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Indian Cuisine Chefs


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The past few years the Food Network, a US based cable channel, and recently "The Restaurant," a reality show chronicling the opening of Roccos 22nd Street, have popularized the concept of "celebrity chef." There are celebrity chefs and prominent personalities representing most cuisines. A few examples: Ming Tsai, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Nobu Matsuhisha, Jamie Oliver...the list goes on.

Who would you nominate as a prominent Indian cuisine chef/personality in the US, UK, India?

What characteristics/skills/achievements garner an Indian chef noteriety of any level?

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I wouldn't consider her as Indian cuisine chef. In my opinion, she's an intelligent, well-traveled Indian, who uses her physique and her profession as a model to promote healthy cooking mainly through Mediterranean fare. By no means am I trying to marginalize her talent or knowledge. I just haven't seen her do anything noteworthy with Indian cuisine.

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In India, there are a lot. Roughly this order of prominence:

Tarla Dalal

She is by far the best-selling cookbook author of all time for Indian food, though she is nearly unknown in the U.S. and Europe. All of her cookbooks are vegetarian. She has a special expertise in Gujarati dishes, but can cook from all the different regions. Perhaps the main reason for her lack of prominence outside of India is that she writes practical recipe books, devoid of cultural context, presumably for those who are familiar with all that context already. She is not a particularly stylish writer, but she does provide a very wide range of ideas for cooking.

Sanjeev Kapoor

India's first TV celebrity chef. His Khana Khazana was considered a breakthrough show in bringing cooking shows into the entertainment mainstream. A quite competent cook, and I guess good looking, but he doesn't seem to be all that charismatic otherwise. Even copies Sam Choy's "OK" sign. Does mostly North Indian stuff.

J. Inder Singh "Jiggs" Kalra

Kalra is less a chef than a food entrepreneur, one who, perhaps more than anyone, has been responsible for the boom in self-consciously creative cuisine in India. He is the advisor to numerous high-end restaurants, a prolific magazine columnist, frequent TV guest, and the author of two best-selling books. The first was Prashad: Cooking with Indian Masters (Allied, 1986), which was way ahead of its time in promoting Indian Chefs as artistes and heroes. The second is (with longtime collaborator Pushpent Pant) is Daawat (Allied, 2001), based upon his popular TV series, also a collaboration with Pant.

Kalra's lack of celebrity in the West is somewhat of a puzzle. Unlike the other two, he really flourishes as a promoter of Indian cuisine in the context of Indian culture. He is also a very colorful writer with a fondness for cricket metaphors and incongruous sexual references (not that those two are mutually exclusive). Perhaps he's not really interested in being successful in the U.S. or U.K., since he does quite well throughout not only India but also much of the rest of Asia.

He and Pant triggered quite a scandal when they turned their annual Awadh Food Festival into a celebration of Indian food as an aphrodisiac. You can find various writings of his on the web, most notably his monthly columns in Singapore's New Asia Cuisine and Wine Scene magazine.

I'm sure our community members from India can add others to this list.

Madhur Jaffrey would definitely qualify as a celebrity chef in Britain on the impetus of her television shows, and comes pretty close to it in the U.S. as well.

Who is a celebrity chef in the U.S.? Suvir Saran!

Edited by skchai (log)

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Sanjeev Kapoor is a rather tiresome joke now. His show is competent, without being particularly interesting - the best one could say is that it fills the requirements of a TV viewing niche that isn't particularly developed yet in India. It was, at least initially, unpretentious, which is more than can be said of some of the other experiments tried out - one with Aly Khan as the anchor comes to mind.

Success has gone to Kapoor's head however and how. He has opened some restaurants, including one in Bombay called Blue Cilantro that hands down is the ugliest new eating place in this city, and the food is dull beyond belief. His early books were good compilations of the basic recipes, presented fairly professional.

But the latest book has to be seen to be believed. It features Kapoor dressed as a raja on the cover while still being called "Simply Sanjeev". The recipes inside are printed in a particularly hard to read italic font which says it all - if a collection of recipes that is meant to be of practical use in the kitchen isn't easy to read, what is its point?

