Chef Vineet Talks To ELLE About His New Culinary Breakthrough
On Making regional Indian cuisines into international delicacies
Renowned Indian chef Vineet Bhatia is a multifaceted name in the culinary world. He is a chef, restaurateur, author, and a popular media personality. He started his career by working as a Chef de Cuisine at The Oberoi, after which he moved to London to work as an executive chef. After multiple stints at various restaurants and trying a few entrepreneurial ventures of his own, Vineet launched Zaika in 1999 and became the first chef of Indian origin to be awarded a Michelin star in London.
Later he opened two Rasoi restaurants, the first in Chelsea, London, and the second in Geneva, Switzerland. Both restaurants received Michelin stars in 2006 and 2009, making Vineet the first and only Indian chef to receive two Michelin stars. Apart from his incomparable work in the kitchen, Vineet also appears as a judge on Netflix’s show The Final Table and has been a judge-host on MasterChef India. Popular cookbooks, Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen and My Sweet Kitchen have also been penned by him. In a recent conversation with ELLE, the star chef talks about his new culinary inventions, re-imagination of the Indian cuisine, and what’s next for him in the world of food.
Tell us a little about the Earth, Land and Sea menu you recently curated for Ziya?
In the beginning, Ziya was all about an A La Carte menu, dining in an A La Carte fashion of having starters, mains and desserts or having a tasting menu. It has been almost 10 years since this format. Having done that, we thought that Ziya could take another direction and address this point of dining out and eating in a classic way, instead of eating starters, mains and desserts in that order. Basically, we did away with the routine and curated the food just the way we do at home. The food comes all together at the table, and we take our pick and enjoy dining our way. Here, the food is all plated in smaller portions, and one can taste more than one or two dishes, sometimes even three, to four dishes. These dishes can be put together as 4 to 5 courses up until 12 courses. We came up with the Earth. Land and Sea menu allows us to form these dishes under each of these sections that diners could enjoy without having to conform to a strict regimen.
How does it feel being the first Michelin star chef from India?
Yes, I was the first Chef to receive the Michelin star from Indian origins, it was a very proud moment to see Indian cuisine on that platform. I still reflect on it many times, and about how it was not something that I set out to do, but now having done that, it is still a matter of disbelief that I managed to do it in my lifetime. It is certainly very rewarding to note that in addition to showcasing India on a global platform, it has also in many ways carved a way for Indian chefs to crusade and achieve this acclaim for Indian cuisine. It has also made Indian chefs and even the culinary faculties to think outside the box. To allow for conforming north Indian dishes with south Indian dishes, and the east with the west. To look further and go deeper into our culinary heritage and draw inspiration from our culture. Even looking at western techniques to see how we can adapt that. This is happening in movies, in fashion but to see it also happen in food, I think has been the biggest reward to receive this Michelin star.
Your new menu is based on sourcing ingredients, instead of the conventional breakdown in terms of courses. What inspired you to do that?
My approach to making a menu has always been about sourcing local ingredients and keeping it as local as possible. The second aspect that goes into constructing my menu is digging deeper into my culinary heritage, which is an Indian, and digging out all those all-time classic favourites that aren’t necessarily popular. It is not always about butter chicken and biryani, but about the khormas and sheermals, the soft koftas and many other dishes which are of regional varieties but are not commercially well-known. Many times within India, we are re-introducing Indians to regional cuisines that they may not have come across. Whereas in the west, we are getting them acquainted with the wider palate of Indian cuisine.
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Tell us about your journey in the food industry so far?
With Ziya, I set out to broaden and open up the minds of Indian diners to their own food in many ways. Having achieved that, now, I want to address a different aspect of dining out. This was more or less addressing the strict regimen of the ordering pattern and doing away without ordering in the structure of starters, and mains.
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What inspired you to revamp regional Indian food in a modern avatar?
I never really set out to revamp Indian food, and it is something that gradually happened as I understood myself more. I learnt from my surroundings, my travels, and from my exposures to other chefs cooking other food, learning new techniques from them, and getting exposed to the different, varied ingredients available in the world. I wanted to come out with the best possible way to showcase Indian food, whether it was by visually heightening it with the choice of tableware, through a collection of ingredients and how we aesthetically plate it to make it look beautiful, or by trying to pair the courses with the best wines possible. Basically, uplifting it as an experience.
Besides this, I dig deep into the rich culinary heritage and understand my own culinary heritage and all the dishes, all the regional variations that are present to a particular dish. For example, how a dosa is made in Kerala is very different from how it is served in Chennai, and a completely different version is served in Matunga or some street in Delhi. To understand those regional variations, coming up with those different regional dishes and getting that served in a restaurant ambience is what I have always wanted to do.
I would say that the representation of Indian food that I do in the restaurants is a by-product of a deeper sense of learning and search of my own culinary heritage. It is not something I set out to do, but I am very passionate about showcasing the best that my country has to offer.