How does it feel to be an Indian to receive the Michelin star, one of the highest honors in the culinary world and whom would you like to see in this list ?
It is one of the biggest honors for a chef to receive the Michelin star because this is one they have the perfect parameters to rate chefs and the restaurants. It is like the Oscar awards of cooking and it took a lot of re-definitions that set you apart from the other Indian restaurants to get the attention of the Michelin inspectors. But I would like to see so many other chefs on this list. We have such a great history of achievers like Vinit Bhatia and Atul Kochar in London who have received it but it makes it so much more important for cooking to to be receiving this kind of accoladde. This is akin to Olympics so you know the moment a chef gets the award, it encourages the entire line of people who belong to the same heritage to feel motivated and work on their cuisines/restaurants to enter the esteemed list. I would love to see many Indian chefs who are running restaurants around the world and I would like the Michelin guide to be in India so that the whole world can pay attention to Indian chefs and restaurants.
How do you create the Indian and western fusion cuisine ?
I don't create western fusion but I add elements to Indian cuisine that doesn't take away anything from the original. Adding elements has been my basic forte.
I love to recreate a lot of structures around the same dish so for example a "dahi ke kabab"will have the same flavours but wrapped in Kunafa, a Middle Eastern sweet dish, and I will fry it. I will also try to serve different kinds of sauces around it to give it a more flavour profile. I don't take away the authenticity that exists in the native country for that particular dish but I love to add my own textures, colours & flavours. You know different kinds of techniques to structure a dish so it takes me at least two to three months to make one dish worthy of presentation to the diners.
The one Indian cuisine that you want to bring in the limelight ?
The cuisine which I feel is very important to me and should be well known in the world, presented in every Indian restaurant, mentioned in every cookbook and displayed in TV shows are the cuisines of the North East.
I'm talking about the entire belt from Assam - Arunachal- Mizoram. These cuisines are absolutely fantastic & healthy . They have amazing cooking techniques and varied ingredients that I wish with time we learn to appreciate. I have been inspired by the North East for a very long time. The variety of the rice, the grains, the way they cook the meat, these techniques are relatively unknown as compared to the other cuisines and it is most important for me to constantly find a way to bring the stories from the North East to the world.
Best celebrity you have hosted at your restaurant ?
When you are in the restaurant business on a big scale, it brings in a lot of chefs and celebrities & some of them would be enjoying Indian food for the first time. I do feel that cooking for Gordon Ramsay was a wonderful experience. He has been a very important person in my life. I have looked up to him as a chef & cooking for him was one of the most important moments of my life . Gordon Ramsay brings such an important standard to the culinary world. Not just for television but for restaurants and books. I look up to him as a mentor and cooking for him was a great honour and it's amazing for any chef to host somebody they look up to.
If not a chef what other career would you have pursued ?
I would be a full time farmer and that is something which is still very gratifying to me. I hope eventually I'll find my moral compass and get into farming. To produce something absolutely new to the world which will heal many people. I hope I will find a way to do this soon.
How was the experience of directing your first movie " The Last Colour" and working with Neena Gupta?
Filmmaking is a very important tool for change. One can spark a revolution through it. Writing a bestseller novel would not give me the satisfaction that I would get from making a movie. So I jumped right into it and decided to get the best actress that suits the role in India and that was none other than Neena Gupta.
I think she's par-excellence .She is extremely transparent and honest about her feelings. From the very first meeting, we clicked and she showered so much love on this movie. Her support was phenomenal and she was reassuring me at every moment because I was a little scared and conscious, being my first feature film. She put herself out there in a dark abyss for an awesome performance in a glorious story.I am indebted to her all my life & she's been the most important Light after my mom for The Last Color. Now I am working on a whole new project that will be announced soon.
That one dish that gives you a lot of delight to cook ?
There's something very sacred about making bread and I think coming from Punjab it's ingrained in our minds that when we say "food", we mean "bread".
The entire process of making bread - the smell of the sticky dough, the sticking on your fingers, the levelling, rising, proofing, the baking or frying is very therapeutic for me.
The Best international Chef you have worked with ?
I think one of the best international chefs I've worked with is going to be chef Eric Ripert. He's a French heritage chef and living in America. There are a lot of immigrants making it in New York at the same time. You know his humility, his understanding of cooking, his dedication & his friendship is of great value to me. Also, he is a demigod in terms of the Michelin world . He is one of the people I would give my life for in the USA because his support was of immense value to me . Right from training, hosting events and replicating the menu to understand the finesse of a three Michelin star level . I will always cherish working with chef Eric Ripert and his encouragement to me means the world.
How did you start your culinary career and do you think the schooling in cooking is important?
Cooking was a passion for me and my learning from Hotel administration in Manipal changed my life so I tell people ``staying hungry is a very important part of becoming a chef". Culinary schools don't teach you passion, that comes from within or from parents and childhood. But culinary school brings in discipline. It teaches you the structure of things, the force of organised planning , understanding the management of the kitchen and the kitchen staff. So it's important but there's such an amazing shift in the younger generation because they learn fast from the Internet. Many of them get an idea of cooking and they can get jobs in hotels as trainees. I feel that's a great avenue to understand how the entire thing will pan out. But at the same time I would not give the schools so much importance because I have worked with some great chefs who have never been to culinary schools. It's all very much based on the individual and passion can overwrite the degrees and certificates. There's no point of having talent if you can't work hard and be dedicated to the craft.
How has the hospitality business evolved in these tough times?
Of course, the hospitality business has evolved over the last one and half year. We see a whole new shift happening in casual dining and the increase in takeaways.
Survival is the most important right now for this industry and I'm glad that the chefs took note and as to how they can boost businesses and still be of value to customers.
My new book, which I'll be announcing in a few days, is also about holistic cooking post- pandemic. It's about how we are going to look back to our roots and feel more connected emotionally, spiritually and physically with it. I feel that there has been a huge mental stress in the last one and half years and I'm sure the culinary world, the restaurants and the chefs are going to play a big part in the healing process.
A restaurant / eating joint you would like the readers to try in New York ?
"Veselka'' is the Restaurant i would like to recommend in New York . It's in the East Village and based on authentic Ukrainian cuisine .Authenticity is very important to me so it's one of the top restaurants in my list. I love the whole vibe of East Village & there is another historical place called "Katz Deli". "Russ and Daughters Cafe" offers one of the best bagels in the city. New York is a paradise where you can actually turn on one corner and find a Gem and then move to the next turn to find another exquisite restaurant. Let me not name-pick further as there are lovely restaurants all across this glorified culinary capital. The world comes to NYC with the cuisines representing their culture and I want everyone to enjoy it.