- What inspired you to join the hospitality industry?
Lucknow inspired me to be a chef. Lucknow has both the cultures of khana and khidmat, and food and hospitality are in every Lucknow-ite’s nerves. When you go to Lucknow, you feel both the passion and khidmat: that’s my inspiration.
- Tell us about your love for food and how it helped in building your career. Who was the first chef or cook whom you really admire.
My first love has always been food and that is the foundation of where I am today. The first chef whom I was trained under was Chef Munir Ahmed, who passed away in 1992. I learnt the basics of Lucknowi cuisine from him. He taught me a lot of kebabs, Lucknowi marinations and Biryanis. One unusual kebab that I learnt from him was the Dorra Kebab that is cooked on a silken thread. It is cooked on ambers and still the thread doesn’t burn! Another interesting kebab is the one that is cooked on Khus “patti”. There are many such small recipes like this in Lucknow.
- What’s your favourite cuisine?
My favourite cuisine is Awadhi food: the food from Lucknow. But I keep switching between Lucknowi food and South Italian food, depending on what diet I am on and how much time I have. When it comes to home food, it is simple flavours that I love: Dal khichdi, Dal chawal, Anda bhurji and so on. I love these dishes as I grew up eating very simple flavours. That helped me appreciate complex flavours. When I am not eating complicated flavours, I am at home eating plain, simple food.
- Apart from Lucknowi food, which other Indian cuisine attracts you?
I have a big fascination for Bengali cuisine, especially the Bangal food: the food from East Bengal or Bangladesh. That food has a lot of character, robustness and finer nuances that is hard to find anywhere else. I am also a big fan of Maharashtrian food, especially the Konkani food. In India, a lot of regional foods are very elaborate and full of character. I think, it’s worth discovering that. In Bengali cuisine, there is a dish called Chitol Maacher Muittha, which is one of my favourites, where you take this fish called Chitol, scrape the whole flesh out and shape it into balls. I love Kosha Mangsho too! Ilish bhapa is my all-time favourite.
- What was your experience being the MasterChef judge this year?
It was very interesting! MasterChef was an opportunity to discover the country from a different angle. It was an opportunity to discover the Indian amateur cooks too, and there is a lot that they have to offer. This time was also a little different because we were both mentors and judges. It allowed us to form a bond with the contestants, and we interacted with them much closely even off-camera.
- You have such a hectic shooting schedule. How do you manage to cling to your passion for food and cooking?
Most of the shoot is around food, so when I am around food, I am always comfortable because that’s what you do and that’s what you stand for – whether you are travelling or eating food, whether you are cooking food or whether you are talking to people about food – I feel the connect is always there, because it’s still food. Yes, we do miss professional kitchens sometimes when the schedules get very long, and we do miss creating dishes and the restaurant in the kitchen, but I think, at the end, all is well.
7. What is your view on Molecular Gastronomy?
There is excitement about molecular gastronomy because it is off the beaten path and rightly so. Food is about evolution, about change. We still want food to look like food, so Molecular Gastronomy will not completely take over in restaurants, but it will stay there in elements!
8. How much important for a chef is food styling?
Understanding of food in space is very important because food styling allows you to be very precise into food, so that the food looks appetising! The food deserves to look good because you spent so much time preparing it, so you might as well spend some time styling it. Also, food styling is not just about food plating. It is about creating an environment on a food shot. That is when the sense of art sets in and every chef should get that sense of art. We are all innate artists and we don’t know that, and spaces like food styling allows us to know that innate artist within us.
9. What is the secret to cooking great food?
The secret to cooking great food is perseverance and patience. There are a lot of ways to cook food, but the tastiest food is the one that is cooked patiently and takes a while.
10. Tell us about your cooking shows on TV. Which one is your favourite?
My favourite is a show called Home Made on Zee TV. It is just 30 simple recipes of stuff that you get canned/bottled in supermarkets, but you can rather make these at home easily.
There is an upcoming show on Living Foodz called Ranveer’s Café. The Great Indian Rasoi (on Zee Khana Khazana) is also on. Other than that, there is another show on Zee TV that I am working on.
11. The favourite dish that you love to cook?
12. The dish cooked by you, most appreciated by people?
13. Your favourite Italian food.
Southern Italian food is my hot favourite. In Sicilian food, I love the Pastries, Cassata, Aranchini and Cannoli.
14. Your favourite ingredient to cook with.
My favourite ingredient to cook with is “coriander”. I use fresh coriander a lot. I think, fresh coriander adds a lot of character and freshness to a dish. It changes the complexion of a dish. I feel that it brings a lot to the table, compared to the other ingredients.
15. Your most challenging ingredient to work with.
I think, all the greens are very challenging to work with, because you try and retain the colour as they discolour so fast. So greens, especially when you are cooking Indian food, is a challenge.
16. Which is your favourite street food?
My favourite street food is from Kolkata. I love the Tele Bhaja, Phuchka, Jhal Muri and the Mishti Doi.
17. Which is your favourite drink?
My favourite drink is coconut water.
18. What are your future plans?
My MTV-inspired bars will come up soon. I am also opening a restaurant in Kamala Mills. Outside India, I run two restaurants and I am planning to open one in Madrid too.
19. What are your hobbies?
I love painting and sculpting.
20. Which is your favourite cooking technique?
My favourite cooking technique is Bhuno or rarha.
21. You love seafood. Which seafood varieties do you prefer to eat?
Goa introduced me to seafood and that’s where the love for seafood struck from. Fresh seafood doesn’t need anything else: just salt and pepper. When I have the time, then my favourite seafood is crabs. Tiny shrimps is another favourite and it goes well with milder flavours like eggs, bottle gourd and chana.