‘Food, an institution where learning never ceases’

Of the belief that when one is truly passionate about something and pursues it wholeheartedly, success always arrives at his doorstep, Chef Ranveer Brar shares the journey of his life

He started out by romancing food in the lanes of Lucknow, roughing it at Munir Ustad’s Kebab stall and working his way up the ranks to become one of the most celebrated chefs in the country. Not this alone, he has ruled the streets of Boston with Banq and Mayura in Canada. All through this journey, he knew what he was doing, what he loved and wanted to do for the rest of his life. A firm believer in the fact that food is a giver and when one invests so much in it unconditionally, it surely give backs, Chef Ranveer Brar feels that when you are truly passionate about something, you just pursue it wholeheartedly and the vibration you put in attracts the right vibes back.

Born and brought up in the City of Nawabs, it is hard to imagine a Punjabi Jatt with a Lucknowi demeanour but Chef Brar is its living example. “They say contrasts bring out the best in each other. In my case, the Punjabiyat in me had a subtle refinement added by Lucknow. Robust met nazaakat, I would say. And this reflects in the food I cook too. While seeking to experiment and go bold with flavours and textures, I tend to seek balance and refinement as well,” says Chef Brar.

Ranveer Brar was all of 17 when the passion for food led him to the kitchen. “Food, to me, has always been this institution where learning never ceases. From cooking at the langar at a young age to exploring food on the streets of Lucknow, food has touched me in different ways. I had my first tryst with cooking at a langar but my actual affinity towards cooking developed much later when I got exposed to Lucknow as a city. I got the taste of the different sides of food and food connect as well as food history and food conversations. The streets of Lucknow, the lanes, its food and the folklore started unfolding before me and opened up a new world of possibilities on what all one could do with food,” shares Chef Brar, adding that he had his first culinary tutelage under Munir Ustad, a skilled kebab vendor, in Lucknow. “There was no theory, I just had to watch and learn. It was a life-changing experience for me,” he says. But entering the culinary world wasn’t easy. As was the norm in those days, Chef Brar’s family too expected him to walk the tried and tested path and there was resistance towards his choice of profession. “But once they understood how badly I wanted it, my parents gave in,” he puts in.

Adding onto his statement that ‘to be a great chef, you have to understand the food as well as the amount of love and passion it takes to cook food’, Chef Brar says, “For any artist, their art comes from a need to express and the passion to do so. It is no different for chefs. How we interpret and present a dish stems from our passion in creating it and how well we’ve understood what’s gone into making it. For eg, my favourite Indian food, after Lucknowi, of course, is from the cuisine of Bengal. It’s more of a sociological connect for me as the state has seen so much evolution and turmoil and the food reflects that journey. Also, the whole difference in nuances between Bangal and Goti food, plus the various small sub-regions that all have a distinct cuisine, is very fascinating.”

On the international spectrum, Chef Brar loves Turkish cuisine. “I have great fascination for studying the Silk Route. My trip to Turkey opened the door to a lot of answers on how the cuisine evolved around that route. The dishes and ingredients that sailed between civilisations is indeed priceless. Understanding the evolution behind and nuances of food helps me mentally break down the dish in my mind and then present my own interpretation of it,” he avers.

Chef Brar with his team at Mayura, Toronto

Chef Brar hasn’t limited himself to the kitchen. He has reached out to the world through his television shows – Breakfast Xpress, Snack Attack, Homemade, The Great Indian Rasoi, Health Bhi Taste Bhi, Ranveer’s Cafe, Food Tripping, Thank God It’s Fryday, Global Cuisine, Raja Rasoi aur Andaaz Anokhaa, and Station Masters Tiffin. Talking about his foray into television, he says, “It happened by chance. I was at Novotel at that time and got an opportunity to feature in an episode of a cooking show. That led to my first cooking show, followed by many more over the years. As a chef, I’ve always wanted to reach out to people with my stories and share the food techniques and the nuances that I’ve picked up over the years. I was and still am active in my blogspace and social media.” The driving thought behind, shares Chef Brar, was to reach out to many more and the fact that it was a visual medium seemed an interesting prospect. “Even if the gratification wasn’t instant, as with the digital space, it still helped me reach a wider audience and become more expressive in front of the camera,” he puts in.

