In Person: Chef Ranveer Brar
“All chefs should be artists, because food is an expression”
Travel show host and one of the most charming television personalities, Ranveer Brar is above all, a chef at heart. Dodging his extremely good looks and hiding a star-struck crush, we sit down with the celebrity chef to talk about our common Lucknawi roots and simple, satisfying, Indian food.
Tell us about yourself. How did a boy from Lucknow become the youngest executive chef of a five-star property?
I hail from a family of zamindars. We have faujis, doctors and engineers in our family. The idea to become a chef triggered from the quest to do something that wasn’t in the family. I connected to food during these frequent trips to old Lucknow to binge on kebabs. There was this fantastic kebab waala named Munir Ahmed, from whom I resolved to learn making kebabs. When I was 16, I left home and stayed with him. Initially my parents brushed this aside as ‘just another thing’ but since I sincerely pursued it for 6 months, they gave in to my desire to do hotel management. My first job was in Taj Mansingh Delhi as a management trainee where I renovated Machan,Kafe Fontana and Ricks. I later joined Oberoi but my big break came when I opened the Radisson, Noida as an executive chef. Later, some of my friends were opening a restaurant in Boston, so I quit and left everything. We opened a restaurant called BanQ, but since the economy was dwindling, things didn’t work out and I joined another company in Boston. I came back to India eventually, since my dad wasn’t keeping that well, and then Novotel and TV happened. Having worked at so many places, in India and abroad, gradually this skepticism got over and I realised that ultimately it’s food and the taste that matters, whether you make it on the street or in a hotel.
What are the dining trends that you see in India?
In India, the average dining out frequency has increased, and so have expectations from restaurants. The biggest food trend that I see coming in is detailed cuisine. Earlier we said 'Chalo Marathi khana khate hain,' but now it’s Konkani, Kolhapuri and regionally more detailed. People are going deeper into their own food, that’s a trend that I hope stays because there’s a lot that we have to offer. Kerala alone has more than 1 lakh recipes. Another trend is the Izakaya trend. These ‘small eats’, ‘quick drinks’, get-out-of-office’ chains. This trend is here to stay and restaurants like Mamagoto are only doing it well. Get out of the office, grab a drink and a bite, meet someone and then go home. In terms of techniques we have incorporated everything that the west has; even food styling is a big hit. All chefs should be artists, as food is an expression. Leverage for a chef to get crazy is a lot more than it was earlier. It allows chefs to play around and experiment.
Where do you see Indian food globally?
You go to any country, and right after the country’s own cuisine, there 3 cuisines which are really there—Chinese, Italian and Indian. They are just there; people want them and appreciate them. And our cuisine will only go higher from there.
Tell us about your first kitchen experience
My first kitchen experience was drying charcoal and grinding spices in Munir Ustad’s house. That’s all I did when I started.
Who have been your major influences?
Ferran Adria. He started the revolution which everyone, all over the world, are trying to do in their own little way. Look at the greatness of the guy that people who even worked with him for just 2 months now feature in the top 20 restaurants of the world. Another person I admire is
Ken Oringer. I dined a lot at his restaurant in Boston.
During my formative years, Chef Munir Ustad, Chef Nita Nagaraj, (Taj) and Chef Varun Tyagi, were very influential in my career.
Which city do you think knows its food—Indian and abroad?
From my travels, in India, I believe it is Kolkata. There’s one thing called liking your food but in terms of knowing about it, it’s Kolkata. Abroad, I would say New Orelans, Louisana, USA. Whoever you meet there is so passionate about jazz and food. Even Chicago for that matter.
What is your philosophy on food?
My philosophy is that food transfers feelings, so you cannot be mechanical with food. That’s why everyone uses the same ingredients and still makes something taste completely different. That’s why I tell chefs that whenever you get into the kitchen just get into your happy mode. Two things are very important, it is very important to feel a sense of respect and a sense of love, when you are cooking. Travelling for a chef is very important, too.
Do you remember your biggest kitchen disaster?
We had an outdoor event in Delhi and while wrapping up, someone poured chashni (sugar syrup) in oil. We came back and nonchalantly used that oil to cook and the entire place went black. Eventually we smelled burnt sugar and realised what had happened, but the damage had been done by then!
Your 2 minute recipes - Hing jeera aaloo . Boiled potatoes are always there and I just toss them with a hing-jeera tadka.
First meal you cooked - I cooked rajma , as my mom wasn’t well. I gave it to my dad, who appreciated it, but slyly never told me.
Your comfort food - Mushroom risotto
Your last meal would be - A good risotto two seared scallops on the side, that's it!
Favourite cuisine - Lucknawi
Who cooks better, you or the wife - Obviously the wife! I want to eat at home, right?
Favourite street food - Ulte tawe ka paratha and galouti kebab
Cities you love eating at - New York, Chicago and Boston for nostalgia. London, Singapore, Delhi, Bangalore, Kerala and the whole Kochi belt, I am just obsessed with the food there!