The modern Indian traveller is looking for new experiences on his plate when he travels…
I first met chef Ranveer Brar when he was the executive chef at the Novotel Hotel, Mumbai, and by when he had already begun hosting popular TV food shows. He told me that he was keen to get a taste of the local food of Mumbai and we went out one evening to eat at Aaswad, the Maharashtrian restaurant in Dadar and then Snack Shack, the Parsi restaurant in Bandra. We connected over the course of our meals that evening, and the conversations around them, and we now try to catch up and chat about the world of food whenever we can. Ranveer soon moved out of his life as a corporate chef and currently leads a very busy life as a television celebrity, restaurateur, author, food film producer, benefactor and a mentor at culinary institutions. Ranveer hosts a number of interesting shows across several channels on Indian Television and was a judge on MasterChef India too. His grounding is firmly based on his time spent running actual kitchens and he was accredited as the youngest Executive Chef in the country at the age of 25. He has opened several restaurants pan India and abroad and continues to spread his culinary legacy as the food curator for the restaurants of the much talked about heritage resort – Alila at Bishangarh and the much acclaimed Mayura in Greater Toronto Area, Canada. He is a passionate ambassador for the world of Indian food and is currently working on very interesting project that he is on right now is one where he is working with Tirun Travels to improve the quality of Indian food served on the Royal Carribean cruise ships. I recently spoke to him about that experience.
KK: Ranveer, you have travelled across the world and have operated in kitchens across the world too. What according to you, if anything, is unique about an Indian kitchen?
RB: India as a country has a lot of character, history and diversity. That reflects in our cuisine too. Our kitchens have for long been treasure troves of our culinary legacy. We haven't just created recipes with our dishes but one could say that these are actually seasonal anecdotes and reflect our day to day lives. In my study of Indian cuisine, it has been amazing to discover many examples of contrast and balance that lies in our cooking techniques, and examples of the best use of seasonal produce and near zero tolerance to waste. We are slowly but surely making the trek back to those practices.
KK: Are there any unique characteristics that define the world of ‘Indian food?’ Anything which makes you look at a dish and say “this could have been made only in India?”
RB: Unique characteristics of Indian food, to mention a few, would be the use of right garnishing, food that is a little saucy (is more wet than dry), food that has the obvious use of coriander, chili, cumin and other such spices, food that uses a wide variety of vegetables as well as dairy products compared to many other parts of the world. Our food is ‘hot food.’ We are not really cold food (food served cold) people except when it comes to chaat dishes perhaps. These for me broadly trigger and resonate with the term “Indian Food”.
KK: Tell me about your project to improve the quality of Indian food served on cruises. That’s a new playing field for you. What has been your insight about what the average Indian tourist seeks in terms of Indian food when he or she travels?
RB: The average Indian, as a foodie and as a traveller has evolved considerably. He/she seeks an ‘experience on a plate’ when he travels and not just something to fill his stomach. With so much information available on hand thanks to the media, along with their growing interest in the subject, many Indian travellers now aim to equip themselves with relevant culinary knowledge before eating out, be it a restaurant, or a cruise. There are also peer groups that offer guidance on where and what to eat. The new Indian traveller is now clear on what they want before venturing out and are open to new experiences too.
KK: What are the changes that you have tried to bring in in order to give cruise travellers what they are looking for in terms of Indian food?
RB: I have tried to present dishes that are regional in outlook but have an international appeal and can become a part of a global food conversation. We are doing live counters, interactive demos and the likes on the cruise now. The idea is to involve the people in the process of making food, whether they participate in the process of cooking themselves or are onlookers of it. Demos and workshops help people establish a better relationship with food in general and that dish in particular.
KK: Cuisines from across the world are available in a cruise like setting. What can be done to make the Indian food available stand out in this context? I feel that the answer to this question would be interesting to all of us who are trying to make the world of Indian food get its fair space on the global stage and that your inputs would be most helpful.
RB: The way to make Indian food stand out in this scenario, would be to do live food stations around it, show large cuts of cooked meat or an assortment of fresh vegetables where possible, arrangements and food that attract people from a distance – these are important factors. Also, since Indian food often gets doused in gravies, one would ideally look at presenting food in a way that still looks fresh and vibrant, food that reflects the texture of the ingredients in it. The idea is to get a conversation started and spike people’s curiosity and understanding of the cuisine at large.