Tarla Dalal's recipes are always practical and generally good. She's resisted getting swept away by her success, which is probably wise since she's not exactly high on charisma - and that in fact is part of her appeal. Jiggs, as SK Chai says, is more an entrepreneur than a chef and sometimes I admit I've found that endlessly entrepreneurial enthusiasm wearisome. Every chef he wants to push isn't a hidden genius, and every new ingredient isn't ambrosia.

But Jiggs' book 'Prashad' is solid, no question, and he deserves a lot of credit for saving styles of cooking that were disappearing by giving them an injection of 5 Star Hotel support. I have mixed feelings about the way these styles are often now only available at super expensive prices in 5 Star Hotel restaursnts or in short burst during food festivals at these restaurants, but better that than their disappearance. And the chefs behind them have got their due, which is very desirable.

One of Jiggs' main such finds was Imtiaz Qureishi of Dum Pukht (the restaurant in the ITC Hotels and that style of cooking in general) fame. Qureishi has made that Lucknavi style of closed pot cooking famous and has also created a dynasty of chefs in his sons and nephews to perpetuate it. He would certainly count as a celebrity chef in India, though limited to this one style of cooking.

Ananda Solomon of the Taj President in Bombay would certainly be my nomination for a celebrity chef. He got recognition with Thai Pavilion which is certainly good, though its entire authenticity is in question (Antoine, want to weigh in here?). His Konkan Cafe has brought the food of the Konkan region to 5 Star attention - it is a good place to sample it, though I'd prefer other, more modest places in Bombay. He's a really nice guy and passionate about cooking and certainly would deserve to be a celebrity chef, though I think is still too modest to go the whole routine.

Ditto for Praveen Anand at Dakshin in Madras (and in charge of all the Dakshin restaurants). I don't know anyone who knows more about South Indian food that Praveen, but he's way too modest and shy to do the celebrity number. Moshe Shek, based in Bombay and now expanding, has the style and entrepreneurial ability to do the celebrity routine, if he wanted. Karen Anand, who written a couple of excellent cookbooks and is developing a good range of culinary products is another person who's flirted with the celebrity chef image (though more in the Nigella way - Karen will cringe if she reads this - since she doesn't run a restaurant).

Wouldn't some of the Indian chefs based in the UK qualify - Cyrus Todiwallah of Cafe Spice Namaste for example or Das Sreedharan of Rasa? Both their cookbooks were beautiful and quite interesting to read,

Vikram

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Roopa Gulati for a short while presented a breakfast show on New Delhi TV. She was fairly charismatic, peppy and had good diction. I marvelled at her sense of extempore, improvisation and casualness for exact measurements like 2 1/4 teaspoons of this and 80 ml of that. She was able to put across the recipe in a simple manner and put the viewer at ease, all the hallmarks of a good presenter.

I believe she is qualified to take Indian cuisine further.

I think she has now taken over where Iqbal Wahhab left - as editor of Tandoori magazine, UK.

I have never had the fortune of meeting Suvir but the photograph on his site reveals a good personality.

Edited by Episure (log)

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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The UK definitely has its share of celebrity chefs and upcoming chefs. Vikram, I agree with your choice. Cyrus Todiwala definitely fits the bill. His experience with Thai and Singapore cuisine subtly and perfectly influences his recipes. He also works behind the scenes developing some products for Marks and Spencer which sell very well.

I also add Vineet Bhatia. Garnering the Michelin Star gave him instant noteriety. He's harnessed that fame to continue to do great work and to influence many chefs.

On a smaller scale, Floyd Cardoz made a name for himself while at the famed French restaurant Lespinasse. Using his classical French training, he successfully created a French-Indian fusion concept. Many groups rate Tabla as the best restaurant in NYC. He also has quite a few engagements educating the public on Indian cuisine.

I'll add the late Raji Jailepalli-Reiss. She fits into the same category as Floyd. Her cookbook and restaurant in Memphis set a standard.

Do we put Suvir into the category? I'm sure his cookbook will place him on a grander stage. :smile:

I'm curious to hear of who some of the up-and-comers may be.

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I would definately add Suvir's name to celeb chefs. In addition to all the other stuff he does he is also on the editorial board of the respected Food Arts magazine!

I third on Suvir to be the celeb chef's of USA.

I will also offer my kitchen in case if he is not associated with any other commercial kitchen. (For the Restaurant realty show)

Edited by prasad2 (log)
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Suvir is definitely a consensus all star. Kudos to him for the respect he commands among the posters and many others who recognize his talents.

