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From visual to the culinary arts, what triggered the change in you?
When I was in New York, I started cooking and hosting parties every night. One day my boss at Henry Bendel called me to his office, fired me, gave me two years’ severance, and said “go follow your dreams.” One thing led to another and I went from being a visual merchandiser to cooking full time and teaching classes.
What was your first breakthrough in the world of cooking?
My first major breakthrough may have been as a seven-year-old rolling a chapati and seeing it puff on the stove. I also got the chance to feed big names like Bill T. Jones and Noam Chomsky their last meal of the 1990s and first meal of the 2000s.
Any kitchen mishaps that remain fresh in your memory even today?
Once while catering a meal for a French chef there was a minor fire incident, and I suffered third-degree burns. However, it led to the accidental discovery of a deeply caramelised and delicious pear chutney.
What was the star dish at Devi, the restaurant that earned you the Michelin star?
Crispy okra salad, hands down! When I was younger, I used to make karari bhindi with chawal ka atta. It was a game changer back in Delhi, and managed to surprise guests even in Manhattan.
What is the most unusual meal that you’ve had?
In Japan, I had an 11-course meal with my partner. For the last course, we were served fugu sperm sac, quite similar to a delicately poached egg with everything inside. It was runny, soft, gooey, textured and creamy.
Whose cooking has inspired you the most and why?
I've learnt the extremes of indulgence and practicality, both at the same time. Pandit-ji, our family chef, taught me the basics of Indian cooking. And my mom mindfully inspired my culinary style. It’s light and flavourful, all at once.
A meal that you’d like to relive?
I’d love to share a meal with Gael Greene of New York Magazine. With her, I’ve eaten the best meals that money can buy in the world. And Vir Sanghvi, of course, who has lived a very rich life with his encyclopaedic, brilliant mind.
If not a chef, what other career path would you have chosen?
Either a doctor or an artist. For the last 18 years I’ve been teaching two courses at the Culinary Institute of America and I’ve been extremely fortunate to be one of the few chefs teaching renowned food giants to think about food in a new way.
Chef Recommends: What not to miss when dining at The House of Celeste
Kerala Mutton Ghee Roast
Topped with caramelised onion-tomato jam, poached egg and served with Malabar parottas.
Pro Tip: Use desiccated coconut to enhance the caramelised flavour. Add it after spices are cooked and onions are brown.
Roast Onion-Garlic Sourdough
Doughy on the sides, stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and Kerala onion jam on either side. Served with garlic aioli.
Pro Tip: Brown the onions al dente by adding a smidgeon of sugar. It lends colour, flavour and retains the texture.
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