Travel show host and one of the most charming television personalities, Ranveer Brar, is above all, a chef by heart. Trying to ignore his extremely good looks and hiding a star-struck crush, we sat down with the celebrity chef to talk about our common Lucknawi roots and simple, satisfying Indian food.
Tell us about yourself--how did a boy from Lucknow, India become the youngest executive chef of a five-star property?
I hail from a family of zamindars (land lords). We have faujis, (army men) doctors, and engineers in our family. The idea to become a chef was triggered by my desire to do something that wasn’t in the family. I connected to food during frequent trips to old Lucknow to binge on kebabs. There was this fantastic kebab guy named Munir Ahmed, from whom I resolved to learn making kebabs. When I was 16, I left home and stayed with him. Initially my parents brushed this aside as “just another thing,” but since I sincerely pursued it for six months, they gave in to my desire to do hotel management.
My first job was in Taj Mansingh, Delhi, as a management trainee where I renovated Machan, Kafe Fontana, and Ricks. I later joined Oberoi but my big break came when I opened the Radisson, Noida as an executive chef. Later, some of my friends were opening a restaurant in Boston, so I quit and left everything. We opened a restaurant called BanQ, but since the economy was dwindling, things didn’t work out and I joined another company in Boston. I came back to Indian eventually, since my dad wasn’t that well, and then Novotel and T.V. happened. Having worked at so many places in India and abroad, gradually I realized that ultimately it’s food and the taste that matters, whether you make it on the street or in a hotel.
What are the dining trends that you see in India?
In India, the average number of times a person dines out has increased, and so have expectations from restaurants. The biggest food trend that I see coming in is detailed cuisine. Earlier we said
“Chalo Marathi khana khate hain” (let’s go eat Marathi food), but now it’s Konkani, Kolhapuri, and regionally more detailed.
People are going deeper into their own food, that’s a trend that I hope stays because there’s a lot that we have to offer. Kerala alone has more than 100 lakh recipes. Another trend is the Izakaya trend—these “small eats,” “quick drinks,” “get-out-of-office” chains. This trend is here to stay and restaurants like Mamagoto are only doing it well. Get out of the office, grab a drink and a bite, meet someone, and then go home.
In terms of techniques we have incorporated everything that the west has; even food styling is a big hit. All chefs should be artists, as food is an expression. There’s a lot more support for a chef to get crazy than before, and it allows chefs to play around and experiment. food transfers feelings, so you cannot be mechanical with food
Where do you see Indian food globally?
You go to any country, and right after the country’s own cuisine, there’s three cuisines which are really there—Chinese, Italian, and Indian. They are just there; people want them and appreciate them, and our cuisine will only go higher from there.
Tell us about your first kitchen experience
My first kitchen experience was drying charcoal and grinding spices in Munir Ustad’s house. That’s all I did when I started.
Do you remember your biggest kitchen disaster?
We had an outdoor event in Delhi and while wrapping up, someone poured chashni (sugar syrup) in oil. We came back and nonchalantly used that oil to cook and the entire place went black. Eventually we smelled burnt sugar and realized what had happened, but the damage had been done by then!
Who have been your major influences?
Ferran Adria. He started the revolution which everyone, all over the world, is trying to do in their own little way. Look at the greatness of the guy—people who even worked with him for just two months are now featured in the top 20 restaurants of the world. Another person I admire is Ken Oringer. I dined a lot at his restaurants in Boston.
During my formative years, chef Munir Ustad, chef Nita Nagaraj, and chef Varun Tyagi were very influential in my career.
Which city do you think knows its food—Indian and abroad?
From my travels, in India, I believe it is Kolkata. There’s one thing called liking your food but in terms of knowing about it, it’s Kolkata. Abroad, I would say New Orleans. Whoever you meet there is so passionate about jazz and food—even Chicago, for that matter.
What is your philosophy on food?
My philosophy is that food transfers feelings, so you cannot be mechanical with food. That’s why everyone uses the same ingredients and still makes something taste completely different. That’s why I tell chefs that whenever you get into the kitchen just get into your happy mode. Two things are very important: it is very important to feel a sense of respect and a sense of love when you are cooking, and travelling is very important for a chef, too.
Foodie tales from the modern Indian. Lettuce Review is a weekly capsule of food fables from the Indian subcontinent, our culture and hospitality. Join us as we give insights into our country, break myths about our cuisine, while welcoming you this colourful land of diversity! Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
A version of this review was originally published on Lettuce Review.