After creating waves in the U.S. through his innovative culinary philosophy, Chef Suvir Saran has returned to his roots with the launch of his first progressive Indian restaurant –The House of Celeste
Michelin Starred Chef Suvir Saran is back to business with the launch of his latest restaurant in Gurgaon after a long break because of serious health issues from Aphasia, which resulted in problems related to speech and eyesight. This illness also led to the closure of his ambitious restaurant (Tapestry) serving world cuisines in New York. The house of Celeste, a 120 seater restaurant serves Modern Indian Cuisine and is located away from the hustle and bustle of cyber hub in Gurgaon. It presents an innovative, contemporary and interestingly styled menu offering street food, regional fare, grill and wood fired oven dishes, a wide selection of meats and the season’s choicest ingredients.
In an exclusive interview with Restaurant India, Chef Suvir Saran, who won Michelin Star for his non-European restaurant- Devi in New York, talked about the launch of his new restaurant- The House of Celeste in Gurgaon, his personal style of cooking and his upcoming book-Instamatic.
How do you feel after the launch of House of Celeste and your return to the Restaurant Business?
Wonderful! I think India is in a wonderful kind of flux where we are growing, evolving, and cuisines are changing and the energy of the country is changing. We are changing in many ways. Our food industry is dynamic and it is interesting to be a part of a movement that is going upwards. So, it is an exciting time. Our diners here are coming of age like our food. We make everything fresh here. The idea is to give the very first bite that awakens the palette. People are coming from near and far. We haven’t really told people yet that we are open. The diners are here all because of word of mouth and people keep coming back. We are humbled, excited and grateful.
How would you describe your journey so far?
When I was 20, I went to America and came back to India when at the age of 47. The journey has been full of adventures. I eat and live hungrily. I share passionately as well and there is never a dull moment in my life. Despite not going to any culinary school, I am the Chairman of the Culinary Institute of America’s World Cuisines Council at the Asian Culinary Studies.
I've always loved growing up in a home with my mother and Pundit ji (local cook). He cooks incredible food in a beautiful manner. So, I always expected good food around me. As a six or seven year old, I was teaching elders how to cook because I had watched beautiful cooking happening in our city. I started picking up notes at a very young age. I would take notes of pandit ji’s cooking styles. And I kept a diary from the age of 12 or 13, which I lost while travelling in New York as I left my entire portfolio and some of my books in a taxi. I left with just a few pages of it. He’s alive and retired, but has been with the family since 70 plus years now.
What is your personal style of cooking?
My personal style is honest, bold, fresh, playful, exciting and serious food. We don’t play for the sake of playing, we don’t do fusion. I am doing Indian food as old as India is, but plating it as a modernized manner as India of today. So, we take old classics and update it in terms of their appearance but we don’t change its taste. We are doing bold Indian food here. Then we do flat breads in a pizza oven but again the flavours are honestly Indian. I put a lot of herbs and masalas in the bread. India is celebrated in the flavours and in the layering of flavours.
We don’t fuse food, we give India modern updates. We bring different food from different states of India into one plate. It is a Pan-Indian restaurant. We have our version of butter chicken, it is called chicken makhni. We go back to history in order to learn the techniques but present it in a modern way.
Did you ever see it (cooking professionally) coming?
I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a medical doctor or an art historian or a curator. And because I was craving the bold, delicious light flavors of India, I cooked every night in America. One thing led to another and I got into the food by accident. I never saw it coming.
Tell us about your upcoming book?
My upcoming book is called Instamatic. It has 80 photographs and 80 stories. It is about Meditating on life. Dr. Shashi Tharoor has written a foreword for the book and Frances Mayes, who is the author of Under the Tuscan Sun has written the back notes, footnotes and blurb.
I was technically blind when I was taking photographs. I could only see up to four and a half or five feet with my left eye and was completely blind in my right eye. And I took images and I wouldn't look at them on my phone and write something about them. I took photographs when I would be in a car or anywhere, seeing the world through my phone. Some photos are fizzy, fuzzy, and hazy. Sometimes I would click photos with trembling hands. It's a collection of essays on those photographs.
What made you clicking these photos?
It made me feel that I have some worth in my life and it gave me something to do when I was being told I may not live too long. And each photograph connected me to the world. I could see a lot more than I could see with my naked eye on the phone. Looking at those photographs made me feel that I wasn't divorced from the world.
How different is it working in India than in New York?
In India it's different when it comes to work, work ethics, work flows, and work sensibilities. The humanity, empathy, decency, and respect that your employers give you, is mind boggling. So, you learn to forgive and accept the quirkiness and the Indian sensibility, but as the man who's at 47, it is shocking to me the difference in the work environment is. There is a lot of red tape here but the staff makes up for what the bureaucracy could have choked me to death for. The staff here in the House of the Celeste inspires me to keep living.