Talking about the biggest challenge the industry facing today i.e. addressing a more local, demanding, and knowledgeable consumer who has now learned to cook, Chef Brar says, “It’s great that today’s consumer is more aware and has a more evolved relationship with food. It works in the benefit of the chefs because they can take their expression to the next level with an assurance that the customer ‘gets it’. Also, it takes away the pretence around food that the chefs kept for a long time to make our jobs looks enviable. It also allows for other verticals – culinary content, specialised groceries and meal kits – of the food business to evolve beyond restaurants.”

Growing up at a farm, concepts like organic food, farm to fork and sustainability have been a part of Chef Brar’s life. “When you coexist with Nature, it leads to a holistically healthy ecosystem, more so in the food chain. The concept is simple – if you take more than you give, in this case, the soil, then it will automatically lead to an imbalance. We need to bear in mind the need for sustainability. We owe this to our future generations,” he replies when asked about the global hype around organic food. 

Like most of us, for Chef Brar too, the lockdown has been a great exercise in practising restraint, being happy in less and self-discipline in our own ways. Agreeing that the pandemic has changed the way Indians cooked in their kitchens, especially with a lot of men getting to the stove, Chef Brar says, “As a chef, it was a change from the commercial kitchen food that I am used to having during my travel and sort of a homecoming to home-cooked food, specially maa ke haath ka khaana -- panjeeri, khichdi and parathas. I have always believed about home kitchen, particularly Indian home kitchen, that an inherent resourcefulness is ingrained in the Indian homemaker. I have seen it and learned from my grandmother that one needs to minimalise the wastage of ingredients, make the best use of what little is there and reuse food as much as possible.”

This, he feels, in the current scenario, is a very strong and essential trait for all of us to have. “I see a lot of positives coming out of this period, especially at an individual level. A lot of good things happen when you spend time with yourself and that, in turn, have a positive effect on the society at large,” Chef Brar adds. 

During lockdown, he partnered with an organisation called Taru Naturals to help fund a Farmer Relief Fund. “I ran a Facebook fundraiser too for another farmer relief organisation. We were also supplying food to the local gurudwara. One campaign that was close to my heart was the #BringThemBack campaign, in collaboration with NASVI, to help reinstate the street food vendors, post-pandemic. That received a lot of support and positive press,” shares Chef Brar. He puts in that we, as society and country at large, have risen up to the challenging times and been doing whatever we could to help each other. “This, for me, is a great positive,” he says. 

He may be the boss of the kitchens around the world but Chef Brar doesn’t get to rule his home kitchen. “Pallavi’s the boss in the kitchen. She is herself a chef and brings out the best in me, both as a chef and a person. She is someone who has always inspired me to grow in my craft and I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for her support,” says Chef Brar that if not a chef, he would want to be a writer. 

In the wake of what the hospitality industry has been through in 2020-21, the celebrated chef’s message to aspiring chefs and hoteliers, is that though it has been supremely tough, ‘chef-prenuership’, cost rationalisation and the skill of taking the restaurant out of the premise are the victories from this battle that will impact us for times to come. 

“A definite silver lining in these tough times is that restaurants have stood up to the challenge of low or no occupancies by going back to the core fundamental of the business, to provide great food and new experiences,” he feels, adding that it made the restaurateur take his food and experience to people’s homes, by reaching out to more people via newer channels, offering them not just food, but culinary experiences in the comfort of the latter’s homes. 

That he has ruled the streets of Boston with Banq, then Tag Gourmart Kitchen in Mumbai and Mayura in Canada, what’s more in store from Chef Brar for the food-holics, he says, “A small restaurant where I am seen more often, a couple of books and an academy is the goal for the near future.”

On how does it feel to be a star and be recognised and swarmed world over, Chef Brar says, “The only way I know is vehement denial of fame and success. Sounds weird but it keeps me grounded and looking for more. Other than that my parents and my prayers, I do most of the work to keep myself rooted.”

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'RESPONSIBLE HOTELIERING ISSUE VOL 7, ISSUE 3'

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