to follow your instincts to see how you can deviate from the recipes that comes out to be palatable, visually appealing and something that you can proudly showcase to your customers,” he said.
Elangovan Shanmugam, Executive Chef, Taj Vivanta Dwarka Chef Shanmugam, fondly addressed as Elango by his teammates, has introduced an amazing range of healthy food options in his menu. “Some cuisines mentioned in the Vedas describe different cereal grains and their use in our daily life. As a matter of fact, what may be a luxury in the West comes handy and in everyday use for Indians, so why not evolve in our food offering and make recipes that are tasty as well as healthy,” he said.
Chef Shanmugam has been on a constant journey of exploring cuisines that have traditional cooking methods and extremely beneficial. Stressing on the importance of Vedas, Chef has also explored new healthy recipes especially during the breakfast, which he says, “is the first and the most important meal of the day.” Slow fame cooking keeps the nutrient value of the ingredients alive that’s why he has introduced ‘Ghar ka Khaana’ cooked in slow flame during lunch hours. “In regular breakfast menu, we host healthy water and shakes. Flavoured water made with ingredients like cumin, fenugreek, pomegranate, lemon, mint, thyme, basil, turmeric and orange peels are an essential part of our meals and very natural to consume. In this manner, we nurture healthy eating and healthy living through different set menus,” he added.
Belonging to a farmer’s family, Chef has spent a major part of his life in the paddy fields learning about the fresh produces. “These memories have influenced my cooking and helped me connect with nature and farm-fresh produce so naturally,” he says. His team of chefs travel to the spice market once in three months to see the quality available and ensure that the hotel uses only the best. The team also uses earthen vessels to store beverages which helps in retaining the earthy essence and also keeps them cool without refrigerating it.
At Taj Vivanta Dwarka, traditional utensils like Copper Lagans and Degchi are used in cooking so that the food is prepared in the same manner as prepared in old times. The hand pounded spices are prepared in house so as to maintain the same taste and quality of each dish. Recalling about his favourite dish, the red millet shake made from Ragi (Kammang koozh) is one of his super loved dish. “Having learnt this recipe from my mother, I have now added this to our menu. Our guests not only love it but often request me for the recipe. Kammang koozh is nothing but ‘pear millet‘ in English, ‘Bajra’ in Hindi. Regular intake is known to reduce weight as well. Kammang Koozh is known to cool the body and is rich in Vitamin B, so it is considered as a perfect drink during summer,” Chef Shanmugam told us.
Ashis Rout, Executive Chef, Swissotel Kolkata Hailing from an Odia culture, Dalma has been very dear to Chef Rout throughout his life. He claims that Puri produces the best Dalma, which he has been accustomed to. Chef Rout keep bringing variants of Dalma in his pop-ups that he does regularly on the regional cuisines.
Chef Rout talks about the famous bamboo cooking of Sambalpur which has been forgotten by the present generation. He loves to bring that on the platter to keep the roots intact. “Today, I use the same method of cooking inside the bamboo covered with charcoal. People has eventually started liking the dish because of its freshness and that organic feel. I love to go back to the basics and keep experimenting on that,” he says.
While growing up, Chef Raut has seen his mother cooking the dishes in a simple way yet turning out to be flavourful. “If I look 30 years back, the whole cuisine focused on the fresh ingredients, the basic cooking technique was given utter importance and I realised that these cooking techniques are an integral part of our everyday life. Today I stresses on using right cooking techniques and ingredients,” he told us.
Balpreet Singh, Director of Culinary Operations, Annamaya Andaz For Chef Balpreet Singh, his love for Rajma Chawal is indispensable. Coming from the mixed culture of Kashmiri and Punjabi, he has been using lot of the cooking style of those regions to come up with some fusion dishes. Also, after spending years in Europe, he is now capable to bring lot of modern art into his plate.
Speaking about the dishes, he creates at Annamaya, Singh focuses more on the ingredient oriented dishes. Citing some examples, he spoke about Orzo Pasta which is nothing but Risotto made out of Barley grain. “I toss it along with Olive Oil, Garlic and do the spinach version of it,” Singh told us. One of the famous dishes at Annamaya is Millet Biryani, which has been received phenomenally well. “I have been touching down a lot of techniques here in terms of cooking and also different grains which are very artisanal right from the farm,” he adds.
According to Singh, the f&b trend that can be foreseen in the future is how people are perceiving the importance towards ingredients. “These are the trends which are going forward and we should be educating a lot of chefs about the techniques of processing those forgotten and artisanal ingredients. For me farm to plate is the future,” he claimed.
Nikhil Nagpal, Executive Sous Chef, ITC Grand Chola Chef Nagpal swears on the stir fry chicken that he serves at the Avartana. “In this dish, we use a technique which is more Asian, which helps to give softness to the chicken. It also has the spices which are very much south Indian,” he told us.
Chef Nagpal feels that any of the restaurants portraying the modern techniques or international trends need to have the basics from the past. “That’s pretty much important and even at Avartana some of the dishes like the Rasam which has very much been there in the cuisines of the south India is very important to us,” he adds.
At Avartana, Chef Nagpal believes in keeping the flavours universal, yet keeping it rooted to the South touch of taste.
This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'The Food & Beverage Issue '
Around The World