What are some of the great breeding grounds for Indian chefs?

Why do the Taj and Oberoi hotel groups consistently produce top chefs?

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Why do the Taj and Oberoi hotel groups consistently produce top chefs?

The Oberoi? Top chefs? In which universe? The Oberoi group has many excellent things going for it, but food is never going to be one of them. I mean, its not bad, but its never particularly outstanding either - the group has never shown interest in really focusing on food in any of its restaurants.

With the Taj too, the food quality is mixed. The curious fact about the group is that the food in its business class hotels is usually much more interesting than in its luxury hotels. In Bombay, for example, the Taj President has always been known for its outstanding food while the Taj itself has, er, not.

In Madras the Connemara, its business hotel, has Raintree, one of the few places that could be said to serve _real_ Chettinad food. The food at the Taj Coromandel, like most aspects of the Taj Coromandel, is best passed over in silence.

The diplomatic reason I was given for this by Ananda Solomon, the executive chef of the business hotels is that the large hotels are such big complex operations that the chefs over there are more administrators than really connected with the kitchen, whereas someone like him did have a bit more time to really get hands on. Maybe. The point is the Taj's food reputation as a whole is patchy.

The one Indian hotel chain which really does have a good reputation on food is ITC's Welcomgroup. Coming up as a third chain against two strong rivals, they long ago identified food - and specifically the regional cuisines of India - as one area that could be a selling point for them. So they developed Dum Pukht for Avadhi food and Bukhara for Frontier food and then Dakshin for the food of the south.

All their restaurants haven't been great, and I am mildly sceptical about current effort to extend the brands of these restaurants by selling canned versions of the favourite dishes from these places. The Dal Bukhara, for example, isn't bad (though one tends to suspect one could come to the same product by making ordinary kali dhal and adding liquid smoke flavour), but some of the others are strictly so so.

The canned Khubani ka Meeta though is excellent, especially if you think of it as spicy apricot jam rather than a dessert. (I have vaguely been thinking of using it rather than apricot jam in several Western desserts; I think the results could be really good. But I'm getting sidetracked).

Anyway, the point is, if you want good cooking and good chefs, treated in the right way, the Welcomgroup is the place to look (and I have absolutely no connection with the chain or group).

Vikram

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president and taj have always felt the same difference to me, food-wise anyway.

but the taj in bombay is at least competent and it has been venturesome in the past. in fact, the first place i ever ate andhra food outside (ie, not in someones home) was at the long departed shamiana. i'd say that the taj turns out correct, but soulless versions of whatever their trying to get at - unless its that rendezvous/apollo bar/polyneisan sort of thing that regularly bursts into horrendous flower at five star hotels.

here in london, the bombay brasserie (run by the taj) is at least one of a handful of restaurants that serves dishes that are recognizable to an indian .. the evil that countless curry houses have wreaked in the name of our cuisine has to be experienced to be believed.

so in a vague way, i'd defend the taj. that, and the fact that it was always where my father would pack us off for sunday lunch before descending upon the club ..

a seperate thread - club food?

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Ananda Solomon of the Taj President in Bombay would certainly be my nomination for a celebrity chef. He got recognition with Thai Pavilion which is certainly good, though its entire authenticity is in question (Antoine, want to weigh in here?)

Vikram

Isn't Anada Solomon in Blue Diamond Pune or the ex-Blue Diamond and the Taj now. My classmate always said Anada Soloman was his guru. I know he commands certain respect among a lot of young Indian chef's now.

An other chef I thought was Chef Saraswat (I guess ex-Taj)

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Isn't Anada Solomon in Blue Diamond Pune or the ex-Blue Diamond and the Taj now. My classmate always said Anada Soloman was his guru. I know he commands certain respect among a lot of young Indian chef's now

Yes, Blue Diamond is now one of the Taj's business hotels so it comes under Chef Solomon. Here, with zero modesty, is a short profile I wrote on Chef Solomon, as part of a larger article:

Ananda Solomon

Ananda Solomon is corporate chef for Taj’s business hotels division, but is best known as the executive chef of the Taj President, where he overlooks two of the chain’s best restaurants, Thai Pavilion and the Konkan Cafe.

