Chef Atul Kochhar Opens Up About Michelin Stars, Food Trends And Creating A Special Menu With Masterchef Winners
The Michelin star chef opens up on all things food in this exclusive chat
Twice Michelin-star, chef Atul Kochhar who gave us restaurants like NRI and Lima, is only just starting out. In his latest venture, he has started training passionate cooks to turn them into professional chefs. For a short time, you can taste a combo pop-up menu featuring Masterchef winner Chef Kritika Bhoutika and runner-up Chef Ashima Arora at NRI (Not Really Indian). We caught up with the Chef to talk about food, trends and everything in between. Edited excerpts from a freewheeling conversation.
What inspired you to team-up with the top two Masterchef contestants?
When I was at Masterchef India, I met these two gifted ladies, Kirti Bhoutika and Ashima Arora. I was very impressed with their thought process and the way they wanted to grow in their careers. Since I love mentoring young chefs, I decided to give this a shot by collaborating with them to create this special menu at NRI. They are gifted ladies so I thought why not entice them so that they do not walk away from the industry after the show. I wanted to keep their passion alive, and I hope I did that through this collaboration.
What can one expect from the special menu?
The special menu is a combination of our skills. I am doing things my way while they bring their knowledge to the kitchen. It is quite a quirky menu with dishes like Butter Bean and Quinoa Khichdi and Wine Cheese and Mushroom Choux Doughnut for example.
How long did it take to design the menu?
It was a lot of to and fro, but I was engaged with them throughout the journey. It took us 3 to 4 weeks and my team was constantly holding their hands, to see what could work.
What are your thoughts on collaborating with different chefs
Firstly, it is to keep their passion for cooking alive. Secondly, they bring variety to the kitchen wherein I get an opportunity to learn and if possible, also leave my imprint about how I see food. While they learn from me, I, too, learn a lot of things from them, which is self-enriching.
Butter Bean and Quinoa Khichdi
Your restaurants are very popular among foodies. How do you design your menu?
We have a test kitchen in London where I have a team of chefs with me. We work on the menu season by season according to the requirements of each place. Also, I have given liberty to the Head Chef of each restaurant to experiment with the menu and come up with something new, which is tasted either by me or one of the test chefs. The menu is designed after a lot of deliberations.
What inspired you to be a chef in the first place?
My family for sure. My grandfather was a baker; my father had a small catering service and mother is an incredible cook. I was blessed with four sisters, who were amazing cooks too, so I always felt that I was nurtured by five mothers. So, I grew up in family where food was the center point and that somewhere inspired me to ditch my medical studies to join the food business.
What are your tips for chefs who aspire for Michelin stars?
Two things: hard-work and consistency, are keys to acquire Michelin stars. As a chef you are undoubtedly creative and know to play with flavours. What people lack these days is hard-work and consistency to deliver the best at all times.
A food trend that is here to stay, according to you?
Street food. It never went away, we just polished it and started serving it in a more luxurious setting.
Restaurants nowadays are going niche/local with their menu. What do you think?
I love it! It was very much required. Few years ago, I remember travelling with British journalists to India and not finding authentic local food. We should be proud of our food culture and showcase it in a much better way. And, if there are restaurants that are focusing on local dishes, it puts a massive smile on my face and makes me really proud of their work. I feel I have a home to go to.
What is the India’s biggest food export to the West?
Indian food. What took us abroad was tandoori chicken. It became authentic Indian roast chicken, which made us famous across the world.
You can enjoy the pop-up menu designed by the trio of Chef Atul Kochhar, Chef Kritika Bhoutika and Chef Ashima Arora till March 16, 2017 at NRI, BKC, Mumbai.
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