In Conversation with
Chef Arvind Rai
(Executive chef at The Ashok, ITDC)
How did you begin your journey as a chef and what translated your interest into food?
As a teenager, I used to explore lot of food joints like famous parathe wali gali, old Delhi cuisine and also during the festivities or parties the variety of food displayed always excited me and raised my interest to explore more. I remember getting excited when my mother used to prepare the scrumptious feast; thus began my culinary journey. With the growing interest throughout my teenage years, I decided to learn more about this profession. I took admission in IHM – Pusa, which was the first step towards polishing my culinary skills & reinstate my interest in food.
Describe your style of cooking and food?
Simple and authentic is how I would describe my style. I believe too many ingredients can hamper the overall dish and makes the process too complex.
What goes into creating a dish?
A lot of elements of planning, organizing, creating and making optimum use of resources are involved in the process of bringing a perfect dish to the table.
Is there a culinary technique that you use in a different or unusual way?
We at ITDC make sure we keep on experimenting; we use techniques such as “Dungar Dena” for kebabs and Awadhi dal and use of Gulab Jal (Rose Water) to infuse distinctive avour for our traditional dishes such as Awadhi Qorma, Muzzaffar (Vermicelli soaked in saffron flavoured syrup).
What new trends do you see emerging?
Over the years, the process of cooking has undergone a lot of changes, with new trends emerging now and then. Use of home-grown ingredients in cooking is one trend that is really resonating with chefs these day. They give an authentic flavor to the dish and a local element.
What is your take on vegan food?
With people becoming more conscious of the environment, we are witnessing a shift in people towards vegan food. People today are open towards experimenting and experiencing new food palates. The vegan diet promotes good health and the concept of sustainability. I think there is a wide acceptance of this trend and it is only going to grow further.
Your take on sustainable food?
Today with constantly evolving food preferences along with a shift in being environmentally conscious, the concept of sustainable food is picking up. Restaurants are adopting policy of zero-wastage or less water consumption, along with people opting for food options like vegan food and plant-based cuisines. What we eat as well as the methods we choose to cook and harvest our food affects our individual health and that of our planet.
Do you believe in Ayurvedic principles to diet, if yes how do you incorporate them into your cooking?
Food is considered just as powerful as medicine. In fact, there is a shloka (writings of the ancient texts of Ayurveda) that says “food is medicine when consumed properly.” If we eat foods uniquely suited to our physiology and follow a sattvic (life-supporting) routine that enhances digestion, our bodies will reap the benefits and we will find that our days will be happier, healthier and filled with real vitality — at any age. Keeping the same in mind, we have a thali that has multiple ingredients that are in perfect harmony with each other and are based on Ayurveda principles too.
What is your signature dish?
My signature dish is Raan Alishan, it is a preparation of the whole leg of tender baby lamb which is marinated and delicately cooked so as to infuse hint of spices and smoky flavour to it. It can easily be flambéed with Rum so as to add a distinctive flavor to the
Describe your food philosophy?
Simple, authentic and appealing to the eye; as in my opinion the dish is eaten by eyes before even being consumed. Keep away from the fusion cuisine which in my opinion distracts the consumer from the authenticity of a dish.
Is there anything that you won't cook with, that you hate?
No, there is no such thing or cuisine that I won't cook. I am always open to trying new things and explore new recipes in my profession for increasing my own knowledge and also to offer guests with a variety.
Do you have any tips from the kitchen that you've picked up that could be useful to home cooks?
Always use fresh vegetables and fruits. Never mix two types of meat together Salt and Sugar – The lesser, the better Pineapple juice, papaya, and yogurt can be used as a tenderizer in various recipes.
What do you like to do outside of the kitchen?
I love traveling, reading books and spending time with family.
Is there a secret ingredient that you love to cook with?
That would be Fresh Cream; there is so much you can do with this ingredient: like cooking, enriching the gravies, decorating, plating etc.
How do you see the food scene changing in India?
The food industry in India has evolved over many decades and has witnessed an array of changes. Today the consumer is an avid traveller, who has journeyed to various countries, has experienced a variety of food and is now looking to expand his cuisine palate. The food scenario in India is constantly evolving and adapting to new food trends. the latest trends emerging are: Sustainable food: With sustainability being the buzz word and people becoming more conscious towards the environment, options like vegan food will be huge amongst food lovers. We are also seeing a shift in restaurants to adopt zero-waste policies. Global exposure: the customers today are open to experiment and experience international cuisines. Over the coming years, Pan Asian, Japanese, Mediterranean, European, and Asian cuisines would make a mark in India.
What would you say are the biggest changes you've seen over the past two decades?
As I mentioned earlier, today people are open to experiments with new cuisines. Another change I have seen is with the rise of digital; we are becoming more conscious of how the food looks, the more 'Instagaramable' the food, the better it is, so we as chefs have to make sure plating of the dish is given its due importance. The saying 'food is art' today is literal.