When Ananda Solomon stands, tall and absolutely straight, you get a hint of what he might have been if he hadn’t become a chef. “My father was in the airforce so that was my first choice,” he says. But he flunked his NDA entrance exam, so from then on it was going to be meringues rather than MIGs. At IHM, Mumbai though he found in Ms.Thangam Philip, its legendary principal, a disciplinarian who could have given any sergeant major a match. “She really taught me how important it is to be organised in the kitchen,” he recalls ruefully.

Solomon’s career illustrates the career for a chef in the traditional system. After catering college he joined a hotel chain in India, and then went to the Middle East to work as a saucier in the Hilton. After gaining valuable experience there he returned to India to join the Taj as a sous-chef at the Fort Aguada resort in Goa. “That’s where I really learned about Indian food,” he says. Solomon’s experience was of the usual hotel chef, but in Goa he found in himself a curiosity about local ingredients and recipes which was not usual in the hotel mode of thinking.

For example, when it comes to fish, most hotels are quite rigid, only serving varieties like pomfret or rawas that diners are familiar with. But Solomon became interested in all the other local fishes, often very tasty - and in the people who cooked them. He got to know the old ladies in the area, and learned from them the recipes they used in their own homes. Perhaps it was the proximity of Mangalore, which is where his roots lie, because that’s where Solomon says he got his basic interest in food, long before he became a chef.

“I remember as a child sitting in the huge kitchen we had, and watching my mother cook on fires made from coconut shells or old coffee tree wood. I was the youngest child, so I was pampered. She let me sit in the kitchen and while she was cooking she would let me taste what she was making.” That childhood memory left Solomon with an interest in local tastes and techniques that stayed with his through his hotel training and which he later went back to, in creating Konkan Cafe.

It was also this respect for local ingredients and local cooks that took him to Thailand to really learn Thai cooking for Thai Pavilion, rather than just teaching himself as too many other cooks in ‘Thai’ restaurants have done. (He did the same again with Mexican food when he opened El Mexicana, now closed, but in its time the only place serving real Mexican food in Mumbai, rather than bastardised version of tacos and refried beans).

Solomon now runs a large operation, but he’s a passionate believer in the chef retaining his links with cooking. “No matter what I do, everyday I have to work on the range,” he says. “That’s what being a chef is really all about.”

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Vikram, thanks for sharing this piece on Ananda Solomon.

It is funny to read the beginning. Just last week, the director of a film that is being made about a chef of Indian ethnicity was interviewing a chef in my presence. His mouth fell wide open in shock when the chef both of us thought would give us some great inspiration for the script through his memories and childhood experiences, told us he got into cooking only because he got bad grades in 12th Grade and could not become a doctor or engineer.

We both questioned and questioned until we were tired to search for some early childhood memories associated around food, and could find none in his mind. Food was something he came to by accident. But certainly this chef, is no new player in the Indian food world. And could qualify as one of the premier Indian culinary celebrities.

The director of the film and I wondered if his passion and talent with food were so brilliant for they were without any burden of old memories?

This chef had us totally charmed even after we failed in our mission to learn about how culinary enriched a young chefs life can be. His current life is revolved entirely around food. His creations come from his life after leaving home ashamed for not having become what he really wanted to be. And he never draws back into his own childhood or even the culinary riches of his family.

He further went on and told us how he would tell his parent he was studying the technical arts whilst he went to catering college. And even whilst he trained at the Maurya Sheraton and Taj groups, he would tell them he was in the business side.

It was not until he had received acclaim in the US that he shared with his parents his real profession. And now, he says they are very proud of his achievements and have no reluctance about sharing his success with friends and family.

The director of this film who was looking to draw on the childhood experiences of famous chefs, thanked me later for this introduction. He said he could use very little from this interview in his current project based on the childhood of a chef, but

had learned afresh not to have any set assumptions about how people fall into what they become as they evolve.

Your words about Ananda Solomon seemed to bring back that interview that I was a part of last week. (Though Ananda Solomon, unlike the chef I speak of, clearly draws back from his growing up experiences as you bring out through images of him sitting at his mothers stove)

When this film is released in the US, it shall certainly change the image of chefs in the Indian households. Not a bad thing I guess. But learning from this particular chefs story and what I read from your piece, not all chefs need to find brilliance in what they do because of their collected experiences of growing up. Talent can be found and evolved at any time of ones life.

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