Chef Vicky Ratnani – The name is enough to ring a bell, loud and clear! Even as a child, his love for food took him into corners of his home where children rarely venture, such as the kitchen! Soon after, Vicky emerged from his home in the leafy suburbs of Mumbai, graduated from the prestigious Dadar Catering College and set sail to pursue his dreams – quite literally! He gained a royal appointment aboard Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), where he engaged with various global culinary traditions. After six world cruises that took him through many, many markets of the world along the way, Vicky went on to live and learn in Genoa, Italy. Among the many feathers in his cap, the one that stands out as the brightest is that of his achievement of being the Personal Chef to Mr Nelson Mandela, on his journey from Durban to Cape Town while Mr Mandela was promoting his charitable venture.
Chef Vicky Ratnani spoke to Outlook in an exclusive interview and gave a glimpse into his life as a chef and also spoke about his upcoming show Chef Vs Fridge. The chef has led kitchens not just in restaurants but also cruises.
Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about your journey as a chef? How did it start?
It’s a long one. I always loved food and more than cooking, I loved to eat – Food has always been a centre point. I got into catering college, still wasn’t sure if I’ll become a Chef, but I was just curious about food, presentation, understanding cuisines. Then I went abroad and started working there, started travelling and cooking. I learned a lot about local cuisine, spices, ingredients, etc. came from there. After coming back to India, I started with Aurus, Nido, did television and here I am.
Tell us something about ‘Chef Vs. Fridge’. How is it unique?
The fridge is the hero here and it’s being personified as the protagonist. The theme is in itself unique. Watch the show for all the fun.
How is it collaborating with Gaurav Gera?
Gaurav is just amazing. I love his random comedy and he brought the whole spirit up.
What’s the one cooking experience that you can never forget?
Cooking for Mr Nelson Mandela on my journey from Durban to Cape Town while Mr Mandela was promoting my charitable venture. I was lucky enough to meet him – He hugged me and blessed me.
Which is your favourite cooking ingredient?
Jugalbandi of our spices, especially ‘garam masala’ is the most amazing ingredient that can bring life to the dish.
Your favourite cuisines…
As a Chef, it’s hard to pinpoint one kind of cuisine, but if I have to pick – then it would be Sindhi food.
What is your comfort food?
Sindhi kadhi and chawal. I have grown up eating that – It reminds me of our Sundays when I and Daboo (Ace Bollywood photographer Daboo Ratnani) used to relax with family.
What is the hype around organic food?
It’s not hype – It does make a lot of difference. Organic or clean food is always good for our body as there’s no adulteration. It takes almost three years to convert the raw soil into an organic one. It takes a lot of efforts and time. Price is high as the demand is still not much.
And what about vegan food? Please tell us something about that.
Trends start in India after it’s already there in the western country. A lot of our food is already vegan. It’s easy to substitute your daily food with non-animal or vegan options. It’s a lot better when it comes to health, calories intake, and is not as heavy as butter, cream or cheese. It helps in managing your carbon footprints.
Tell us about some of the most interesting cuisines you had on your travels across India. Which is your ultimate food destination?
I have seen more of the world than India. I am a very innocent foreigner who wants to learn and absorb culinary skills. My travel to Nagaland, Shillong, Kolkata, Lucknow, Chennai, Amritsar, and Delhi has always been fulfilling. Every place in India has something of its own.
Your inspiration for becoming a chef? Your craziest dining experience?
Food, ingredients, and people – Everything inspired me. Once you are in the field of food, you can never get bored and everything you get to learn something new. One of my most amazing dining experiences would be at a restaurant in Peru where the Chef had beautifully woven the culture of Peru and the Amazon.
What is the real essence of being a chef? Do they need to be on a TV show?
No, it doesn’t come easily. You need to do a lot of hard work to reach here and then the audience has to accept us. You have to love food than aspiring to cook for television.
The most common mistake that people make while cooking?
Starting to cook at high temperature where you burn off the oil and people tend to use too much oil while cooking.
If not a chef what profession would you have chosen?
I would have been a food and travel photographer or a DJ.
Three quick cooking tips?
Always cook food that is in season, incorporate more vegetables into your diet, and choose your oil wisely.
Tune-In: Starting this Sunday, 25th April, Chef Vs. Fridge will air on Sundays at 8PM on Zee Cafe