In a tete-a-tete with Restaurant India, Varun Inamdar shares his journey as a chef.
Talk to us about your journey in the world of food. How it all began?
The journey with food doesn’t have a time frame. Generally it gets clichéd with stories going back to when I was 8 years old. Sadly I do not have a fancy story to say here, as in my case, food is the only thing I always knew. Whether it was cooking, reading magazines or cookbooks, watching food shows on television or even looking for inspiration for me my childhood has always revolved around food. I started cooking out of the pure joy that I got while serving my family, got a kick out of the praises I was showered upon as a child and the fun of it kept getting magnified. But yes, everyone in my family cooks and I think that is the reason why it grew upon me. Right from my grandmother who kept noting recipes in her diary to my mother who continued doing so in her own, passion is a common trait. Today all the 3 dairies are in my possession. From there on passion got me cracking the OCLD interviews and there began my journey with Oberoi Hotels. But much before that and very few people know that I started at a then-small restaurant in Bandra as a dishwasher to earn a few thousands then I took my passion to a completely different level, into an uncharted territory of media with no Godfather or support in the industry. And somewhere I feel today the result looks very bright, the decision seemed right and the profession looks lucrative, but it all started with a dream, a struggle and a no calculative approach- an ongoing one at that. So yes, from a dishwasher to being one of the Top 10 celebrity chefs in India and ‘The Prince of Chocolate’, I do not know where my dream takes me next.
I read in an interview of yours that you never wanted to be a Chef. What made you opt for it?
Oh not again! This is I am sure a ripple effect. I have asked this question so many times post that. I hope I was not misquoted in that interview. What I meant is I never had starry positions like chefs in mind when I wished to enter the industry. All I wanted to do is be in the kitchen always. That has been the only thing I have always known, and the only profession that I always wished to get into. My idol in food media has always been Chef Martin Yan. That is the only show I watched and the only chef I knew. Somewhere I didn’t even realize when this blind idol worship began and I just wanted to be like him. That’s what I meant when I said,” I never wanted to be a chef”
You are associated with Ecuadorian cocoa in India. How do you see the cocoa and the chocolate culture growing in India?
The market for cocoa ingredients is growing by the day. However, cost is a factor that becomes the drawing factor between attainability and quality. Cocoa prices climbed to the highest level in last five years. The beans used to make chocolate rose 2 percent to a high of $2,844 per metric ton on ICE Futures U.S. Cocoa prices reached the highest level in almost 25 months as a weaker dollar spurred buying of the beans traded. This price rise affects all retailers and consumers equally. However, we are ready to pay the price as ‘chocolates’ as they never go out of season. The fun of savouring good chocolate is never out of fashion. It is trending never like before, age not being a barrier, at all.
We have seen that there is a growing awareness about healthy eating and calorie count. How do you market the chocolates you made because it is something which is of high calorie?
The demand yes is there, but I feel educating the consumers on this front are more important than just throwing jargons, adjectives and terminologies. One must know why a chocolate exactly is called organic or single origin or medicinal. Many even misguide consumers at the cost of their health and need. Like I said, people’s perceptions about a lot of things have changed due to increase in the travel sector, education and high disposable income. We, as a company, will slowly move into executing this on a bigger platform and hopefully be part of changing a lot of these misconceptions. However, when it comes to good taste, frankly the calories do not matter, unless someone has been brainwashed completely in the wrong direction.
You have penned down the book on unusual subject of 'Pairing Indian flavor notes with Indian wines'. How do you do that? What’s the trick?
In most cases the answer is simple! There is no rule to any kind of pairing. As long as it goes well, and the eater makes sense of it, you have your goals achieved. However, you may carefully chart a table with the pairing and someone may just have a different palate and end up with an unsavory experience. ‘Celebrate Life, Food and Wine’ is a book, and most who have read this opine that it has been published way too many years in advance as the wine market even today is on an experimental stage. Indians with the kind of heavy marketing too are not the best of wine drinkers. They prefer their pegs! But with Indian food and Indian wines, it is not as simple as red meat-red wine, and white meat-white wine kind of a pairing. It is much more detailed and analytical. For example a nice flavorful biryani goes best with a Viognier, as its peach and lychee-like floral notes add to the biryani’s sweet undertones. For more such ideas and a whole detailed chart pick a copy J
Talk to us about your new launch 'barcode- artisanal chocolates'.
Barcode is an artisanal chocolate brand which uses International couvertures like Ecuador, Sao Tome, Java, Ghana, Belgium and another 16 single origins that are paired with flavor-codes from India. A lot of research and sleepless nights have gone into building barcode. barcode represents 29 states of India. Today, it is amongst the top 5 artisanal brands in India in the matter of a year.
From where did you source the raw materials for your products?
Procurement is a whole mix of farms, local spice merchants, regional dehydrator plants, grocers, etc. Most ingredients are easily available.
What are your future plans?
My professional future plans as a chef as still getting formulated every day. This is clearly my time now!