Chefs Who Travel for Food
Increasingly chefs across the country are taking time out to travel. These are chefs who prioritize spending time in local kitchens, cooking with chefs from a region, exploring ingredients in their native growth areas and more.
Meet Thomas Zacharias, Chef-Partner, The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai who is just back from six days in Kashmir. Talking of the many food trips he has taken, he says, “In 2013, I had been cooking European food for 5.5 years without having ever going to France, Italy or Spain. I felt wasn’t doing justice to my food since I hadn’t eaten it at the source. I realized that it was important for me to do so to build credibility for myself as a chef. I took a sabbatical and travelled across these 3 countries. I covered around 36 towns and cities across 4 months. There were some cities and towns that had distinct sub-cuisines and I couch-surfed most of my trip. I realized that being in these countries was far more enriching as a cooking learning experience than looking at a cookbook or recipes alone”.
For Akshay Bhardwaj, Executive Chef, Whisky Samba, Gurgaon, the opportunities for food travel presented themselves all through his academic and professional career. From a 3- month internship in France during his time in hospitality school, to doing his MBA in the country and then working in France and Belgium, Chef Akshay’s time in Europe saw him backpacking his way through several cities at every chance.
Chef Akshay Bharadwaj completed a 4-month internship at the celebrated Noma in Copenhagen.
“Cooking pork with the Spaniards is so different from cooking it in a restaurant, especially during Christmas,” Chef Akshay assures me. “When I was working with a cruise line, we travelled through South America. When I could, I would spend the night out with local chefs and see what happens in Peruvian and Brazilian kitchens. My inspiration for my menu at Whisky Samba comes a lot from the open grills of Argentina called Asado”. Over time, Chef Akshay’s work saw him spend 3 years in Canada and then snag a 4-month internship at the celebrated Noma in Copenhagen. Then, some time in Singapore exploring the cuisine in depth and you now know why the 85-dish menu at Whisky Samba has such international inspirations.
Chef Zacharias believes that one of his biggest takeaways was to come back to India and think more about getting into Indian food. “The opportunity for The Bombay Canteen came my way and I was sold on concept of the restaurant because it was exactly the direction I wanted to take. Given that I had little to no experience cooking Indian food professionally, I took 2 months off again and travelled around India. This time I covered around 18 destinations across the country. I was blown away by what is there”.
The inspirations on his menu are plenty – The Bhutte ka Khees being one. Chef Zacharias explains, “In Indore I had what is called the Bhutte ka Kheer, which is corn cooked in milk till it is gains a polenta-like consistency. “We brought the idea back and made corn fritters that tasted exactly the same. Grated coconut is usually put on the kheer, but I incorporated that into a chutney at the bottom. The original kheer has hing water drizzled on it. I used moras-bhaji and sprinkled hing on it and it worked perfectly. From my time in Lucknow, some unique chutneys –made of spinach and dried raw mango remained with me. We incorporated these into our menu with fresh toor in a samosa chaat. We combine not just travel and cuisine, but seasonality and availability”.
Talking about his menu, Chef Akshay says, “When in Singapore I tasted the best Nam Pla ever, and in Argentina, the ceviche is a pleasure as is the Carpaccio in Italy,” he says. “When you eat our Salmon Carpaccio with Nam Pla, you get the feeling of having a ceviche, with an Asian dressing, while the dish looks like a Carpaccio. Three small, diverse elements that come together perfectly. Similarly we have the Korean Lamb Chops. Traditionally in Argentina, these are done on slow grills. But we marinate our meat in a tweaked version of a Bulgogi marination and cook on high grills. As a result, the soy gets caramelized and a lovely charred flavour comes in”.
Chef Akshay also does a Fish and chips, with the original idea from UK, the fish margination inspired from Singaporean flavours and an apple vinegar served on the side thanks to his time in Noma, where he learnt fermentation! Also available are sliders, made with Goan Pui.
Chef Zacharias’s philosophy is to always recreate the dish as close to the original as possible first in the kitchen, before innovating on it. “Retaining the original flavours is a main concern, as is restraint,” he adds. Chef Akshay goes on to say that if the dish has flavour, is non-contradictive and not out of one’s comfort zone, people are always open to trying it. He feels that we need to take a moderated way to make things more acceptable to diners.
Regular time off to travel for food exploration and inspiration has ensured that the menus put out by these chefs always have something new for a diner. You may find a dish you know find its way to the table in an inspired form. With more chefs taking to travel to explore the bounties of food in the country and internationally, indulging in inspired renditions of the familiar, is making dining out exciting.
The Bombay Canteen, Unit-1, Process House, S.B. Road, Kamala Mills, Near Radio Mirchi Office, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400 013; tel: +91 22 4966 6666
Whisky Samba, Shop No. 103, 104, 1st Floor, Two Horizon Center, DLF Phase 5, Sector 43, Gurugram, Haryana 122 002; tel: +91 11 3310 7734
Tags : Akshay Bhardwaj, Chefs Who Travel, Culinary Inspiration, European Cuisine, Food Inspiration, Indian Cuisine, Nam Pla, Noma, Ruth DSouza Prabhu, The Bombay Canteen, Thomas Zacharias, Travel, Whisky Samba