Meet the cute chefs behind some of Mumbai’s best restaurants

Who doesn’t love a man in the kitchen?

  • The way we eat — and talk about eating — has changed. Where a half decade ago, gourmand meant anybody who could tell the difference between a steak cooked medium and medium rare, thanks to Masterchef Australia and globalised menus, today we care more about where our food is coming from and how true it stays to its roots. Behind Mumbai’s ongoing culinary makeover — back-to-back openings, brave menus (bone marrow dessert, anyone?) and offbeat ingredients — is a charge of young chefs whipping up a storm in the kitchen. We love what they’re sending out, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re easy on the eyes, either.

    The Overachiever - Pablo Naranjo Agular, 28
    With a very limited palate (“I’d never even tasted lamb”), 18-year-old Agular moved from Columbia to Paris to earn his chef's whites. After a year of juggling a Le Cordon Bleu course, French lessons and part-time gigs, he landed a summer internship in the high-stress kitchen of the Michelin-starred Guy Savoy. Now, after perfecting French cuisine in other star establishments, he’s helming former classmate and patissier Pooja Dhingra’s Le15 Café. His menu champions both diets and cheats, offering everything from a guilt-free beans and seed salad to a super-indulgent stuffed gnocchi with béchamel and cheddar. He says, “I want everyone to come to the café and just have a great meal; no frills, nothing fancy. Everything on the menu is inspired from French comfort food.”

    The Crowd-pleaser - Kelvin Cheung, 36
    The third-generation chef's dearest childhood memories are set in a kitchen — at age five, weekends meant rolling out cookies at his dad’s restaurant. After training across kitchens in hometown Toronto, he moved to India in 2012 to head Mumbai's new fine dining restaurant Ellipsis. His unique flavour combinations and hands-on approach, fielding reservations and off-menu Instagram requests, earned Ellipsis its culinary reputation and celebrity patrons. His loyal fan base, which includes Sonam Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, has followed Cheung to his new gastro pub One Street Over, set up in collaboration with Aallia Hospitality. It's now become one of the city's most popular spots for post-work drinks. He’s not slowing down: Cheung's next project, Bastian (opens this month), is a seafood speciality restaurant that, he promises, "will take the city’s love for fresh catch to the next level" and a fine-dining project scheduled to open next quarter. Plus, he’s already scouting international locations. Tel: 022 2600 2224

    On Pablo: Cotton t-shirt, Linen blazer, Zara. Denim jeans, Vintage Denim. Leather shoes, his own. On Kelvin: Cotton t-shirt, Spring Break at Knit cardigan, Forever 21. Cotton chinos, Fabindia. Leather sneakers, Nike.

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    Photograph: Manasi Sawant/Arsh Sayed; Styling: Veronna Parikh; Make-up and hair: Zenix Soipa and Gracy Arambam/Jean-Claude Biguine, Salon & Spa.



  • The Prodigy - Gresham Fernandes, 35

    At 23, the idea of running one of the city’s most loved restaurants, Salt Water Grill, didn’t faze Fernandes. The IHM grad had just completed a three-month residency at Noma, often credited as the world's best restaurant, and managed an easy ascent to his current post as group executive chef of Impresario Handmade Restaurants. He's now at the forefront of their booming empire that includes 37 outposts of Smoke House Deli, Social Offline and Mocha, and other standalone digs across India. “I busted my ass for the first 15 years. Now, I just want to chill, have fun and create something that will surprise people,” he says. The fun takes place in a rundown Bandra bakery that's been turned into a private dining space and test kitchen. St Jude’s Project is also where Fernandes hosts by-invite-only secret. The creation he's most pleased with? "Buttery cauliflower gougères; it just blew people’s minds. I don’t like how some ingredients are treated like they’re better than others. Sure, truffles are delicious, but so is cauliflower."

    Cotton t-shirt, Tommy Hilfiger. Cotton jacket, Timberland. Denim jeans, Levi’s.

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  • The Game-changer - Rishim Sachdeva, 29

    That famous Coco Chanel diktat to remove one accessory before you head out the door? Sachdeva’s approach to cooking is somewhat similar; if he had the perfect recipe, he’d pare down the ingredients so the flavours could shine through brighter. When he took over at Olive Bar & Kitchen last month, he swapped out about 70 per cent of the Mediterranean fare for more seasonal options. Sachdeva has trained in classic French cuisine and has worked at Marco Pierre White’s The Oak Room and at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. But it’s the challenge of creating complex dishes with fresh produce that most excites him. Using fermentation, marination and broths perfected over weeks, he coaxes out new flavours from ordinary Indian staples like cauliflower and beetroot. There’s an element of surprise in there too; he’s currently working on a dessert made of bone marrow. Olive is in for interesting times. Tel: 022 4340 8229

    Cotton t-shirt, Tommy Hilfiger. Leather jacket, Zara. Denim jeans, Armani Jeans. Leather shoes, Clarks. Metal watch, Hugo Boss.

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  • The All-rounder - Christophe Perrin, 36

    The self-taught chef and his Le Cordon Bleu-trained wife Shilarna Vaze have grown their catering service Gaia Home Chef into Gaia Gourmet since its launch in 2012. They still provide made-to-order home catering (no requests are off the table; you can ask for a Gujarati meal plated like a French one), only now it’s got a touch of molecular gastronomy. Sample: Sol kadhi foam. "Running a catering business is so different from a restaurant. We don’t have a particular niche, so we can experiment with flavours and techniques — and that keeps us interested,” he says. The former landscaper is now applying his experience in horticulture to grow organic ingredients in Alibaug.

    Cotton t-shirt, Calvin Klein. Knit blazer, Zara. Denim jeans, Diesel.

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  • The Rising Star - Prathamesh Shenoy, 27

    After finishing his hospitality course from IHM Aurangabad, Mumbai-based Shenoy decided to set-up his own restaurant. Two failed attempts later, he started helping out at the neighbourhood comic book library and café, Leaping Windows. “I hadn’t cooked in a year; all I wanted was to get in the kitchen.” Since assuming the role of head chef and partner at the café two years ago, he’s turned the menu around a few times before finally settling on hearty South American cuisine. His signature beer BBQ ribs with bhut jolokia and 20-hour pulled pork burgers perfectly. “To me, a sign that you’ve really enjoyed a meal is when it ends with sauce all over your face.”

    Cotton t-shirt, nylon jacket; both Marks & Spencer. Denim jeans, Jack & Jones. Leather loafers, Timberland.


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