Food For The Soul

Starting out as a young trainee in the industry, Chef Megha Kohli has worked her way to the top as Head Chef & Operations Head at the acclaimed Delhi-based restaurant Lavaash by Saby. In a tell-all, the young chef reveals how she is focused on making food that is soulful, hearty, comforting and delicious.
Food For The Soul
Food For The Soul
outlookindia.com
2018-03-13T11:49:54+0530

Tell us about your first fond memories of cooking...

I used to cook a lot as a kid with my grandmother and mother. I remember making naan khatai with my grandmother when I was only six, and I baked a chocolate cake for my mother’s birthday to surprise her when I was 8. As I grew up, I realised I wanted to turn my passion into my profession. The main credit for this goes to my mother, who saw the potential chef in me much before I did. My first day in the kitchen was at the Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur. And I spent the entire day (6 am to 9pm), just peeling onions, cleaning the kitchen area and plucking mint and basil for the garnish trays!

What kind of challenges were you faced with when you started out?

The biggest challenge I faced was not being used to standing on my feet for so long and the long hours with so much physical labour. I worked on my tenacity and trained myself to handle the pressure and the hours, so now, even a 12-hour working day seems short!

Along the journey, what have been some of the creations you are particularly proud of?

I think the one creation I’m really proud of is the egg and cheese bread called Pide, that has somehow become the most famous dish at Lavaash! Besides that, I’m very proud of the Upside Down Orange Pound Cake, the Old Monk Mousse, the Lamb Koobideh kebabs and I’m super excited for my upcoming summer menu at Lavaash that has some amazing new dishes as well.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in this journey?

The first executive chef I was lucky to work under was Chef Baranidharan Pacha at the Oberoi Udaivilas, who has been my guiding force since the age of 17. Other than that, my guiding force has been the iconic chef, Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, who has played a key role in where I am today.

The food scene in India has undergone a tremendous change… what is the modern eater looking for?

The modern eater is well-travelled, well-exposed to different cuisines around the globe but at the bottomline, they are all looking for honest food that is an expression of the chef’s creativity, a dining experience and cuisine that is new, unique, different but yet hearty, delicious and comforting.

Budding chefs should learn to work hard, know their basics, do a lot of tastings, keep reading, never look at their watches, and be prepared to give up on personal time.
-Chef Megha Kohli

As cliche as it may sound, there are not still not too many women in professional kitchens. How did you work your way up?

Yes, it has been tough for me to fight my way up, and to make my place in a male dominated industry but I feel that in the professional world gender lines are blurring and both men and women have to work extremely hard to create their own spaces. I think the major challenge that women who want to enter the culinary world face is lack of family support. But once you have entered the culinary world you have to work hard, slog day in and day out and make a place for yourself. There is just no other way!

What does a typical workday for you look like? When I enter my restaurant , I am alive to its needs and it cushions me from the outside world.

I start my day at 12:30pm when I enter the restaurant and check on whether the supplies and ingredients have been received and I have a coffee with my team. Then I get involved in lunch service which ends at 3:30. From 3:30 to 6:30 pm I do all my pending paperwork, check my mails , do new menu planning and trials and I also have any work meetings during this time. 6:30 I go back to the kitchen to check on all the preparations for dinner service. 7pm - 11:45 pm is dinner service , which is insanely busy ! Post dinner service I unwind with my staff and enjoy the staff meal and laugh about the happenings of the day. I leave the restaurant by about 12:45 pm

Cooking in the professional kitchen involves long working hours… how do you keep yourself mentally and physically fit?

I deal with the physical fitness part by working out regularly first thing in the morning and taking care of my health. The tough working hours, stress of running an entire restaurant gets to me at times. I deal with it by venting with my family and friends, and reading, for an hour, before I sleep.

What do you think patrons are looking for when they come to Lavaash?

They are looking for a unique experience. You will find cuisines like Pan Asian, Mediterranean, Mughlai , etc throughout the city but Lavaash offers a different palate experience with its never done before Armenian-Bengali cuisine. From the time of its inception it has garnered a lot of interest and appreciation for this unique concept.

If you were to suggest a full-course meal at Lavaash, to a first-timer, what would they be?

The side with bacon, the Iranian lamb koobideh, The Lavaash fish, The Pork chops, the Chef’s Gata and the Orange pound cake .

Finally, how do you keep yourself inspired?

Thankfully, food to me is something that you can always know more about. You can never reach a stage where you can relax and say now I know everything. So food itself is something that keeps me inspired. And at the end of the day when I see the pride and smile on my parents faces, that’s all I need, as clichéd as it may sound!

***

Rice Kheer

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup long grain rice or Basmati rice
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp green cardamom seeds powder
  • Few strands saffron
  • ½ tbsp almonds, chopped
  • ½ tbsp cashewnuts, chopped
  • ½ tbsp raisins

Method

  • Wash the rice under running cold water till water runs clear.
  • Soak them in enough water for 20-30 minutes.
  • While rice is soaking, chop the nuts and keep it aside.
  • After soaking time, discard the water.
  • Take milk in a heavy bottom pan. Turn the heat on medium.
  • Let the milk come to a boil.
  • Once it starts boiling, add rice.
  • Stir well and let it simmer on low-medium heat 20-25 minutes. Or till the rice is tender and cooked. Do stir every five minutes and make sure that rice or milk is not sticking to the pan.
  • Check by pinching the rice grain, it will mash very easily. When you take a spoonful of it and pour it back, rice and milk stay separate.
  • Now add sugar and cardamom powder. Stir it well.
  • Also add saffron strands and chopped cashews, almonds and raisins.
  • Mix well. let it simmer for 6-7 minutes. It should be thick now.
  • How to check right consistency: take ladleful of kheer and pour it back. rice and milk should fall together in the same flow. They should not be separated like earlier.
  • Once you get this consistency then turn off the stove.

For best results, use India Gate Sweet Indulgence Rice

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