Q. Can you tell us about your childhood?
I was born on April 10, 1964 in Ambala. My schooling was done in various states of India as my father, being employed in a bank, had a transferable job. So, many different cities had been my home. My family is known as a family of foodies where good food had always been high on the list of priorities. My mother is a wonderful cook and even my late father used to love to churn out new delicacies in his spare time. So, I did help them once a while as a kid. Academically, I was a normal student – studious and by God’s grace, always among the high rankers. After my schooling, I joined Institute of Hotel Management in PUSA, New Delhi in 1981 for my formal training in Hotel Management, which lead me to where I stand today!
Q. Since when did you feel to become a Chef rather than becoming anything else?
I actually didn’t get a feeling. I always say that I became a Chef by accident, when I could’ve become an architect due to my unique urge of doing something different and going the opposite direction as compared to others. Taking cooking as a career was not my childhood ambition. It just happened, and then I never looked back!
Q. What brought you to Indian food?
Nothing brought me to it! I am born an Indian, so its obvious for it to be my favorite!
Q. Who has been your inspiration?
Q. How has your upbringing and education at the IHM influence your cooking style?
During the stint in IHM, I was putting in long tedious hours in the kitchen, and not allowed to be tired! This was the best training as a chef’s job requires a lot of stamina. After my graduation, I have been a chef in various positions at various properties in India and abroad. This was a hands-on training on the field and extremely satisfying, and has definitely influenced my cooking style in the best way!
Q. We all know that your show “Khana Khazana” is a great success. Can you share the reasons for making it a success and popular?
Khana Khazana was the first of its kind. I was also not sure what will work. People loved it because of its simplicity and for that they could also replicate the same dish with finesse, they were not failing and that took the show to its heights to which people still recall.
Q. There are various cuisines like Thai, Chinese, Continental, etc. Why did you choose Indian cuisine as your style of cooking?
As I already answered, it goes without saying that being an Indian, I love every aspect of India. So, Indian cuisine had to be my favourite. I must also tell you that I have a dream of making Indian Cuisine, the number one in the world, and I’m definitely working towards it, non-stop!
Q. What are the key factors for making the Indian food “authentic”?
I have an issue with the word ‘authentic.’ It is the most misused and abused word as far as the food industry goes. Let me tell you, we have been historically very weak in documenting cuisines/recipes related reports. So, the basis of comparison itself is missing. Who is defining what is authentic? So, not going into the term authenticity, I try to make any dish which would be loved by the local audiences. So, even my Butter Chicken will taste different in Punjab, Hyderabad and Kolkata. And I would leave it to the food connoisseurs to define which one is authentic.
Q. Indian food is full of rich variety of sweets and desserts. Please share your view about the uniqueness you find about it.
India is a vast country, with its 29 states and 7 union territories. Each state has its language, its people and different cultures. Each culture has its traditions and festivals. As per our traditions, any auspicious moment or occasion needs something meetha and because of these festivals the sweets evolved depending mainly on the availability of the ingredients available in the region. Gujarat has a lot of milk so from there comes shrikhand. North has wheat and ghee and hence the halwas. South has rice and hence the payasams and hence forth. Ground spices like cardamoms, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. add flavor and give that extra zing to the sweets. All these ingredients go to make the sweets and desserts versatile as well! But with the changing times, even our mithais have undergone a makeover in terms of their looks and the overall taste.
Q. What is the significance of “Street Food” and “Home Cooking” within Indian cuisine?
Indian food is well represented through the plethora of its popular street foods as well as quintessential and traditional dishes that the home-cooks prepare. These two form the crux of our cuisine. It is not that one is more important than the other as Indians enjoy the foods on the streets as much as they love what is cooked in their homes!
Q. What have been the key drivers for the success of your journey?
‘Keeping things simple’ is something I would say is the most important driver. Also, I always had an early mover advantage and was at the right spot at the right time. Besides this, my family and my perseverance have surely played a very important role in the journey of my life.
Q. Any message for young enthusiastic Chefs and your followers.
All chefs of today are brilliant and bright. My humble advice to each one of them would be just understand their strengths and work on it to maximise the returns and bring laurels to India and Indian cuisine.
Q. Any message for LaughaLaughi.
Eat to your heart’s content. But exercise to stay fit!
Interviewer : Bijon Pramanik Photo Courtesy : Google Special Thanks : Priyanka Basu, Khana Khazana