India's finest, up and coming chefs talk about that one "influence" that showcased best in their cooking.
By Madhulika Dash
The year 2018 has been a mixed bag of a lot of things. If there has been a rise in regional cuisine in one, on the other "fusion cooking" has got a much cleaner slate and yet on the other, fun has returned to food. But what made this year so much about food? The young chefs, many of whom led some of India's finest kitchens – and of course remained the "hot" topic of the culinary world.
KSHAMA PRABHU, CORPORATE CHEF, THE BAR STOCK EXCHANGE
Influence: Local ingredients
"This year for me has been a lot of emphasis on local produce,
which has moved me into just being a sustainable chef to food-conscious
chef. Today, when I cook, I not only use seasonal, local ingredients (by
which I mean I have begun discovering food mile), but the placement of
each produce in the dish is on what more does it get to the dish aside
the fabulous taste – which is that smidgen of wellness as well. Of
course, in doing so I have also been able to standardise produce for The
Bar Stock Exchange. So the tomato puree we use is made from tomatoes
directly sourced from local farmers. Even our menus are now designed to
convey that food-consciousness to our diners. And for the year to come,
it will be my endeavour to bring in even more such produce – and
introduce them to people."
MEGHA KOHLI, HEAD CHEF, LAVAASH BY SABY
"I was part of
Lavaash By Saby's pre-opening team. We did the research, the
conceptualising and the many, many trials and the menu
rewriting. I even did the initial photography that would go along to
explain why an Armenian restaurant. It was an invigorating experience.
But it is the past few years of running this restaurant as the
head chef that I have realised the goldmine of an opportunity I have had
to learn, to research and to get actually travel the country
documenting cuisine. My biggest influence this year too has been
local and regional cuisine. From doing regional cuisine pop ups at
Lavaash to travelling through small villages of Karnataka to explore
local cuisine. In fact, it has given me an insight into how
‘sophisticated' and ‘advance' our cuisine really is."
RABI KANT SINGH, EXECUTIVE SOUS CHEF, BYG BREWSKI BREWING COMPANY
"In my years
of cooking, I have experimented with a lot of cuisines – both Indian and
international. And for most part of it, I would think I
have done a fantastic work putting them together. My high point once was
mastering the art of molecular gastronomy that could bring a lot of
drama on plate. But it was until I met my mentor, Chef
Sabyasachi Gorai while working with Byg Brewski. For a restaurant that
had world cuisine to play, his insistence of keeping a lot of it
"thinking global, playing local" was nothing less than a crash
course in food thinking. Suddenly, I began understanding the finer
nuances of cuisine – especially Southern Indian food – and how simple
cooked food can create bigger impact. Plus, the
importance of research.
PAWAN BISHT, CORPORATE AND RD EXECUTIVE CHEF, VERANDAH
"For me, the biggest
food influences this year has been the street food. It is a
sheer wonder to watch these street food vendors dole out interesting
comfort, tasty food, year-after-year without the need to change it ever.
And the best part, the taste is consistent. And for 2018,
they have been my biggest food influence as I learned the art of making
the perfect samosa to the interesting foreplay of flavours that make the
frankie, such an addiction. And even the trick to
make these mini, fluffiest idlis with a dense rasam that can be an
instant treat. Many of these little nuggets is what I have used to
present my food at the different restaurant."
SANDEEP SADANANDAN, HEAD CHEF AT BYG BREWSKI BREWING COMPANY - SARJAPUR
"I love food, but I am fascinated with spices. And this
year it has largely been about the Middle Eastern and North African
spices like the harissa, sumac, Ras el hanout, Tabil
and za'atar. There are so many great ways to use these spices, they
aren't hard to cook with, and the result when paired with the right kind
of ingredient and technique is outstanding. In fact, it is
interesting how the base thought of most of the spices are the same, but
they get tweak as you move geography. Isn't it a great way to learn
food?! Well it has been for me – and is likely to
DHRUV OBEROI, HEAD CHEF, OLIVE BAR AND KITCHEN
would not deny: there was a time when I loved
putting everything on the plate to make it look more jovial, colourful
or even interesting. My plates had everything: great ingredients, good
techniques and a story, or what I thought was one at the
time. But then I was introduced to the Japanese "Danshari" lifestyle -
i:e; the process of getting rid of clutter in your life. It taught me
the art of constantly decluttering – and that became evident on
my plate where I began telling a simple story. And gradually, my
colourful, over-laden plate became what the culinary world defined as
sophisticated. I, on the other hand, call it telling a simple story.
Of course, it's a process in learning as I get better every day, and
even experiment with the art of monochrome."
RAVI TOKAS, EXECUTIVE CHEF, PRANKSTER
"I discovered the love for biking and gorging at the same time.
There is something fascinating about discovering food
in the nook and cranies of a highway – even Maggi. In fact, it is these
highway street stalls where I have had a chance to polish my cooking
skills – especially the art of thinking out of the box. It was
with them that I learnt how to use local ingredients to recreate a dish
that was closer to their home, and even pick up a few indigenous tricks
that we use to create dishes at Prankster – bamboo
smoking being one of them. The other is the roasting-steaming of Sidku."