London based first Indian Michelin Star Chef Atul Kochhar recently announced his association with Indian restaurateur Vishal Anand. Together they are curating an experiential dining restaurant named Saga. Coming up on the Golf Course Road in Gurgaon, it will be a 175 seater spread over two levels with an Alfresco. At the sidelines of the launch event, Chef Atul talked to Restaurant India about the menu he is doing for Saga, how the menu entails lesser known dishes from across India and how he is curating north-eastern dishes for his restaurant- Kanishka in London.
You said that you will be taking lesser known dishes from around India to include them in the Saga’s menu, if you could share with me some anecdotes on how are you mapping down the dishes from across different states of India?
So, I can tell you what I'm researching at the moment. I'm looking at Chettinad cuisine with quite a lot of interest, which is from Tamil Nadu. And there's another cuisine from Andhra Pradesh that I am looking at. There are other lesser known cuisines in the state which have some amazing flavors. A lot of them are chili based and working with chilies is fun. I am looking at Assam and working with ginger, turmeric and black sesame seeds. Also, I am taking dishes from Himachali cuisine, which has a lot of lentils but very different types of lentils. I am also going towards Rajasthan and getting to know lesser known Rajasthani dishes.
For example, there is a dish involving wild boar, which is cooked in a good quantity of ghee . The techniques of preservation are more used in this and I really like that way spices are used in this dish. So, there are some very intriguing dishes and what will make it to the Saga’s menu, I don't know yet.
We have started the experimenting and playing around and we are seeing what works and what doesn't. However, the idea is to use local Indian ingredients, which we can get from Delhi NCR areas easily and curate the dishes from them.
Please tell us the number of dishes you have decided for the menu?
The tasting menu will have seven to nine dishes and the entire menu will not have more than 30 dishes.
Also read: https://www.restaurantindia.in/article/i-am-doing-indian-food-as-old-as-india-says-suvir-saran.13515
Most of the restaurants in the country are going with the ongoing trends and on the other hand there are lesser known regional dishes which don’t get recognized, so how should restaurants bridge this gap?
I don’t know much about what trends are being followed by restaurants today but I think if you do a great space, comfortable restaurant with a comfortable atmosphere, good music with a good drink’s list, and great food, then I think all those dishes will find places.
Coming from a country as complex as India, finding the connection to those trends out of Indian dishes is a very difficult thing in my opinion. I'll tell you a very simple example that we'll put a smile on your face.
Peruvian food is quite interesting, right? Everyone is doing different kinds of dishes from this cuisine like ceviche and then Mexican tacos. I also had to make tacos in my restaurant so I made a puri aloo taco there and everybody just forgot the Mexican tacos and they were having this Indian version of tacos. So, it depends on how you twist those trends and make your own place in it.
There are so many things that you can just do according to your own flavors you don't have to. And at the end of the day those tacos were what my mom made for me my whole life. When I went to England they were crazy about Toasties. They would say let’s make the spiced potato toasties and what the hell is that? My dad used to make these for my breakfast everyday from that leftover potatoes and bread slices.
So the trends are by how you put the name there and if you look back, delve deep into your own upbringing and culture, there are always things there with which you can play.
You are serving north-eastern cuisine in your restaurant Kanishka in London. How are people responding to the dishes from the cuisines across the seven sisters of India?
I would say if TripAdvisor was any standard, no Indian restaurant even the restaurant which I have left (Banaras in London) never went above 850. I think Banares was with the highest achiever out of 20,000 restaurants in London and Kanishka has gone straight to 400 and it is rising. So, I'm quite amazed that the cuisine which even I knew very little about is doing well.
How are you curating dishes in Kanishka?
We take dishes and then see what we can get what we can't. So cooking into bamboo shoot over charcoal is something that I can’t do because my entire kitchen is an induction based kitchen. So, I'm very focused on how we should be doing things. It's more my ethos than anything else.
We curate dishes and curate the flavors around whatever is available. For example people there go for our classic tribal goat curry. There's also a pigeon recipe from Assam. So, taking all those ingredients and keeping European taste in mind while also respecting the amount of proteins is how we curate our dishes. I think it is working well for us.
According to you what do you think is your unique quality when you sell an experience through your food?
I think the provenance or the originality and the kind of ingredients that we source are some of the qualities. For example, the black sesame seed chicken we serve has the recipe that goes in a million ways. You can google and find a lot of recipes to make it. However, what we're trying to do is the recipes which are the most relative and entertaining for people. We try to communicate the stories.
Also I do not want to make that chicken curry bowl like in a one dimensional way. I want to create that into three different textures. For example, can I roast the leg of the chicken or can I steam the rest of the chicken? These are the questions that come to my mind. So, the flavor, texture, thought process, the crunch, the sound, and the slurp are all that matters. So, we are playing with all that.